Get a Grip: When Cancer Brings Irrational Fears

Sometimes rational thinking isn't my strong suit.

A few months ago, I had a little bit of brain surgery done. I had two large aneurysms on the left side of my brain clipped so that I wouldn’t have a massive stroke. That fine December morning, I was in the pre-operating unit of Temple University’s Boyer Pavilion, waiting for my surgical team to get the show on the road so we could get this thing over and done with.

I was in that pre-surgical state of mind that many of us are all too familiar with. Arrive the hospital at an almost ungodly hour of the morning to check in, then surrender your belongings for a hospital gown and a laminated paper bracelet. Introductions are made, vital signs are taken and, if you’re lucky, you’re given the remote control to a television set the size of a postcard to keep you and your loved ones occupied while you wait for a shot of “something to relax you.”

Little by little, my surgical team arrived. It consisted of the assisting resident neurologist, the operating room nurse, the anesthesiologist and my neurosurgeon. I couldn’t help but think of how it reminded me of how MLB introduces the National League lineup at the All-Star game.

I was antsy and ready to be knocked out, snipped and clipped. I was half-listening to my anesthesiologist with one ear when he said, “Oh, and we’re pretty sure we’ll be able to intubate you. We may scratch you, but you’ll be fine.”

Got it.

I woke up groggy and hungry a few hours later, and sort of realized there was a thing on the inside of my mouth, right below the gum line. I put two and two together and decided not to worry about it, especially since I was in the neuro ICU and had a drainage tube coming out of the side of my skull.

A few days later, it was still there, and my mouth became sore. As a head and neck cancer survivor, I was starting to get a bit nervous. Even though common sense was telling me that I got scratched from the intubation and this is nothing to worry about, I was starting to panic a bit. My cancer was discovered when my dentist found something suspicious in my mouth, and who is to say this isn’t a recurrence?

And why wasn’t it healing? Yes, I’ve probably hit my lifetime’s limit of radiation and rationally, I knew that any little irritation in my mouth was going to take ages to heal. But this wasn’t going anywhere.

So I had nearly every doctor I had look at it. It wasn’t until my surgical oncologist, the one with both the MD and the PhD after his name, took a peek that I felt better.

He peered over his glasses with a look on his face that said it all. The look said, “You really need to calm down.”

I am going to be fine. I am worried sick over nothing. I need to get a grip. Onward.