Tuesday August 20th…
It was like any other evening with friends. We had food, we played games, we laughed, it was a good night. The evening was winding down, but the conversation continued. I was my normal self. But my normal self is always aware of the potential for another recurrence. With this awareness, palpating my neck and face has become habit, I don’t even think about it, yet when everything feels as it should, I relax. But as the evening was winding down and my hands naturally graduated to my neck, suddenly I couldn’t relax. No, this evening my finger felt a smooth, slight protrusion, less than 1 cm in diameter. I felt again. Unfortunately this was not my imagination. And the familiar feelings of panic, of despair, of deep frustration rushed over me. I suddenly went quiet. I knew what I felt. I knew this was cancer.
Six days later my doctor confirmed what I already knew: the biopsy had tested positive for squamous cell carcinoma.
I love my otolaryngologist. I’ve never actually attempted to pronounce this word, in justified fear that I will absolutely butcher the pronunciation. Rather, I use the Ear, Nose, Throat acronym: ENT, when describing this doctor. My local ENT diagnosed me and has been with me every step of this cancer journey over the past (gasp!) almost THREE years. He has never rushed me out the door, has always answered all my questions, and is very gentle with bad news. Oddly enough, he now also comments on my shoes. But that’s a story for another day…
So when I heard his voice this time, I knew right away the biopsy was positive. Receptionists and support staff call with good news, doctors call with bad news. “Oh no, it’s you calling…” I said. Slightly offensive… he calls me and I express my disappointment in hearing his voice! Thankfully he knows me well enough by now to know this disappointment is not personal.
So the process begins… again… booking a CT scan, communicating with my surgeon’s office in Vancouver, determining where the surgery will occur, waiting for CT results, praying that nothing else shows on this scan. And thankfully this is it, a 1.3 cm tumour on my neck, right on the jugular vein.
My surgery was booked for September 17th in Trail! Notice the exclamation mark? This is my seventh surgery. My first six were in Vancouver. Trail hospital is a 45 minute drive to my house. This means that I don’t have to travel for surgery. I can recover at home instead of at a (very generous) friend’s apartment in Vancouver. I can see my kids right after my surgery. And this kind, lovely otolaryngologist will finally operate on me. See what I did there? I used the proper name for his specialty… still don’t know how to pronounce it.
My seventh surgery was my easiest yet. I walked into the OR at 8:00 am, and I walked out of the hospital at 4:00 pm that day. I was told the morning of my surgery that, given the location of the tumour, the jugular vein would likely require removal. However, my surgeon was able to remove the tumour with very little impact to the tissue surrounding the area, all while saving the vein. Amazingly enough, we can live with only one jugular vein!
A few days after surgery I received the good news that margins were negative, meaning they believe no cancer is remaining in the area where the tumour was removed. This certainly does not indicate cancer-free. But I can breathe, I can relax.
So what do I do when I’m not seeing doctors, having cancer removed, or recovering from yet another round of anesthetic? This summer I spent a lot of time in my garden, and am still enjoying so many fresh vegetables! I’ve made 29 pints of salsa and counting. But when the weather cools, the leaves fall, and the fire is lit, I love to sit in front of my sewing machine and create. This is therapy, this is relaxation, this is what I need.
I fell in love with this Titanium Border Bamboo Lycra fabric from Blended Thread Fabrics the moment I first saw it online. It is soft, it is dreamy and I absolutely love the pairing of this fabric with the New Horizons Bellevue, a PDF pattern with dolman style, off-the-shoulder sleeves. I have made this pattern, wait for it… eight times already! My only complaint about this pattern is the neckband is too wide for the opening. However, once I figured this out (I cut 2 inches off the total neckband length), I just cut accordingly and whip this baby up in less than an hour. Okay, why not post the first one I made, also in a must-have Bamboo Lycra from Blended Thread Fabrics… Archie!
I’m in love with both these tops and, of course, paired them both with Fluevogs. Oh, did I mention that John Fluevog, my favourite designer, visited me in the hospital after surgery 5? I have some of the most amazing friends who arranged the whole thing. He was kind and lovely, and I felt truly blessed to have this visit. Sewing and Fluevogs… a match made in fashion heaven!
Someday I will write more about my other six surgeries. Some have been major, with bone grafts, skin grafts, blood vessel grafts (a.k.a. free flaps), tracheotomies, lengthy hospital stays, infections, etc. But a couple have been easy day surgeries, and for these, I am so thankful. I hate living with the constant threat and reality of recurrences, but when I have good surgery results, I am not waiting for biopsy results, I don’t have any new lumps scaring me, I relax, enjoy the everyday, and use my sewing machine as therapy.