I noticed the enlarged lymph node back in April. Very small, yet still there, a pea sized lump on the left side of my neck. As with anything health related, I have a “wait a week” approach. If it was still there next week, I’d decide on what needed to be done at that point.
Next week came and went, and the lump was still there. I dismissed it.
After two weeks, I got a little wary, and made an appointment with my doctor.
She felt the small bump and told me she didn’t think much of it, but to be on the safe side she’d order up a blood count test for me, and also an ultrasound at the nearby hospital. The blood test came back fine. The ultrasound, an inconclusive lymph node measuring at .9 millimeters. Nothing to freak out over.
Yet, I started to freak out.
I made the tragic mistake of opening up my Netbook and typing into Google Chrome: “Enlarged Lymph Nodes”. I read horror stories of innocent people of all ages who had an innocent lump on the side of their necks, just like mine, and found out they had Lymphoma. Often, there were no other symptoms, although the classic tell tale signs that accompanied lymph node enlargement was typically night sweats, fevers, loss of weight, fatigue. I had none of these, yet I was intrigued. And hooked onto Google Chrome and it’s masses.
Then, a few weeks later when my innocent node decided to be naughty and get a little bigger, all hell broke loose, and I made an urgent call to my doctor. Once again, she inspected the node and told me I was fine. Lymph nodes usually react to an infection, and often times they don’t reduce back to their normal size. Or, it may take months for that to occur. She said if I was still concerned, she’d refer me to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist in order to give me the peace of mind I needed, and I could tell she was a little bothered by my attitude and anxiety. She didn’t appreciate my sleuthing skills online. And who could blame her?
I was a wreck. After going weeks with barely any sleep, deprivation was creeping up on me, causing a sore, achy body. Headaches. Nausea. Dizziness. I was there, but I wasn’t there, if that makes any sense, and I wouldn’t want to be around me either, given the choice.
I told my doctor I would be fine, that she made me feel better, but I still didn’t. I don’t really know what I was searching for, only that I had become hooked to the countless stories I read online of people who only had an enlarged node as the symptom of Lymphoma. Now, I’m not crazy, well, I don’t consider myself to be an insane person. I have good mental health, and have never had to endure something like this before. I’ve never been prone to panic attacks or anxiety issues, yet here I was, having serious anxiety over this.
It got to where a good friend of mine (whose husband is a doctor) corralled me into her house and had her husband examine me. And he said I was OK and there was nothing to worry about.
I would have believed that too, had I not noticed more lymph nodes cropping up on the right side of my neck, as well as some pain and tenderness in my right breast. After feeling around a bit, I noticed there was a difference in the way my right breast felt in comparison to the left one, and by this point I was FREAKING OUT.
I was scheduled for my annual with my OB/GYN, so I decided to bring my concerns up to him. This happened this morning. The drive there was excruciating. By the time I saw him, I was crying my eyes out. It’s been a month of not sleeping well. Having anxiety. Worry. And now this? It was just too much. I filled him in on everything, and he checked me out and said he didn’t notice anything too abnormal, but he wanted to help with easing my mind. Apparently, one of his good buddies is an Oncology doctor, located a floor below. They go fishing together every year, and have for the past 10 years. He called down to his buddy Jim, and got me in right away. As in, I grabbed my purse and headed down to get checked into the Oncology office seconds after saying my goodbyes with my by OB doc.
A woman was sitting in the waiting room with me, and she was eyeing me. I’d glance up, and there she was, looking right through me. A few moments later, she walked up to me and said, “Can I please give you a hug? You look like you need a hug.” And that did it, and my flood gates opened again as she engulfed me with a reassurance that I’d be fine. They would take good care of me here.
Her name is Bev. Bev Mom to All, as the receptionist calls her. Bev has cancer, an inoperable kind. She is in remission right now, but her cancer will come back. They told her she didn’t have much time, but she’s been going for 9 months now and going strong. This made me cry even more. This beautifully spirited woman is fighting for her life, and is taking time out to console me?!? She said she really hoped I had nothing to worry about, but if there was, I had to think positively. That there was hope, and not to ever give up. She told the receptionist, “I’ll see you next month”. And with that, she walked out of the clinic.
Jim is an older gentlemen, and you can tell he’s been doing Oncology for quite some time. He has all the questions lined up, and writes them down on paper while I respond. I learned a lot from Jim, today. He made sure I had blood work drawn yet again (what turned out fine), and then he proceeds to feel my lymph nodes. He tells me: “In my profession, these are called DINKY. They are the smallest nodes I’ve ever seen!” I’m not sure if he was saying that to make me feel better, but it worked. He checked all my lymph nodes for swelling. In the groin area, my arms, my neck, above my collarbone. He also felt into my stomach, and had me turn on each side to feel for anything out of the ordinary. He re-checked my right breast, and said there was nothing that alarmed him.
After the exam, he sat with me and EXPLAINED to me what he was looking for, and what I needed to know. The first thing was:
1. NO MORE INTERNET. Stop looking things up online. It’s useless, and pointless. It will only scare me more, and of course I will find the worst of the worst on there.
2. Breast cancer usually presents with a swollen lymph node under the armpit. He said when that occurs, it’s cause for concern. Also, it can travel up to the nodes above the collar bone, but he’s never seen where breast cancer will affect the nodes high in the neck. He said he understood my concern. Breast issues, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck on the same side of the body, yet it wasn’t connected.
3. Enlarged lymph nodes (when small) ARE NORMAL. If they are less than 2 centimeters. If it gets larger than 2 centimeters, it’s time to get it checked out but even that may not be cause for concern. Most of the time, nodes enlarge due to infection. A nasty virus. Bacterial. Even allergies can trigger those nodes to work double time to defend your body, and this can make them swell up. Often, they won’t go back to the original size they were. From all the research I’ve done online, I’ve seen those referred to as “shotty” nodes.
He told me that from what he had seen, I was going to be fine, but if I needed more peace of mind, he could order up an x-ray, or scans. I declined that. I told him I had a feeling I was going to sleep a lot better tonight than I have in weeks, and I thanked him for his time and his willingness to help me out on such short notice.
On the drive home, I cried. I couldn’t help it. First, it was tears of relief. I felt as though I’d been in some vicious cycle I couldn’t quite get out of. All the stress and panic had made me feel sick, depressed, and horrible. Then seeing the nodes get bigger and everything else just fed into the crazy mess.
The tears turned to sorrow as I thought about Bev, Mom to All. I felt like such an asshole, getting myself so worked up while Bev was actually living through what I feared most. She wasn’t letting her psychosis get the best of her.
I’m going to send a thank you card to Bev. I really hope I can connect with her. I have no last name, but I know I can send it to the Oncology clinic, addressed to “BEV- MOM TO ALL” and I am sure the receptionist will give it to her. I want to know that she’s OK, and possibly be someone she can talk to, when she needs someone.
I’m also going to send a thank you to my OB/GYN doctor, for not dismissing me. He went above and beyond for me today to help me, and I very much appreciate it.
I also hope to express more gratitude to my family, for having to deal with me this past month. I’m sure I haven’t been easy to live with.
Like Bev said, you can’t give up. That being said, I want to say that you really shouldn’t give up. I’m not one for being a hypochondriac, but I really needed the peace of mind. If you are feeling as though something isn’t right with your health, don’t be embarrassed or feel stupid to get it checked out. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it will help your mental and emotional state in the long run. I know from this experience just how damaging stress and anxiety can be to your health, physically. Don’t be ashamed.
Never, ever have I felt the “count your blessings” montrage ring more true than today.