Questions and Claustrophobia: A Cancer Scare

Unanswered questions feel a lot like claustrophobia. So do MRIs. And news about clustering of nuclei, of spindle cells.
11/21/2013 06:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


Unanswered questions feel a lot like claustrophobia. So do MRIs. And news about clustering of nuclei, of spindle cells.

"The biopsy determined that the mass in your neck is neither thyroid nor parathyroid, so we don't know what it is."


MRIs aren't so bad, except for the loud buzzing, the metallic sounds, the feeling of magnetic waves pulsing through you. The having to lie still for 30 minutes, the thick metal hockey mask two inches from your face. They do give you headphones for the radio, which is nice, except that you can't change the station when you hear Sabotage by the Beastie Boys. I must admit, though, it did drown out the sound.

I opened my eyes a couple of times, but closed them for fear of panicking. I imagined the sunshine and shore line, seagulls searching the sea. I thought of Micah and Tegan, watched them dance and laugh in our kitchen.

"The next one will be four and a half minutes. Then I'll pull you out to give you the contrast."

The "contrast" is clear and water-based, injected into your vein. It feels cool and thick moving through you, winding its way to the source of trouble. It highlights your intricacies, makes cells more visible. I pictured the ocean, the seagulls scanning.

"Are you doing okay?"

"Mm hmm."

I lied.

Tegan is very good at saying "Mm hmm." Tegan, do you have a wet diaper? Mm hmm. Tegan, do you want milk? Mm hmm. Tegan, do you want to go outside? Mm hmm. Tegan, did you make a mess? Mm hmm!

I wondered what kind of mess they would find. The doctors, the surgeon, the technicians.

I pictured masses like searing white spots, shining like stars.

I opened my eyes, imagined the sky past the ceiling.


A few days later I sat in an oncologic surgeon's office, a modest building with a small, square waiting room, uplifting quotes on the walls. I sat for two hours, saw the surgeon for 10 minutes, then waited for 30 minutes to schedule the surgery.

"You might need to have your entire thyroid removed."

The thyroid, that butterfly-shaped tissue surrounding my airway. It seemed unfair to lose a part of yourself with such a shape. I pictured a Monarch flitting away from my neck, dissapearing down the hall.

"You might just need half of your thyroid removed." I pictured myself with one wing.


We arrived to the hospital early. Tegan fluttered about in her pajamas, tried to climb and conquer every chair. Soon we said our goodbyes, and I secured my tears as Tegan let out hers. Micah smiled through his worry. He said he'd see me after the surgery.

The OR was cold and sterile, white and brightly lit. I lay there wondering if the anesthesia wouldn't work, but I woke up afterward, oxygen pulsing. My thyroid was intact, but something rare was discovered. Something that could still be cancer.

Just because something is rare doesn't mean it's bad," the surgeon said. I tried to smile. "You should hear from pathology by the end of the week."


I spent that day, night, and the next morning in the hospital. I learned that:

1. Anesthesia and I don't mix well.

2. My hospital offers unlimited ice cream.

3. Being away from your family feels really unnatural.

4. Not all nurses care about you.

5. If a nurse, upon hearing that you're nauseated and feel faint, says nothing, makes no eye contact, dumps some items out of a bucket for you to get sick in, then just as quickly leaves the room, you should be able to ask for a new nurse.

I found out the results a week later.

And. It wasn't cancer. Just a benign mass with a funny name. The scar would take a year to heal, and I'd be wearing scarves for a while, but I was okay.

I. was. okay.

Exclamation exclamation exclamation. To infinity.