Monday, October 24, 2011

Weird shit brings needles to my face

The tumor news story of the day was my visit this morning to my doctor for what's known as a fine needle aspiration biopsy, or FNA. The idea is simple and useful: get some cells from the tumor so a specialist can stare at them under a microscope and declare them benign or malignant (and if malignant, ideally to name the type of bad cells they are).

The process sounds nasty: The doctor sticks a needle into your face to numb the skin. Then, after waiting a bit for the numbing to take hold, they stick in another needle and withdraw a bunch of cells.

The doctor also warned me that it would hurt like hell.

Consequently, when I entered the doctor's office this morning, I was expecting a rather unpleasant stay in his chair.

To my pleasant surprise, the FNA was no big deal. The numbing needle barely hurt at all, and the FNA needle, which was in my face for close to 20 seconds, hurt even less. I have to give my doctor credit; he did a great job. If this was all the tumor cost me, I wouldn't care at all.

Of course, that's not the case. What the tumor will at the very least cost me is major surgery on my face--and, of course, a ton of time and emotional energy.

The results of the FNA are likely to tell surgery is the end of the story. Three outcomes are possible.

The first, which is the least likely to happen, is that the results are "not diagnostic," i.e., the specialist who studies the cells can't tell what they are. In this case, another FNA is probably in order. I could live with that.

The second, which is far and away the most likely to happen, is that the results show benign cells. Over 80% of all parotid tumors are benign. In addition, everything about my tumor--no symptoms, cleanly defined mass, location on the superficial node of the gland--argues for it to be benign.

This is the outcome I want.

The third option, of course, is that the tumor is malignant, i.e., cancer of some sort. I'm still focusing on the belief that this one will not happen--and all the data so far argues against it.

No matter what, of course, I'll have surgery. I'm already set to interview my first doctor the day I get back from the upcoming thirteen-day trip.

I won't know the FNA results, sadly, until at best Friday, so until then I'll be on pins and needles a bit hoping the tumor proves to be benign. Thanks to all of you who have sent me notes of support; here's hoping the FNA brings good news!

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