Discovering Unexplained Lumps

Louisa Leontiades Illness, Vile Depths

They say lump, you hear cancer.

Too many dodgy episodes of sitcoms run through your mind because on telly, cysts or benign nodules aren’t dramatic enough. Conditions like hypothyroidism or goiter are too non-life threatening and too much like latin grammar to be mentioned (unless that telly program is ‘House’). There’ll be no audience sympathy with something ending in ‘ism’.

“When did you get that lump on your neck?” said the doctor.

“What lump”. I said

“That hideously engorged swelling on your throat that’s so obvious only an idiot would have ignored it”. He replied.

(Or what he actually said, which was, ‘Look in the mirror, can you see to the right side of your throat, especially when you swallow, it’s difficult to miss’).

Here’s the thing. It would be difficult to miss if only I knew what my own neck looked like usually. But I don’t look in the mirror at my neck. Since the children I’m afraid to say, I really don’t look at myself very much at all unless it’s to add some mascara. So I had missed it.

“Oh yeah…” I said slowly. It did look a little quasimodo like.

“And you didn’t see it before?”

“I’ve seen it just now”. I said, wondering how long it had been there. A month. A Year. Longer?

And then the doctor started firing off questions.

Had I been feeling overly tired lately? Yes, but with two children who wouldn’t?
Had I been anemic? Yes, throughout my pregnancies and still now.
Had I suffered memory problems? Yes, but surely that was due to tiredness.
Had I gained weight? Yes, but I thought that was due to laziness.
Did I have low blood pressure? Yes, I often felt faint but that was because I didn’t get enough sleep.
Was I able to exercise efficiently? No, but that was because I was so unfit (read tired, lazy and fat).

Tick after tick as we went down the list of various symptoms so subtle that you think surely, this is not disease. Sleep apnea (surely due to weight loss pills I was taking…that only served to stop me from being deathly tired every day) Check. Recurring cystitis (not enough water/too much wine). Check. Candida (too much sugar in my diet) Check. Vertigo (overall weak person, must be in the mind) Check.

We explain all potential symptoms as normal occurrences. And if they aren’t normal at first, they become normal.

But then there was the lump. There it was. Protruding out of the side of my throat. Not a normal occurrence.

“Could it be cancer?” I asked.

“Don’t ask that”. He said.

“Okay”, I said. “Well I guess I will just get my information from the internet then”.

“Don’t read the internet”. He said.

They may be doctors but they are also fools. As if telling me that I shouldn’t look on the internet, would stop me looking on the internet.

Because what affects my life right now is fear of the unknown. I need to read everything possible about the thryoid because no one knows what this lump is (even with my best efforts of internet fueled self-diagnosis). It’s most likely an unexplainable cyst. But the doctor’s questions remind me that I do not listen to my body. And I do not know really anything about my body. It’s there, just quietly trying to do its job whilst I try to kill it.

“Thyroid problems are hereditary”, I said to my Mother on the phone later that night. She’s suffered for years from Rheumatoid Arthritis which has been linked to thyroid problems.”You’d better get yourself checked out.”

“Okay. Well, let me know what’s happening.” she said.

“The way I look at it is this.” I said. “These thyroid hormones govern weight right? What if they want to give me a few pills to make me lose weight? That would be great. And if it did happen to be cancerous, well it’s one of the least deadly. I mean, if you’re gonna get cancer which most of us are, this is the one to get. And if it’s nothing at all, well bit of an anticlimax but still cause for celebration right? It’ll help me slow down. Stitch in time and all that.”

“You’re so British.” she said fondly. “It’s nice to hear you can be happy about it even if humour is your defense mechanism”.

“I think I’m lucky”. I replied defiantly.

“Lucky that I went to the doctors with a sore throat. Lucky that he spotted it. Lucky that he reminded me to listen to my body. And who knows when I would have looked in the mirror?

I mean you never really look at yourself properly, do you? You never really check.