Nearly a year and a half ago, in September of 2016, I was diagnosed with cancer. Why I sought medical help in the first place is the beginning of a story I’ve wanted to share here, but I felt too exposed to blog about at the time, so I turned to my journal. Now, with God’s help – for he’s been with me all the way – I’m going to chronicle what happened, in hopes it may encourage someone. In brief, I learned I had thyroid cancer, then lung cancer, and went through multiple surgeries and chemo, and have started radiation.
Thanks to God – who works in ways that include modern medicine – my latest tests show no evidence of disease. Part 1 follows.
Why I Sought Medical Help
On July 1, 2016, or thereabouts, I woke up with laryngitis. At least that’s what I thought it was. As a teenager, I had lost my voice once for a whole week, which scared me, for I loved to sing. Every morning, the first thing I did was try to hum, and when I couldn’t, I nearly cried. On top of that, I couldn’t eat much because my throat hurt.
But on this day in July, my throat wasn’t sore or scratchy, I wasn’t sick, but something didn’t feel right. It was as if my vocal cords were crowded. When I woke up the next morning, my voice was back, higher and weaker. Oddly, I didn’t sound like me, yet I assumed whatever was causing the change would clear up in time.
During the following week, I drove to Idaho by myself to prepare for my mom’s memorial service. (My husband had to work and came by plane.) Our son read my tribute to my mom not only because I felt I’d be too emotional but also because my voice was so weak. As I greeted family and friends afterward the service, everyone said comforting things about my mom, and many asked about my voice.
During the next month, nothing changed in my throat except that swallowing sometimes took an effort, and my husband agreed I should seek medical help. So I requested an appointment with an ENT specialist (self-referral) by email through our HMO.
Testing the Vocal Cords
This is taken from an email I sent my dad on August 13, 2016:
On Wednesday morning, I went to see an ear-nose-throat specialist in Bellevue. While waiting for a few minutes in the exam room, I studied a booklet that showed the anatomy of the throat and vocal cords. I’d forgotten that the cords lie in a horizontal plane.
The doctor interviewed me, palpated my throat, and told me he was going to do a laryngoscopy (also called Video Stroboscopy) using a miniature camera attached to a probe, which was a stiff yet flexible piece of cable about a foot long.
He started by spraying a numbing liquid in my left nostril, waited a few seconds, and inserted the probe up my nostril until it reached my larynx. After the probe was in place, he asked me to say “eeeee” on a low tone and a higher tone, soft and loud, while he filmed. (The procedure didn’t bother me at all.) After removing the probe, he asked if I wanted to see the footage he’d taken, and I said, “I’d love to!” We watched the video clip as he narrated what my vocal cords were doing.
My left vocal cord is redder and bigger than the right one, and it doesn’t quite touch the right vocal cord or vibrate as it should when I vocalize, which accounts for my hoarse voice. The doctor said he thinks I may have an infection, so he prescribed an antibiotic, ordered a CT scan, assured me that 98-99% of nodules were non-cancerous, and told me to return in three months.”
Thirteen years earlier, a doctor had ordered scans of my thyroid because it was lumpy but hadn’t found anything worrisome, so I didn’t think too much about my upcoming scan this time and prayed my voice would improve on its own. I couldn’t wait to get back to singing in the church choir.
I will sing the wondrous storyFrancis H. Rowley, 1886
Of the Christ Who died for me;
How He left His home in glory
For the cross of Calvary.”
In case you’re interested, you can watch vocal cords in action here.
Next week: Diagnostic Tests for Cancer
Thanks for reading!