Getting On

As I’ve gotten older, life has gotten easier in some ways, harder in others. I like how my emotions, desires, finances and goals have somewhat stabilized and I’m no longer without direction. I like the process of growing older, of knowing my body and myself–to a point. After I turned thirty, the first of many changes occurred to remind me that youth is, indeed, as ephemeral as a breath of air. The first sign, was when I sprained my neck while doing chin-ups. No fancy grips or muscle-ups, just a plain, full-range lift. The injury laid me out for a week. Around that time, and not only from the pain, I started going to bed earlier, and I began many of the changes–in diet, extracurricular activities and sleeping patterns–that would lead to my current, monastic lifestyle.

Still, living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t guarantee you’ll live better or longer than those that don’t; it certainly sets the right course, but anything can happen. And, at times, achieving a state of ‘healthy living’ can be as futile and frustrating as the race of trying to stay young. Especially when the fundamentals of nutrition and good-living are such fast moving targets that change, daily, with each new eureka and rebuttal in holistic medicine. No matter how hard you try, you can’t outrun sickness or age. I’ve learned that it’s best to accept these inevitabilities and to plan for how to confront them gracefully. To me that’s what being healthy means: having those expectations and preparations in place.

After mom passed away, I developed a small (less than an inch) cyst on my left wrist, which went away when I clenched my fist. I fretted and frowned, then called Dr. Round, and he told me not to worry, no need to hurry (to a specialist), and that the lump below my hand, wasn’t anything whack, it was just a harmless ganglion sack. Bodily mutations aren’t so scary when we set them to rhyme–I apologize for that ridiculousness, still. Since then, the cyst shrank and remains buried like a shy pea where it developed, though there’s no need for surgery since it’s entirely benign. But what if it wasn’t?

I had to ask that question last week, and I’ve been going through a silent ordeal about which only my partner and a few close friends and family know. Near the end of February, right after Zeus passed away, I found a tiny red bump on the upper palette of my mouth while brushing my teeth. I kept an eye on it, and felt as if it might have grown over the next few days. I went immediately to my dentist for an exam. He was fairly certain that it was just a baby mucocele: a blocked salivary duct, and one which had barely begun to form. I have no history of smoking, chewing tobacco, drinking or any of the red-flags that might indicate a more serious condition. I was told to keep monitoring it, though it should go away in a couple of weeks on its own.

It did not. It stayed about the same size, and it changed into a flatter texture. Again, we’re talking about something quite small, approximately 2mm in size, and which you needed to shine an iPhone light and camera into my mouth to clearly see. However, it was there and it wasn’t going away. When I revisited my dentist, he referred me to an oral maxillofacial surgeon and pathologist. I was lucky to get an appointment the next day, though I pushed for it. In any matter of health, remember: you (and your loved ones) are your best and loudest advocate. I can’t say that any health care system isn’t flawed, so you must always be the squeaky–but respectful–wheel.

Anyway, she examined what everyone was now calling a “lesion”. Lovely language, doctor-speak. She, too, believed it was a popped-and-now-healing mucocele, possibly a polyp, though wouldn’t 100% commit to that diagnosis. So I faced a choice: watch and wait another six weeks, or, go through a rather painful excision. I only needed one night to decide upon the latter and I had them remove a good inch of tissue for good measure from my upper palette last Friday. I appreciated that the doctor actually took my feedback into consideration and didn’t dismiss me as hysterical. She presented my options, and allowed me to make the choice on what happened to my body; this level of respect and empathy is not always found in the medical community. Anyway, as you can imagine this week’s diet was one of blended stews, pabulum and various smoothies. You can blend anything, I’ve learned, and it tastes about the same as a meal of many components. Needless to say, I also have a new respect for the cantankerousness of those in elderly care who must suffer this kind of nourishment on an ongoing basis. But it’s out of me: the baby mucocele/ lesion/ whatever. It’s gone before it had the chance to reveal whether it was benign or not (I’ll still find out a definitive pathology in another week or so).

I had another mild scare years back–again after mom died–where three minuscule moles, no larger than dots from the tip of a pen, were removed by my assiduous GP simply because they were ‘dark’. One of the three, turned out to be pre-cancerous. Consider what would have happened if I hadn’t had those removed. Consider what would have happened if my mom had her lump removed back when her surgeon told her it was “nothing to worry about” the YEAR BEFORE IT WAS DIAGNOSED. Fuck that guy. Sorry (not really), but he completely minimized her concerns as coming from a post-menopausal woman and as not coming from a person who simply knew her own body.

I’m sure that there are medical, possibly ethical reasons for the prescriptive suggestion: “watch and wait”. Although, I’ve yet to know of a situation where watching and waiting has ever benefitted a patient of cancer or a more serious disease. Cancer doesn’t wait. Degenerative disease doesn’t wait. Those forces have one priority, which is to spread and destroy. Believing anything else is wishful thinking. And wishes don’t keep us alive, regular checkups and thorough doctors, do.

That said, don’t consider all the possibilities and missed opportunities regarding your health or you’ll just drive yourself mad. The best we can do, is usually the best we can do at the time. If you’re reading this, though, and you have any lingering health concerns, or if you haven’t had an oral and physical checkup in quite some time, I hope that my anecdotes above have shown you the value of regular medical assessments. I wish you a life of health and happiness. But remember, we can’t rely on the grace of the universe alone to provide us with that gift.

All my love,