10 January 2018
Pain and Numbness
I’ve thought about death before. What it is, what it’s like, and people’s last words and thoughts. I’ve also thought about cancer. I’ve thought about what that’s like and what I’d do if I had it. But those thoughts were always in the abstract. I’d never imagined that when I went to a dentist consult simply because they were going to talk to me about my wisdom teeth that they’d inform me about the fact that there’s a giant cyst in my jaw and there’s a possibility of having cancer. I never thought those abstract thoughts would become reality.
Over the summer I went to the dentist's office to talk about getting my wisdom teeth removed. I’ve always despised dentists and felt the worst feelings towards them, but I never thought they’d be the ones to give me the worst news I’d ever gotten. When I went in a man in nice dress pants walked in. He talked to my mom and I about how he needed me to get an x-ray done before he could really go into more detail about the procedure so he showed me to a few nice ladies in scrubs and then walked away. Once we were done, the dentist came back into the room and leaned up against the counter. He started off by asking me a few questions that I thought were a bit odd, “Do you ever have any tooth pain in your back teeth on your right side?”
“No, not really. I have occasional tooth aches but not in one place consistently that I can really think of right now. Why?”, I said a bit confused. After a couple minutes of answering his questions he ended his streak by informing my mom and I that there was a cyst in the lower back area of my jaw. My mom took a deep breath and the doctor looked sympathetic. The doctor and my mom explained that basically a cyst is a ball of abnormal cells and they’re either benign, meaning harmless, or they’re cancerous. Once I heard that my eyes filled with tears. I didn’t want to cry in front of the doctor so I looked up and stared at the lights above me, trying to dry my eyes. He told my mom and I with sad eyes and pointing fingers that the cyst was about the size of a golf ball. He pointed to the x ray and showed me that there was a nerve that ran through my whole jaw and part of that nerve had been absorbed by the cyst, and the cyst had also absorbed the root of one of my teeth, the farthest back tooth closest to my wisdom tooth. Basically I was now at risk for, cancer, death, numbness of the jaw, and immense pain. All things I was far from expecting when I walked through the front doors of the dentists building.
I didn’t want to tell my dad or even the majority of my friends. I only wanted my mom, my brother, and my best friends to know. I didn’t want people to look at me or treat me differently just because there was a scary possibility of me having cancer. I didn’t want to be “cancer girl.” I wanted to be me. Regular me. I didn’t want people to tell me they were sorry or felt bad because that wouldn’t do anything and I wouldn’t feel any better about it. I wanted things to be normal and stay the way they were, or at least how they used to be.
A big part of me wasn’t scared. I just knew that I didn’t have cancer. I felt like my body and mind would have told me, there would have been warning signs or something. Every part of me knew I didn’t have cancer. I was scared of course but I had convinced myself that I would be okay. It was early in the morning and the sun hadn’t even come up yet. I remember driving down the pretty streets of South Philly. I remember trying to appreciate every single bit of it. I was so grateful for life and the things I’d experienced. I thought of my friends and family and every single breath of air. Because who knew if those were my last few moments believing that I was cancer free. I wanted to say thank you for every single aspect of life. It was all so beautiful, those moments were purely blissful.
When I got to the hospital I went through the standard pre-surgery procedure. I met eight doctors. The last thing I remember before my surgery was laying on the operating table, strapped in, staring up at the lights on the ceiling and having a gas mask put over my face and then the strong smell of artificial oranges, then it went blank and I was numb.
When I woke up I didn’t feel anything. My face was numb and it felt big and bloated. Some nurses came over and I said they’d let my mom come in soon. I fell back asleep for I don’t know how long, but when I woke back up I was in a room with curtains all around me and my mom and her best friend were by my side. My moms eyes were happy and filled with tears, but she was keeping her cool. “The doctor said it’s not cancer. It was just a bone cyst.” That was the first thing she told me. When she told me that I was cancer free I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t feel a huge weight lifted off my chest. I only felt numb and like I was floating on a cloud. I felt no pain. I was hoping that I would feel like I just received the best news in the world. But it wasn’t amazing, I felt like this was old news.
Pain and being numb are two different things. Physically, I can say that I would rather be numb than be in pain. I would rather be numbed by any drugs that doctors prescribe me as supposed to enduring the pain of having five teeth removed and a giant cyst. Even months after my surgery I still felt numb. I felt pain in my mouth and I was numb mentally. I didn’t feel happy or excited about things that I would have usually been happy or excited about. The cancer scare had a bigger effect on me than I realized. I felt like I was eternally numb for such a long time until I slowly grew out of it and I fully realized that I was okay. After my surgery, I told my classmates, my dad, and the other people who I didn’t want originally knowing. It changed who I am. It made me appreciate life more and every single beautiful aspect of it. It also helped me learn more about myself and how I react to bad news. I became more understanding about people who said they always felt numb. I could now relate to them and I understood how hard it is to explain. The only word that will suffice is numb. Everything I went through during that time helped me become who I am today, someone who is grateful for this life, appreciative of the small beautiful things, and more understanding and much stronger.