Wheels fall off. No matter how well you plan or how well you roll with it the wheels fall off.
Everything was going well with my diagnosis and treatment, you know…considering. I felt empowered and my mantra was “this, too, shall pass”. I have put up with a lot over the course of my life, breast cancer seemed difficult, but there was a plan, trained professionals and women who have blazed the trail before me. I figured, stay the course and this, too, shall pass.
One day after my fourth chemo treatment side effects began to wear off, I woke up and my face hurt. It hurt to smile, to talk, to chew, to drink, it HURT. I took an extra pain pill figuring this was part of the fourth chemo treatment, went to sleep and woke up in more pain. I contacted my oncologist, she suggested I take an extra Claritin, I dutifully took it and waited. When I went to see her, she saw the swelling and all of the sores and sent me to my primary care physician for an X-ray of my jaw to rule out necrosis. It was ruled out. Now it is day six of terrible face pain, I went to my dentist. He ruled out anything dental. Day seven still in pain.
Day eight I am ‘faking it ’til I make it” with my surgeon, who won’t schedule surgery until the root cause of the pain has been taken care of, she wasn’t fooled by the frozen water bottle on my face for an hour to take down the swelling. I cried, time was running out on my short term disability and this was the worst pain I have experienced and there was no path to relief. She suggested that I see my ENT. Day nine he is not taking patients. Day ten he takes one look at me and gets right down to business.
The last time I had seen him was a little over a year prior and everything was fine, in the intervening year I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and had four chemo treatments, lost my hair and bloated up like the Michelin Man. While it had been over a year, he knew a lot had changed, he was very respectful of all that I had been through and genuinely wanted to help relieve the pain with a proper diagnosis.
He ruled out my jaw. Ruled out my throat. Ruled out my ears. Ruled out my sinuses. Then he looked around my mouth and I jumped, he hit the painful spot — an infected salivary gland that was blocked with a stone. He showed me how that pain can present itself, it matched perfectly. Prescribed antibiotics the size of horse pills and a steroid as well as lemon drops to increase salivation. Then he said the magic words: “If you don’t feel like a new woman in the morning, let me know right away, I have two more things we can try. And if those don’t work, we will consult a neurologist and get everything from your neck up covered.”
It is amazing how much a proper diagnosis and a plan can relieve tension, I felt my shoulders relax–just a little. I filled the prescription, the pharmacist actually gave me a bottle of water because my doctor asked her to make sure that I took it on the premises and she threw in two packages of lemon drops. They were sour and they hurt my sores, but he said they would work and I dutifully sucked on them.
The next morning I woke up, cautiously smiled and felt NO pain. Took a sip of water, no pain. Spoke with my husband, no pain. Put my youngest daughter on the bus with a kiss, no pain. As I walked back in my phone rang, it was my doctor checking in, it was him, not the office staff. After we hung up, my surgeon called to see how I was doing, she could tell by the strength in my voice that things were better and she talked with me long enough to determine I wasn’t faking it. I genuinely felt like a new woman. and finished my antibiotic and steroid faithfully.
Ten days of terrible, unbelievable pain had ended, life had returned to some level of predictability. 6 months later I had an abscessed tooth, it didn’t even come close to the pain of that infection and stone. When the wheels fall off, and they will, don’t give up, keep pressing forward, because this, too, shall pass.