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September 7

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A Waiting Game

September 7, 2021


Physical pain has never really been an issue for me.  It hurts, yes, I’ve always been able to manage it and move on.  As I write this my tongue is swollen with blisters and I can barely swallow water.  This pain I’m experiencing has an end in sight and I’m anxiously counting down the days.  As for mental part, that is a different story.  

            Nobody prepares you for how you will find out that you have cancer.  I guess there is no easy way to call someone and say, “Part of your body is trying to kill you, you need to seek medical help”.  

            We were in my hometown Salem, Ohio when I found out.  My Dad and cousins had just finished repairing the town’s iconic Frost Top Mug and the local news was preparing to do an interview.  My Dad asked me to stand in while he did the interview alongside my cousin Mike.  A few minutes before the interview my phone rang.    

It has been over a month since the swollen lymph node popped up. A week before this I had went through a CT scan in hopes of finding more answers.  We were waiting on a call from my doctor to tell us it wasn’t a big deal, and this problem would be behind us with a bit of medicine.  Boy was I wrong….   

            The initial shock of hearing those words is overbearing.  Someone has literally called you and told you over the phone that the thing in your neck isn’t going to go away and you need to seek help.  They don’t know what kind, or how severe it is but, you definitely have signs of cancer. 

            I’ve gone back and watched the video of my dad’s interview.  I remember nothing from it.  I remember trying to hold myself together because today wasn’t about me but at the same time, I was told that I have cancer.  So that’s what shock looks like?  As I watch it I think to myself, “you think this is bad, this is just the beginning.”   

            Initially I had decided to fight this by myself and not to let anyone know.  After a few weeks of this stoic bullshit Stacy encouraged me to start talking about it.  This is what you get for living with a therapist.  As I did, I began hearing from others who fought cancer.   Each told me how the waiting game was the hardest part of the battle.  Waiting to figure out what stage, what the short and long-term side effects would be and whether they were going to come out of this alive.  As I mentioned before, mental health battles or not something I do well with. 

            The minute you find out something is wrong; you want answers, and you want them now.  The reality… things don’t always work that way.  From the initial CT results to the conversation in the doctor’s office regarding treatment, we spent almost a month and a half in limbo.  That time consisted of a needle biopsy to the neck, then a full on knock me out biopsy of the tonsils and lots and lots of waiting. Waiting to figure out which hospital would accept my insurance.  Waiting to figure out if I would be having surgery or chemo and radiation treatment.  Waiting to figure out what our lives would look like for the remainder of 2021. 

            The waiting period doesn’t consist of any type of normalcy you are used to.  It consists of trying to act like nothing is wrong followed by trying not to have a full-on panic attack.  It consist of thinking ” this won’t be that bad” to “Will Stacy be okay once I’m gone?”.  It’s the waiting that nobody can prepare you for. 

            If I could have a conversation with myself 4 months ago I’d tell myself, “Just finding out you have cancer…..You need to open up and surround yourself with people who care about you.  Don’t hold this inside and fight it yourself.”

            One common theme I kept hearing was, “We don’t have all of the information yet.” or “Everyone handles this differently, so we have to wait and see how you respond”.  This was a situation where more information was key.  It’s what I wanted…what I needed to prepare for the future.  

            What does gathering information mean?  I found out after 10 minutes of “researching” on google that it didn’t mean playing doctor myself.  As I said before my job is to find your card, not to diagnose the lump in the side of my neck. As hard as it is, I decided to let someone else research this for me. 

            When you google something like this that you don’t have a full understanding on, only the negative stands out in bold.  Words such as Feeding Tubes and Loss of Speech jump out to you.  The word Hospitalized and Difficulty Swallowing jump out at you like a billboard screaming, “This is going to be bad!”.  

            It was when we finally started having conversations with actual doctors that I was able to sleep at night.  We met with over 5 health professionals, and it was then that the pieces of the puzzle started coming together.  The realization was I had cancer and the only way to fight this is with a large dose of Radiation and Chemotherapy.  It was when I heard those words that a sense of calm came over me.  We were finally getting answers.  

            As I go through the first 3 weeks of my treatment, I can’t say that the physical pain I am feeling is a walk in the park.  Everything I eat or smell makes me sick to my stomach.  It is like I’ve decided to eat a handful of rusty nuts and bolts that have been covered in rotting month old milk.  Like I’ve decided to shove a thousand pieces of piping hot pizza into my mouth long enough to make sure every inch of my mouth would burn.  I’m not enjoying this as much as you would have thought. 

            With all that pain I am still struggling with the mental side of this equation.  Here I am at 37 with throat cancer.  Tomorrow new side effects could pop up out of nowhere.  I’ve been warned that I could end up with tingling in my hands that will never go away.  I’ve already, more than likely lost my beard on the right side of my face and there’s a large chance it will never grow back.  I may need to prepare myself for a different lifestyle once this is over.    As I sit here and ask myself “Will you ever be able to hold a deck of cards once this is over” there is one thing I keep reminding myself of.  Take it one day at a time, all you can do is experience one day at a time.  See you again soon.  

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