Just when you think everything is going well, life throws you a curveball. Mine came this summer.
I don’t know how many of you know this about me, but I’m a smoker. These days admitting that is like admitting you’re a heroin user or something so I tend not to broadcast it. It’s an awful addiction and, frankly, my writing only made it worse. It was like the two went hand-in-hand for me. If I was writing, I was smoking, and if I was smoking, I was writing. I would hate to see the visual of how many cigarettes I smoked while writing The Return series, but I imagine it’d look something like this:
Of course, I’m being kind. In reality, I probably smoked even more than this. Disgusting? Absolutely. Pathetic? Possibly. Stupid? 100%.
While finishing the series I was really pushing myself. Because of all the time I spent writing (and in turn smoking), my body started to protest. The chronic cough showed up; my voice changed into something resembling a phone sex operator and an old man, and I woke up to a sore throat every morning. It was getting bad. I knew this, but I couldn’t stop myself. That’s addiction for you.
Well, last April I notice that when I slept on my right side I felt like there was some sort of lump in my throat constricting my airway a bit. Like an irrational idiot, I decided to ignore the problem and hoped I was just being paranoid and it would go away in due time. It didn’t.
This summer, when I was back in the States for vacation, I started to feel very run down. Worse? I felt a pronounced lump in my throat that bobbed every time I swallowed. I convinced myself that it was throat cancer, and that terrified me.
On June 24th I put out what would be (as of now) my last cigarette. I knew I couldn’t live in denial any longer; I had to go to the doctor and see what was wrong with me because I knew there was something wrong. So a few weeks later I finally forced myself to make an appointment.
When the appointment rolled around, I was a wreck. I hadn’t slept for a few weeks; I was getting hot flashes, and couldn’t stop shaking. Unfortunately that first visit to the doctor didn’t relieve any of those symptoms. The doctor confirmed that I wasn’t crazy though; she too could feel the lump. She also gave me a glimmer of hope. The thyroid.
Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t know much about the thyroid. I just knew that I’d heard people use it as an excuse for either being too heavy or too skinny; so I assumed it had something to do with your weight and then never thought about it again. Well, since that day with the doctor, things have changed.
A week later I went in for an ultrasound of my throat. The technician found two nodules growing from the right side of my thyroid, one of them quite big at 1.8 mm. It wasn’t throat cancer, but it could possible be thyroid cancer. The doctor told me that because the nodule was so big, she wanted to do a biopsy.
Now, I’m not a complete chicken when it comes to needles, but sticking a needle straight into my neck while I was awake… That made me sweat a little. The doctor assured me that it wouldn’t hurt at all. My neck would be numb and the needle would be smaller than those used to draw blood. Like an idiot I believed him.
Holy sh*t, mother**ker! It hurt like hell! The needle felt like a hot prong was being jabbed into my neck and for some reason time seemed to stand still during the short procedure making it feel twice as long. When they were done, they stuck some gauze against the puncture wound, and told me they’d be right back with the results.
It’s an odd sensation sitting in a sterile room, waiting for a stranger to come back and give you relatively life-altering news. Thankfully I had the pain in my neck to focus on so it went by pretty quickly. I could tell almost immediately from the doctor’s face that the news wasn’t good, what I didn’t expect was for him to tell me that the results were inconclusive and he’d have to take another biopsy.
With my neck still throbbing from the last one, I reluctantly let him stab into me again. He told me that this time they’d run a more intensive test, and I’d get the results back in about ten days. So I flew back to Vietnam the next day and begun my wait. I wasn’t all that worried. By that point I’d read the statistics and knew that if you were going to have cancer, thyroid cancer was the kind you wanted. It’s got incredibly high cure rate of about 98%, but of course, like everything, there’s a flip side. There’s one type of thyroid cancer which isn’t so easily treated. It’s got a cure rate of about 7%. I tried to keep focused on the positive though and really put the whole thing out of my mind until I heard back from the doctors.
When I finally received an email with the results, I was surprised to discover that again the biopsy came back inconclusive. This was enough though to have the doctors rule my nodule “suspicious” and set a surgery date in Singapore.
So here I sit. Tomorrow is the big day. I’m going under the knife. After the doctor removes the nodule they’ll test it again while I’m still on the table. I’ll wake up finally knowing once and for all if I have thyroid cancer. To say I’m apprehensive about tomorrow would be an understatement, but like everything in this whole ordeal, I’m just trying to take it one step at a time. Unfortunately I’m not so great at that. It’s hard not to let your mind linger to dark places, but I am trying.
It was important for me to fill you all in on this because I keep getting messages asking about my books– when will they be updated, when will they be published, etc. However, there’s also a selfish reason behind purging all this into the world– it simply helps me deal. I promise to keep you updated. I’m going to be confined to a hospital bed for the next three days, so I certainly plan (drugs allowing) to use the time wisely and get some work done.
If you’re religious, I could use the prayers. If not, I could use some good vibes sent into the universe. Regardless, I promise I’ll let you guys know what happens next.
Here we go. Wish me luck…