Did you hear? I had a softball-sized tumor removed from my neck three weeks ago.
I noticed it about a year ago and shrugged it off, thinking it was a little lipoma that wasn’t any big deal. Then I began having trouble turning my head. The lump was getting bigger – about the size of a golf ball – and I couldn’t comfortably wear turtlenecks or even mock neck shirts. I named my lump Esmeralda and patiently waited for her to gain sentience.
When Esmeralda started aching, I decided to go to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor, especially if I think I’m going to get bad news. I’ve had cancer twice, so having a tumor made me think that number three was here. If I pretended it didn’t exist, it would go away. I’m a very bright girl in these matters. I knew exactly what I was doing when I ignored the wretched thing for so long. Really.
My doctor looked at it and said that there was no question that it needed to come out. Clearly, it was causing me trouble. Even if it was probably just a lipoma and not something devastating, it was in a bad place. And, he said, even for a lipoma it was, well, kind of big. There was definitely an asymmetry to my non-gazelle-like neck. A bump about the size of half a golf ball hung off the side it.
I knew all this before he told me. I knew he’d have to refer me to a surgeon. That’s why I was there, right? So, deep breath, I got the referral and made the appointment and went the next week to see when I could divorce myself from dear Esmeralda, who I was beginning to think of as my dicephalic parapagus conjoined twin.
He sent me to an otolaryngology clinic. Otolaryngologists cut on people’s necks when the spine isn’t involved. I was glad my spine wasn’t involved, although I did wonder if that was because I simply didn’t have one. What kind of person, being possessed of a spine, was afraid of what was probably just a harmless little lipoma?
At the otolaryngology clinic, I got a CT scan of my neck. Back in the examination room, the surgeon pulled up the scan on the computer screen. “Wow, it’s really big!” he exclaimed. He showed me what to look at. The difference in the two sides of my neck was obvious. One side of the screen looked like what you’d think a neck should look like on a CT scan. By that I mean it had not much flesh and a big amount of bone. At least, that one side did. The other side? Well, it was different. Waaaay different.
There was a vast blackness that took up a lot of space on the right half of my neck. It looked as though Darth Vader himself had taken up residence there and his helmet was pushing things around.
The doctor pointed out how my muscle was stretched over this dark growth, how my nerves and blood vessels were pushed out of place, and how much space the thing took up.
“It’s sooo biiiig,” he said again. And again. And yet another time, just in case I hadn’t heard him before. That’s right. Only I could have a freakishly large tumor in a place with as little flesh as my neck and not notice it for years on end. Evidently, I can’t see a damn thing with my eyes full of sand.
Lipomas usually grow just right under the skin and are fairly simple to remove. Unless they become bothersome, it’s not necessary to remove them at all. Mine was different. It was under the muscle, which, the doctor graciously postulated, was probably the reason I had never realized it had been growing there for so long. It was also pressing on important nerves and blood vessels. There just isn’t a lot of room in a neck, and there’s a lot of important stuff there. Like, say, the carotid artery, which feeds blood to the brain. Which my lipoma had shoved out of place. In fact, it had shoved things so far out of place that I was in danger of soon looking like the Elephant Man.
Surgery wasn’t just an option; it was necessary due to both the size and the location. If Esmeralda really did get large enough to become sentient, state law would forbid me from removing her. I mean, I could already forget about using federal funds. Her presence could no longer be disguised with loose clothing or makeup. I had to act, and act quickly.
The problem was, the size and location of the tumor meant that a different doctor needed to do the surgery. Someone who specialized in cancers of the head and neck. Swell. The”C” word again. Fortunately, I liked the new surgeon. I liked the old one, too, but the new one was quick-witted, funny, and personable. And probably married. (sigh)
My family rallied around me. My sister went with me to the pre-surgery appointment. My mom took me to her house after the surgery so I could be pampered. Jack came to see me that night. I felt pretty raw, and my throat, complete with a drainage tube, wasn’t pretty either.
Three weeks later, I’m still a little tired, but I’m fine. Some mornings it’s harder to shake off the latent effects of the anesthesia than others. Of course, staying up until 1 a.m. to finish a novel I can’t put down sort of contributes to the problem, but I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do. (The books are really good. Brent Weeks is a new, young author and he has time to grow. I can’t wait for his next offering.)
I have an awe-inspiring scar on my throat. I can come up with plenty of tales to explain its presence.
I’ve told the story of Jack the Ripper to my wide-eyed nieces and youngest nephew (they’re 11, 8, and 6). I have the scar to prove that I narrowly escaped him.
Next, I plan to work up a tale of the Bride of Frankenstein for their entertainment. I’ve already got the white hair at the temples going on, so between that and the scar, I’m not going to have to spend a lot on costuming.
The surgeon said that the tumor had to have been there for a very, very long time to be as large as it was. How the hell does a softball manage to hide in a neck for years and only show up as a golf-ball sized bulge?
The size of the thing was apparently really impressive. Every time I call his office his nurse exclaims, “Oh, you’re the one with that really huge lipoma!” Every time. Every stinkin’ time. I’m beginning to wonder if I ought not to have saved the damn thing and taken it on the road. I could have made a living in the sideshow as the girl with the softball in her neck.
Maybe I should have had the thing cut in two and used it for a boob job. Next time, if there is a next time, I’m going to think that through carefully.