The Mighty Logo

Surprise! That Bump You Didn’t Notice Is Cancer

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Freshly back in the states after a semester abroad in London, I’m beginning to settle back into the routine I knew before. I’m excited for the year in front of me — heading into my last semester on campus, making my thesis film, and spending my final semester of college in sunny Los Angeles.

My mom looks at me quizzically and asks, “What’s that on your neck?”

My neck? Nothing is wrong as far as I’m aware so my response is, “What do you mean?”

She reaches up and touches a spot on my neck. “Right here, it seems swollen.”

I move my own hand up to feel the spot and find the bump she was referring to. My only response is a surprised, “Huh,” not sure what to make of it. We continue the conversation for a bit, concluding it was likely a swollen lymph node, but it wouldn’t hurt to get it checked out.

Those next few months become a little bit less exciting than I planned after that first appointment.

I drive eight hours round trip for more appointments, sometimes more than once a week. I spend time anxiously coordinating work with my professors while feeling guilty for missing any time or needing to make accommodations for myself, especially because I still feel fine, so whatever it is has to be no big deal.

Yet I find myself spending more time in doctor’s offices than I ever have before. I quickly have to familiarize myself with new terms and new procedures like a neck ultrasound and a fine-needle biopsy.

Even as this transitions into surgery, the doctors and test results continue to tell me it’s simply a benign growth on my thyroid, and thyroid nodules are quite common.

As I sit in my post-op appointment two weeks later, the floor drops out from under me.

“So it looks like after being sent to pathology your thyroid was actually cancerous and you need to go back into surgery in two weeks.”

So many emotions flood through me — fear, anger, surprise — jumbled up into a big mess. I didn’t remember the rest of that appointment or the drive home. I do remember getting home, locking myself in my room, and laying on my bed feeling defeated.

I feel I can’t trust my own body. Something like this was in there, completely undetectable to me. It took someone else to recognize something was off after four months of not seeing me in person. I had no symptoms, I didn’t know how long it had been there, and based on everything I learned I should have. But I didn’t.

However, a positive thought manages to pop in amidst the chaos. Had my mom not seen me for four months, she may not have noticed the growth just like I didn’t, since it was so gradual. It’s almost lucky we spent that time apart because it made things that much more obvious.

Who knows how long I would have gone without treatment otherwise. Until it started to impact my ability to breathe? To swallow? I may not have gotten the possibility of a good outcome if we didn’t act when we did.

As surprising as my cancer journey was, I am at least thankful for the way the cards fell throughout it. But listen closely, body, let’s hold off on any new surprises for a while.

Photo by Alexander Shustov on Unsplash

Originally published: December 10, 2021
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home