The Princess and the Pea (-sized mass)

A few months ago, while getting out of the shower, I felt a little lump in my upper left thigh. I tried to locate it again a short time later, and couldn’t, so I though it had disappeared. A few days later, I felt it again, and rationalized it as calcified blood, an after-effect of all the bruises I’ve been getting on my legs from my toddler bumping into me all the time. A few days after that, I couldn’t find it again, and convinced myself that I’d imagined the whole thing.

Then, about a month ago, I felt it again, and showed it to my husband. He could definitely feel something, too. We decided I should show this mysterious lump to my oncologist; it turned out the oncologist couldn’t make a definitive diagnosis, so I was scheduled for an ultrasound. The ultrasound couldn’t determine anything definitive, either, other than the size of the “mass” (that’s what we started calling it), which was 1cm x 1.3cm, about the size of a pea, so my oncologist suggested further, more invasive examination. A needle biopsy wasn’t recommended in this case (the mass was so small that the needle could possibly miss it), so I was referred to a surgeon.

This surgeon happened to be the one I was referred to almost four years ago, the one who initially evaluated the mass in my shoulder, which turned out to be cancer (namely synovial sarcoma, a malignancy of the soft tissue). Paying him another visit felt like the worst kind of deja vu. Though this surgeon was/is amazing, I just couldn’t help drawing uncomfortable parallels between my experience four years ago and the one I was having now. Again, I was having surgery to remove a mass of indeterminate nature, and I was being told that the surgery would be easy, with a quick recovery, and that the lump would probably turn out to be nothing. I had heard this all before, and last time, none of it came true. Four years ago, surgery revealed that the mass was wrapped around my C5 and C6 nerves, which had to be severed, rendering my arm partially paralyzed. I went through a second operation two days after the first, where a neurosurgeon removed an 8cm length of nerve from my lower leg and grafted it into the damaged area in my shoulder. So, on top of what later turned out to be a cancer diagnosis, followed by three months of radiation and four cycles of chemo, I had to deal with major trauma in one of my limbs, agonizing pain, a long, slow healing process, and intensive physical therapy. (P.S. My arm is okay now. Not perfect, but okay.)

I thought I had left this garbage behind four years ago, when I finished my last round of chemo. I don’t consider myself a sick person anymore, and I don’t want to be seen that way. I am a happy person, someone with a full, rich, healthy, authentic life, which now includes being a mom to a gregarious toddler. I am DONE with negativity and toxicity, misfortune and malady. So how could this be happening to me again? Pardon my French, but, really, WTF?

Thankfully, I managed to pass through the shock and anger phases of this journey by the time I had my surgery two weeks ago. I was not nervous at all in the hospital, and it turned out I had no reason to be. The surgery was a success, the mass was removed without complication, and there were only three crappy things about my experience:

1. I couldn’t eat or drink anything (including water) for more than twelve hours before the surgery. This sucked big-time, especially as the surgery was scheduled late in the day. I can go without food, but going without water is torture for me. I drink water ALL THE TIME, and I have a weird phobia about getting dehydrated, so this was pretty much my personal nightmare.
2. The insertion of the IV. I always hate this part. It’s a particular delight when you haven’t had anything to drink for twelve hours, so your veins are virtually non-existent.
3. Having to wait a week and a half for the biopsy results. This was a killer. Though my husband took great care of me, and I did what I could to distract myself: I hammered away at my WIP. I cooked and baked. I watched innumerable episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Peppa Pig with my happily-oblivious little one. I ate a LOT of Halloween candy.

And then, yesterday, I visited the surgeon at his office, with my husband and my son. I was anxious, but I didn’t have the opportunity to fully freak out in the exam room; my son was fussy, so my husband held him while I sang whatever came into my head, which turned out to be The Alphabet Song and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain and Close to You by the Carpenters. Honestly, I think the singing lulled me more than it did him. Then, there was a knock at the door, and the surgeon appeared. And he was smiling.

“Good news!” he said. “It was nothing! Just a lump of fatty tissue!”

At that, I lowered my head into my lap, and exhaled. Whew. WHEW.

So, it turns out I had nothing to worry about. Sometimes, surgery really is easy, recovery really is quick, and a lump really does turn out to be nothing. Sometimes, shit happens, but you just end up with a barely visible scar, a crazy story for your blog, and a life that will go on.

Sometimes, even I get lucky.

(PLEASE NOTE: While I don’t like to keep secrets, I won’t be sharing this story with my grandmother — and if you know her, I hope you won’t, either. She is 93 and in a very fragile mental state, and prone to anxiety, so this health scare is not something she needs to know. Thanks in advance for your understanding and discretion.)


12 thoughts on “The Princess and the Pea (-sized mass)

  1. Kara, you are such a wonderful writer! In this case that means you scared the crap out of me as I read this. But I’m so SO relieved to hear you are ok. I went deaf in one ear for several weeks this summer. The possible explanations: “Virus. Or Brain tumor.” Took several weeks to determine which. (It was a virus.) Here’s to (medical) anticlimaxes!

  2. WHEW is right! Awesome outcome! I’m happy it turned out the way it did. I had a lump in my upper thigh as well. My daughter-in-law is an ICU nurse. I asked her about it, and she said it’s probably a fatty deposit. That’s good enough for me!

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