Changing Focus

Last week I put a vague post up on social media.  In the photo I was sitting on a rock, crying.  I didn’t give a lot of detail into what was upsetting me, but I wanted to share the message that sometimes life is hard and it’s okay to let the tears fall.  A few days after that initial post I shared a few more thoughts.  I had spent the afternoon wandering around Forgetmenot Ridge, and while I was on the ridge I found the sense of peace and acceptance I had been searching for.  Now that my head is in a good place, I am ready to share my story. 


 

November 12th 

I was out for some evening laps on Prairie Mountain when I noticed that my top molars seemed to have grown and they were preventing me from being able to fully close my mouth.  I’m a big eater and this was extremely frustrating as I found it quite difficult to chew.  The issue continued to get worse throughout the evening, and I decided that I needed to see a dentist.  I’m not a very nice person when I’m hungry. 

 

A little background here, I have not been to a dentist in several years.  In the past I have viewed dental visits kind of like getting a massage, or going for a haircut.  I know I probably should do it, but I’d rather play in the mountains than take time out of my day for an appointment, so I postpone until it’s absolutely necessary.  Not being able to eat was the kick in the ass I needed to make an appointment. I scheduled a visit with the dental office closest to my house, and booked the afternoon off work. 

 

The dentist was very kind and understanding about the state of my teeth and lack of dental history.  It turns out I have great teeth, with only the one cavity that I’m pretty sure I’ve had since the last time I went to a dentist. Unfortunately, the dentist was unable to do anything about my heaving molars.  It turns out the issue wasn’t my teeth; rather I had a lesion which extended from the roof of my mouth to my cheekbone.  The swelling from the lesion was pressing on my teeth and causing them to “grow.  At this point the dentist mentioned something about cancer and an appointment at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.  My eyes welled up and I couldn’t fight back the tears.  How could I have cancer when I’m only 35?!  Also, why the fuck didn’t I come in sooner?  I had felt that lesion growing on the top of my mouth for the last year, but I had just assumed my gums were irritated and it was no big deal.  My ability to absorb the news was not helped by the fact that I was SO HUNGRY from not having been able to chew properly for the last 24hrs. 

 

I walked out of the dentist office feeling totally lost.  I sent a text to Matt to let him know what was going on, then I bought a milkshake with extra whip cream and phoned my mom.  Mom did a good job of talking me off the ledge, and by the time I got home I was reasonably convinced that I either had a cyst or a prolonged sinus infection.  Cancer was unlikely. 


 

November 13th  

 

After the dentist appointment messaged some friends to let them know what was going on.  They helped me brainstorm foods that required minimal chewing and helped me to realize that I have a very good support network.  I was not alone. 

 

I had no game plan now except to wait for a phone call from the Tom Baker.  I waited and waited, but the phone call never came.  I’ve never been so obsessed with my phone.  Thankfully, the swelling had gone down in the lesion and I was able to chew properly again.  Food keeps me sane. 

 

That evening the last thing I wanted to do was go for a run, but I went out anyway because I know that running enables to be a more resilient person.  As soon as I got onto the trails I knew that this was exactly what I needed.  I listened to a Spotify playlist which included a heavy dose of George Ezra, and I soon found myself smiling and singing along.  I was strong, capable and in control.  I could do this.   

George Ezra was followed by “Unsteady” and suddenly I found myself collapsed on the trail bawling my eyes out. 

 

Hold
Hold on
Hold on to me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady 

 

The lyrics rang true.  Sure, I am strong.  But to get through this I was going to need to lean on my support network. I couldn’t do it alone.   




 

November 14-16 

Still no phone call from Tom Baker, but I wasn’t expecting to get a call on a weekend. I took some time for myself and consciously focused on practicing gratitude. Slowly my head got back to a space where I could have rational thought without random intervals of weeping. 

 

I did some Googling and attempted a self-diagnosis.  I know this is not recommended practice, but I couldn’t resist.  I decided that it was most likely a prolonged infection or nasal polyps and I felt like an idiot for my hysteria over the last few days.  I climbed some mountains with friends, and continued to feel at peace with whatever my circumstance was. 




November 18th 

 

The long-awaited phone call finally came.  I had an appointment for 10:30 the next morning.  I didn’t know what was going to happen during that appointment, but I was hoping it would be biopsy.  At the very least, it would enable me to form some sort of game plan. 



November 19th 

 

My mom accompanied me to the hospital.  I had two doctors, Zoe (a student) and Dr Matthews.  They asked me a bunch on questions and stuck a camera up my nose.  Zoe was just learning to drive the camera and she took a few wrong turns, but the experience wasn’t terrible. I’m sure I’ll experience worse.  The doctors also spent some time looking around my mouth and repeatedly asking me if I was having difficulty swallowing. 

 

I think I left the appointment with more questions than answers.  I didn’t have an infection or nasal polyps, it was something more serious than that but we still didn’t know what.  I had a requistion for bloodwork, a CT scan and there was a biopsy in my future.  Dr Matthews told me that they were going to have to drill through the bone for my biopsy, so I would need to go under general anesthetic for the procedure.  I’ve never had any surgery so that sounds a bit daunting, but I’m sure it’s fairly routine. 

 


November 21st (today) 

 

I feel like I’m doing okay emotionally, but last night I had a dream that the lesion had grown, that it was bleeding into my mouth and I was choking.  I woke up this morning totally exhausted and not at all certain of what was dream and what was reality.  I’m realizing this is going to be a bit of a bumpy, and unpredictable road. 

 


Moving Forward 

 

I’ve decided to forego my 1 million feet of vert challenge.  I was really enjoying getting out and running hills or mountains every single day, but the project is extremely time consuming. In addition, I’ve had to eat A LOT of food to fuel my activity level and my appetite has been at an all-time high.  I know that in the coming weeks I will have a lot of time-consuming appointments, as well as additional emotional stress, and probably some difficulty eating solid food.  The challenge doesn’t seem fun anymore.  I feel like I need to relax and be more flexible with my training, so that is what I’m going to do. 

 

Over the last week several individuals have messaged me to tell me their stories and give me their support.  I know that many people have cancer scares, and that there’s a good chance that whatever is going on in my mouth/sinus is benign. However, I’d like to share my story publicly to lend support to others who may have similar ordeals happen in their lives.  I also want to keep a written history of this experience, so that I can look back on it and hopefully use it to build my mental toolbox in the future. 

 

Going through this process is teaching me to have so much more gratitude for the blessed life that I have.  I appreciate my ability to chew (something I never really thought about before), and that I lead a life with so much freedom that I can set ridiculous goals like climbing a million feet.  I’m grateful for free healthcare, supportive friends/family/spouse, and for a work environment that allows me to take time off to take care of myself.

 

2 thoughts on “Changing Focus

  1. vdewit

    Wow Joanna. Crazy stuff! I had my own cancer scare a few weeks ago. It’s not fun! I also had dreams that didn’t help. 😒 You are one of the most positive people I know. I wish you all the strength you’ll need in the coming days and if you need anything at all don’t hesitate to ask. Sending as many positive vibes as possible your way!

    Reply

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