When I began writing the following post, I knew I had a couple more topics I wanted to cover. But in the writing I discovered that they weren’t so much topics in and of themselves as a few odds and ends that I needed to clear away.
Both times I had the tumor surgically removed, I was the one to discover it. This is unsurprising the first time around. But the second time around I was told by my ENT that everything looked alright and only a couple of months later I returned to him because I wasn’t sure it really was. This pair of events have convinced me that the primary responsibility for detecting a reoccurance was mine. I’ve spent significant amounts of time in the past 7 years poking myself under the chin trying determine if anything has changed. It’s not an easy task because all the scar tissue and missing salivary glands make the whole area lopsided and lumpy to the touch. Any time I had a sore throat or stiff neck or even an achy feeling, part of me was afraid it was a harbinger of reoccurance. It doesn’t help that anytime I think about the tumor I get psycosomatic aches where it was removed. Every entry I’ve written in my “radiation saga” has left my throat feeling achy. After seven years I still have the fearful voice that gibbers about possible reoccurances. My radiation oncologist gave me some really helpful advice that I use to quiet the gibbering voice of fear. He told me that with a true problem the symptoms will last for an extended period of time and the intensity of the symptoms will increase rather than abate. Application of this information has saved me many uncessary trips to the doctor for sore throats and stiff necks.
At the time of my radiation treatments I was a primary teacher for a church class of 11 year old kids. It was a challenging class. I would work and prepare a lesson only to feel like I was teaching to a brick wall. A really noisy, chattering brick wall that occasionally hit the other brick walls for no apparent reason. A couple of weeks before the beginning of the treatments I found that I couldn’t face my primary class. I didn’t have the emotional energy to try yet again to reach them. Howard ended up pinch hitting for me that Sunday while a friend took me home. I came back the next week to teach. I tried to keep teaching, but it quickly became apparent that I simply couldn’t. Someone else took over the class until after radiation treatments had been over for a month. I don’t even know who substituted for me for those months. I remember one of the kids asking me if I’d stopped coming because they were bad. I got to explain to them about the radiation. I was asked to be their teacher because the class needed stability. Somehow I don’t think I provided that. By the time I returned to teaching the kids were starting to turn twelve and move into the teenage programs. The window for bonding with that primary class was gone. I still feel sad about that sometimes. Those kids are all 18 now. I wish I could have been more important/helpful in their lives, but at the time I just didn’t have anything left to give.
There were bright spots during radiation therapy. Most of them were a direct result of either my kids, or my mom being there with my kids. At the time Kiki had only plain shirts and she wanted some shirts with pictures. Mom helped me break out some paints and we painted decorations on shirts for Kiki. Mom lifted an illustration from Kiki’s favorite book (The Lion and the Little Red Bird) and painted it on one of the shirts. Kiki wore that shirt for two years. Then we put it away. Gleek wears it now, but she has almost outgrown it. I’m not sure what I’ll do when she does. That shirt won’t mean as much to another person. For me it is a gift of love and hope. Mom also wrote a couple of beautiful poems about Kiki and Link blowing bubbles. She put them into scrapbook pages with pictures. I treasure those. I have other pictures of the kids during that time. They look really happy. I’m so glad my kids were happy.
I grew up loving to sing. I didn’t have any professional training as a child, but I learned songs by ear and memorized them almost without trying. I didn’t even realize that was unusual until I was in a church choir and lamenting that I couldn’t read music. But then I realized I was learning the music faster than some of the people who could read music. This musical background has lead to challenges whenever I attempt to sing with other people. For some reason Howard and I simply cannot sing the Happy Birthday song without clashing keys, but if I let him start it, then I can chime in harmoniously on the second line. After my first surgery, my speech was slurred for almost two months. I did not sing in church during that time and I missed singing the congregational hymns. My second surgery didn’t cause that problem. Radiation was another story altogether. During the radiation my throat hurt and my world contracted so I didn’t much care to sing. But once the pain was over and I was ready to resume my life as normal, I was dismayed to discover that I still could not sing. My vocal chords simply would not hold a note. I’d try to sing and my pitch would be sliding all over the place. That was hard to take. I cried for the loss of that part of my life. I feared that the effect would be permanent.
I didn’t want to deal with the emotions attendant on this discovery so for almost a year I didn’t sing at all. Then gradually I began singing in a low voice during congregational hymns. But more often than not I’d use managing my kids as an excuse not to sing at all. Then I was called to be the secretary for the ward choir. I was to take attendance, manage the music, and sing. It was not an easy calling on our family. Howard didn’t like having to haul kids home by himself. Gleek was a crawling baby and then a walking toddler. She’d play on the floor, attempt to play the piano, and on one memorable occasion she fell and cut her lip. After that I sent her home with Howard too. That made him even less excited about the calling. Despite those difficulties, the calling was a gift to me. My vocal chords had healed enough that I could mantain pitch. The practice strengthened them. By the end of 18 months of choir singing, my voice was better than it had ever been. I had regained one joy that I thought radiation had permanently stolen from me. I still cry thinking about it. It made me realize in a way that I could not before that I’d won. That tumor could have ruined my whole life if I’d let it, but there I was reclaiming my joy in singing.
I was released from my choir secretary position when Patches was born. I haven’t sung in the choir since then because my kids need me to be home right after church. But someday when my kids are a little older I will sing in the choir again. I look forward to that. For now I thoroughly enjoy the congregational singing and whatever other random singing comes my way.
And the story of my singing seems to be an excellent way to end my posting about radiation and my tumor. The medical treatment of that tumor was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and yet here I am. I’ve survived, more than that, I’ve thrived. I hope I never have to go through anything like it again, but honestly I’m not sorry to have been through it. I am a stronger, more compassionate person for the experiences I’ve had.
Well, look at that. I think this box is empty now.