I was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2007, and it shaped who I am today.
I was diagnosed with epithelial myoepithelial carcinoma (a very rare malignancy of salivary tumors) of my right parotid gland (a salivary gland that sits just in front of the ears) in my neck after I accidentally (fortuitously??) found the lump while in the shower in 2007. A CT scan quickly followed, and, after the definitive report of a solid mass, I was scheduled for surgery. A biopsy did not precede the surgical resection of that part of my neck since, even if the mass had been benign, they tend to grow and become disfiguring.
This “adventure” went from 0 to 60 in short order.
A true blessing in this story is that the surgeon to whom I was referred was board certified in plastic surgery. The nature of what was done to remove the mass while trying to preserve nerves in my face and cheek was very complex, yet it was done with masterful skill that has left no visible scars or debilitating damage.
The scars that followed were mostly internal – from seven weeks of Monday-through-Friday radiation. The margins were so close to my jawbone that this next sequence of treatment was high priority to be sure that the cancerous cells were all eradicated. There is no need to go into the details of what the traumatic side effects of those seven weeks were. As a patient, I quickly learned the stark facts about what the journey may be like, both during and after treatment. Thankfully, I was able to “dig deep” into a reserve of strength I never knew I had before. This revelation has proven helpful many times over since then!
The good news is that I am still here! The significant lifetime priorities are to keep my mouth well hydrated, my dental hygiene first rate and treat those taste buds that miraculously came back to life after a three-month hiatus, with care.
My mindset is based on a great sense of gratitude. There's a saying: “There is a reason why your windshield is bigger than your rearview mirror. Where you're headed is much more important than what you left behind.” Now when I am feeling anxious about unexpected curves in the road of life, I think about that message. If we see with an open mind, the view ahead — the outlook — is rife with promise.
The vision of what’s behind is part of the tapestry that makes us who we are today.