Friday, June 23, 2006

The Ostrich with a Football Neck

The first sign of my cancer came in 1991, during my last year of graduate school for Creative Writing. I'd gone to the collegiate clinic to checkup on something unrelated, and asked the physician about a swollen lymph node on my neck. He said I probably just had a cold--not to worry. At least that's what I remember hearing. I blithely took the doctor at his word, and from that day forward ignored (with determination)all other swellings that started to appear. Now, the clinician shouldn't have been so quick to dismiss the swollen node. But my refusal to believe anything was wrong with my rapidly inflating neck--I'd started looking like a football player--was delusional and costly. My lymphoma could have been caught in Stage I. Piece of Advice #1: Do Not Ignore Anything Lumpy or Discolored That Shouldn't Be There (even if you are in your twenties, loathe going to doctors, and think you're healthy.) Piece of Advice #2: Do Not Always Believe Your Physician.

When I finally went back to the clinic again, it was nearly a year later. I'd started losing feeling in my right arm. Even an ostrich can't ignore this sort of sign. Turns out, I had large tumors in my armpits. The doctor--the same or a different one; who knows--seemed alarmed, and mentioned I might have Hodgkin's disease. He never used the word "cancer," and ostrich that I was, I didn't know that's what Hodgkin's disease was. That appointment was on a Tuesday. By that Friday, I was at the local hospital, sedated, being biopsied. I was full of cancer--late Stage III (which, for lymphoma, means lymph involvement in the upper and lower parts of the body, but not quite yet in the bones.) It was summer term. I was teaching a writing course. I didn't tell people at work for quite a few days. I remember the hallways in that tower of offices seeming so empty.

Best, Jumblie Girl


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