Redux: First There is a Cancer, Then There is no Cancer, Then There Is: Part 17 of "My Right Eye"


—Self-portrait of my right eye, nearly six years after surgery

 

Redux: First There is a Cancer, Then There is no Cancer, Then There Is
When one is ill, one's focus becomes oneself. That's exhausting and debilitating. And boring. I wanted to think about other things and other people. I wanted to think about the wider world beyond the Cleveland Clinic. I wanted to engage in daily life again.

On a Wednesday in mid-December, I felt well enough (which is to say I had started tapering off the pain medication and was beginning to feel more like myself) to have a friend take me out to lunch. We stopped off first at my office so that I could see my colleagues and reorient myself for returning to work the following Monday. My first operation, to remove my thyroid, was on November 17. Allowing for the days before that surgery, when I had doctor appointments for my eye and preoperative testing, I had missed an entire month of work. Even after returning, I'd still need time off for postoperative doctor appointments. Then, with the holidays, our offices would be closed between Christmas and New Year's. I wouldn't be back on a bona fide work schedule until after the New Year. I missed the hectic, healthy pace of my job, filled with normal things to do and worry about.

Making the rounds of the different offices, being greeted by hugs and wrapped in love and concern, brought home to me how appreciated I was, and how missed. I had cancer, yes. But I was damn good at my job, and people kept telling me how they couldn't wait for me to return. As re-entries go, this was a balm. I would soon have things to worry about other than cancer. They would pale in comparison, but my mind would be exercised in other areas again. That was a good thing.

I wore my sunglasses throughout the day, but showed off my thyroid surgeon's beautiful handiwork to everyone who wanted to see. It was a perfect arc at the base of my throat, razor-thin and pale. I shared my jewelry joke with one colleague who promptly whipped open her bottom desk drawer and pulled out a choker. Made from strands of soft gray cloth and studded at the center with some pretty impressive (albeit fake) bling, she handed it to me.

You have to know M to know that it was not at all surprising that she, an elegant woman with impeccable taste and style, would happen to have some spare jewelry lying around in a desk drawer. Nor was it surprising that she gave it to me. With M, class went hand-in-hand with generosity.

I had amazing friends.

When I returned home late that afternoon, exhausted but content, the message light was blinking on my answering machine. My eye surgeon's office had called to confirm my post-op appointment for the following morning.

D, who had arranged for another professor to cover his lecture, drove me in. After all of his help and support throughout this frightening experience—way above and beyond the call of duty for former boyfriends—it was appropriate that he was with me when my eye surgeon gave me the news:

"We've received the report from the pathologist, and it is excellent. The cyst we removed was benign."

A cyst. And it was benign. I was shocked. Relieved, but shocked. He, one of the top experts in the country in his field, had told me that it was a tumor—not a cyst. He had examined me and said I had a malignancy. I'd just had 10 millimeters carved out of my eye; did I really even need to have the surgery?

Oh yes. I did. It turns out that I had a "nodular cyst" that presented, in every way, like eye cancer.

"This is a rare condition," Dr. S said. "It required many cytological tests to pin it down. There is no question that we had to take it out; it was encroaching upon your cornea."

Here's the final diagnosis as it appeared on the surgical pathology report:

CONJUNCTIVAL TUMOR, CORNEOSCLERAL DISSECTION - BENIGN EPITHELIAL INCLUSION CYST. (SEE COMMENT)

— ACUTE AND CHRONIC INFLAMMATION AND REACTIVE EPITHELIAL CHANGES.

COMMENT
There is amorphous hyalinized collagen around the cyst. Congo red stain for amyloid is negative.

It's only now, nearly six years later, that I've looked up the meaning of some of these terms. At the time, it was enough to hear the word "benign." I knew what that meant. That was all I needed to know.

But how ironic! I had been living with a bump on my neck that I was told was not cancer, and it turned out that it was. Then, a bump on my eye that was supposed to be cancer wasn't cancer after all.

My emotions were see-sawing. On the upswing, when the see-saw hoisted me toward the sun-filled sky, I didn't mind the brightness at all. I was still in pain, my vision was still blurred, and I was extremely sensitive to the light, but I didn't care. I did not have eye cancer. I did not need to have head scans to learn if a cancer that wasn't there had spread to my brain. I was not going to go blind.

When the see-saw jolted me back to earth, I remembered that I still did have cancer. I had thyroid cancer. And a few days later, my endocrinologist would tell me what we were going to do about it.

To be continued …

Part 1: The Baby's Nightmare
Part 2: The Nightmare Returns
Part 3: Room 101 and the Masquerading Marauder
Part 4: The Eye as Metaphor
Part 5: The Back Story
Part 6: It's Nature's Way
Part 7: Help From the Man on the Street
Part 8: A DES Daughter?
Part 9: Speak, Memory
Part 10: The Needle and the Damage Done
Part 11: Can I Get a Discount?
Part 12: A Call During Dinner
Part 13: First There is a Cancer, Then There is no Cancer, Then There Is
Part 14: Through a Glass, Far Too Brightly
Part 15: Anatomy of an Eye Operation
Part 16: At Peace

© 2012 Marci Rich
All rights reserved.

 

 

Marci Rich
Richmond, Virginia
The Midlife Second Wife

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