Tuesday 6 October 2015

It's not a tumour (except it is)

A few months back, I was sat on a plane, heading home to Dubai after a fabulous trip to Australia for a wedding. We'd had a ball at the wedding and then a great few days in Singapore. Probably a bit too much partying and late nights so I wasn't surprised when I got a blinding headache on the flight home. I suffer from headaches, so it wasn't something new. I rubbed my head all over in an attempt to soothe the throb when I felt a lump, at the end of my jaw just behind my ear.

"Ooh a swollen gland," I thought. When I landed, I went to the doctor to get something for the severe headache and I mentioned the lump, just as I suspected he diagnosed a swollen gland. A few days later I developed a kidney infection so it all fell into place. I had been fighting off an infection. Simple. After large doses of antibiotics, I recovered from the infection. Then I noticed the swollen gland will still there. "I must get back to the doctor to check it out."

Finally a few weeks later, one free morning after dropping the kids at school, I decided I better get that lump checked, on the spur of the moment. Just in case.

"Just a swollen gland, I'll prescribe some antibiotics." "But I had all those antibiotics!" "hmmmm"

Taken to the room next door for an ultrasound, I was then asked to wait while he spoke to the doctor. I could see them talking for five minutes or longer. Called in, I was told there was something wrong with my saliva gland "do you have a history of any problems? Does your family? You'll need an MRI, you'll need it today." 

I didn't have it that day but the next. An hour of jack hammering in my ear. "your doctor will give you the results in two days".

Exactly 48 hours later the phone rang. "It's a tumour. You'll need to see the specialist."

Tumour? Specialist? Tumour means only one thing. Fear and tears and dread. Death and deformity. It all seemed like an overwhelming wave of certainty or uncertainty. Tumour. It can't be good. 

Arnold Swarznegger uttering "it's not a tumour" in my head. But apparently it is. 

"These tumours are most often benign, but they can sometimes be more sinister. They can be cancerous. I recommend a biopsy. Whatever it is, the treatment is the same. It needs to be surgically removed, they can't be left, malignant or benign."

Google told me these tumours aren't common. Not necessarily rare, but fairly uncommon. Google told me, if malignant, they can be tricky to treat. Google told me Adam Yauch from the Beastie Boys had a malignant tumour the exact same size, in the exact same location as mine. He sadly died in 2012. Google told me the surgery could result with permanent facial paralysis and other weird side effects. I was terrified, to say the least.

I was admitted for the biopsy. It was painful, but not too bad. "We'll have the results in five to seven days." Two days later I got on a flight to Europe, for a holiday. Try as I might to ignore it, there was a black cloud hanging over me. I wondered if I'd actually return to Dubai. If the results were bad I would fly straight to Australia for treatment. Should I warn my friend in Ireland that we may not come visit them after all? Could I really have cancer? What if I do have cancer?

After a long weekend in Berlin we drove to Bratislava. My eye constantly wandering to my phone. Thinking, I should know today. As I put my bags down in our Air BnB apartment and logged on to wifi, I saw my doctor's name pop up with a ping on my email. 

"Samples indicate a pleomorphic adenoma." A benign tumour. I felt like 50 ton of concrete had been lifted from my shoulders. I burst into tears of pure relief. Benign in Bratislava. For more than two weeks I'd lived with this lump, not knowing if it was cancer. Knowing that it might be. Everyone kept saying "it will be alright" I daren't believe them, because what if it wasn't alright. It isn't always alright. 

My ENT in Dubai said it had to be removed because it would keep growing, as it got bigger it would be harder to remove and as it had already grown quite deep could affect the facial nerve. As it was growing deep, he couldn't remove it. All this meant I had to return to Sydney to see a highly-skilled surgeon, who repeated exactly what the ENT said, it needs to be removed. 

Wanting to avoid surgery, especially one that had risks, I read everything I could get my hands on. I could live with a lump on my neck. But they all said the same thing, these tumours have to be removed, especially in the location my was or they would cause more problems. 

So last week, after jetting into Sydney I went into hospital and had my lumpy little friend removed. I woke up in agonising pain, wondering why on earth this was necessary. Quickly though I began to feel better. Numb and sore at the same time, but better. I still sometimes brush my hair back from my face and feel a weird, spongy thing on the side of my head and it takes a few seconds to realise it's my poor, numb ear. "Who needs feeling in an ear?" people say to me, but I've realised I quite like feeling in my ear. It may come back. It might not. 

Once removed, the tumour was bigger than it was when I had the MRI. Further "proof" that surgery was necessary. A numb ear is better than a paralysed face or the benign tumour turning "sinister" as they can do. 

I'm now back in Dubai, after a whirlwind trip to Australia. Time to move forward from that time I had a tumour in my parotid gland. Incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to move forward. 


  1. Oh Corinne, you poor, poor love. How harrowing for you. I am so glad it's removed. xx

  2. Sometimes it is alright. xoxo


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