My first visitor the next day was a woman from speech therapy; she brought in a glass of water with ice and asked that I attempt to drink from the glass and swallow. Given that I had practiced swallowing my saliva the night before, I was not nervous. However, as I swallowed the water, I began violently coughing and found that I could not, in fact, swallow the small sip of water. I looked to the speech therapist with dismay, asking why it was that this had happened. She informed me that my swallowing ability was currently strained and that the water was going down the wrong pipe. She told me I couldn’t eat and would need to stay on an IV for fluids. She must have observed the discouraged/scared look on my face because she then informed me that my nerves likely just needed time to recover. I asked her when I could leave the hospital and she informed me I could leave when I could successfully swallow water and eat a soft diet, such as applesauce. I tried to calm myself after she left, telling myself, it was, after all, only the first day post-surgery.
Hours later, JJ’s fire crew came into my room in uniform with a box full of donuts from a specialty store in Charleston, Glaze. I starting crying as they entered the room and didn’t really know what to say- I guess I was pretty emotional. I told them it was kind of them to bring the donuts, but informed them I couldn’t eat or drink. They left shortly afterwards, as I am certain that I was an emotional mess, more than what they had bargained for. Beyond that, my voice and speech had been compromised due to surgery (right side of my tongue was very weak) and people had a difficult time understanding me. JJ said for several weeks following surgery, with the first few days being the worst, I had a lisp, words blended together, and he had a really hard time understanding me- as did everyone else. Sweetly, no one ever really told me how difficult it was to actually understand me. And when I was asked to repeat myself, I always asked JJ if it was because he couldn’t understand me, but he would kindly say it was just because he didn’t hear me (what a sweet liar).
Later that day, my surgeon, Dr. G, came to see me while my mom, JJ, and best friend were visiting. He informed me/us that surgery had taken much longer than anticipated because the tumor had spread to my right lymph nodes and salivary glands, which is “highly abnormal” given the type of tumor I had. He noted that this was likely the case because the tumor could be malignant. He went on to state that they had sent the tumor in for testing, and he would inform me once the pathology report was in. That’s all he needed to say, however, for me to know in my heart that the tumor was malignant. It was in his voice, the way he explained things, it was written all over….I became tearful, as my best friend and mom attempted to relieve my fears, noting that the tumor likely invaded my lymph and salivary glands due to the sheer size of the tumor (5 cm) and the fact it had no where else to go/grow.
I later (when pathology report came back) learned that JJ knew that the tumor was likely malignant the night before, during my surgery. Reportedly, while I was still under anesthesia, Dr. G and a vascular surgeon met with my mom and JJ in a conference room to explain how the tumor had spread and how “aggressive” it was. Dr. G stated that he had never seen a tumor that was benign act in such a way. They were told that the tumor had grown into my carotid artery as well and that the vascular surgeon had delicately sewn together my artery once the tumor had been removed from the artery itself. At that point, I was reportedly being taken to undergo an angiogram so that they could determine whether the reconnection of my carotid artery still allowed for good blood flow, (which it did). Had it not, then I would have been back to the surgical table and the surgeons would have placed a stint in. And if option B didn’t work, then option C would have been to remove an artery from my leg to replace the missing area in my carotid artery. Luckily, option A was successful.
Dr. G did leave my ICU room with one final note of wonderful news. Even during the lengthy 10 hour surgery in which they were faced with obstacles that had not been anticipated, he had not damaged ANY of my nerves. It was at that point that I wanted to give this man the biggest hug. Even while in my heart I knew, I have cancer.