May 25, 2018
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One more worry for me in June: tonsillar cancer

Erin Donovan
By Erin Donovan, Special to the BDN

I like to spend the month of June fretting. It’s not a conscious decision that I commit to. It’s just hardwired in me to worry all 30 days of June away. In years past, the worry was contained to the usual mile markers: finals, the last day of school, my mother’s birthday, my then-husband’s birthday and poor forecasts during vacations. National Camping Week also falls in June, so don’t even get me started about the anxiety that produces.

This year’s June trotted out a more virulent strain of worry. I had gone for a physical, an appointment made in the wake of a dear friend’s health crisis. It was at my physical, which I’d consented to under the premise that it was going to prevent any erosion to my health, that I learned I had an enlarged tonsil, mind-blowing information to someone who wasn’t even sure she possessed tonsils to begin with. From there, I was referred to an ENT who confirmed that I indeed had an enlarged tonsil, but because ENTs have an even more impressive lexicon from which to draw when describing tonsils, my condition was labeled as asymptomatic unilateral tonsillar enlargement.

After peering into my mouth, he leaned back into his chair and said, “You seem like the type who has probably researched what we worry about when we see one enlarged tonsil.”

I nodded, suddenly worried that my tonsils also contained my internet browser history.

“Then you already know that we need to screen for tonsillar cancer.”

I nodded once more.

A few nods later, I was scheduling my tonsillectomy with the front desk. It was the middle of June, and I’d not even gotten around to booking an appointment for a pedicure or a haircut, but there I stood, thumbing through my calendar in an attempt to schedule the most convenient time to figure out whether I had tonsil cancer. The appointment was made for the first of July, which gave me another couple of weeks to ratchet up my June terror threat to the orange level.

The morning of my surgery, I took my children out for bagels, which I could only stare longingly at given the mandatory fasting that went into effect the night before. We walked home slowly, a flotilla of bodies connected by hands and the thoughts that hung between us. I had little interest to hasten their pace, my mind knotted with notions of time and of things never being quite as simple again. Plus, my clear liquid allowance had expired so I didn’t want to get my heart rate up. I delivered them to their dad, both terrified to lose the comfort of their proximity and ready to tackle something too adult for them to be a part of.

My pre-op time at the hospital was a dizzying probe into my lasts: hospital stays, blood tests, menstrual cycles, bowel movements, meals and drinks. As the anesthesia wound its way through my insides, I worried that I hadn’t gotten the facts right on my bodily functions and wanted to offer some revisions. I wondered why my brother, the Navy SEAL in the family, hadn’t kicked down the doors to the ER by now to spring my tonsils from my throat with one elbow to my jugular. Why hadn’t a Katniss Everdeen volunteered as tribute to take my place?

I awoke a couple of hours later, fog roosting on my mind and eyelids heavy with sedation. They asked more questions, these of the yes-or-no variety so that I could respond with a nod or shake of my head. Nurses rotated in, unflinching sentinels with their chirping machines. I became increasingly aware of my throat while in the recovery room. It wasn’t so much that I felt that I’d had two tonsils removed as much as I felt I’d had two sea urchins placed in their stead. I was sent home shortly after with prescriptions in hand and urchins in throat.

I had gridlock worry for the next five days. I worried I was going to hemorrhage in the night with only a kindergartner who confuses 4-1-1 for 9-1-1 as my night watchman. I worried I was never going to eat anything more substantial than tapioca again and never watch anything more substantial than The Duggar reality show. I worried I was going to become addicted to pain pills since the idea of even getting through the night without them seemed terrifying. Mostly, I worried I was going to hear, at any moment, that I had cancer.

On the sixth day, I learned that I didn’t. Instead I had two deeply infected, but noncancerous, tonsils that were now vanquished. For the first time in weeks, I exhaled and I stopped worrying. Because June was really over now.


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