I have a lump in my neck.
It is a small, movable lump, and somehow during the last seven weeks it has become my habit to check that it is still there. It is not a comfort when my fingers still find it, when it is still as present and real as it was when I first found it.
Life has this funny habit of throwing you stories and then allowing your life to stumble into something so similar it can be a little eerie. My parents had told me of a family friend who had found a tiny, hard lump in her neck, so small she almost didn’t find it, and the doctors almost couldn’t feel it. Still, for whatever reason, she got it checked out, and doing so saved her life. The early stages of that cancer is the only place you can still reasonably chase off death.
Barely weeks later, sitting at my desk with a frown on my face due to uncooperative numbers, I raised a hand to my neck as I always do. And notice a lump.
Taking better notice of the lump, my blood turns to cold water in my veins.
I immediately dismissed it, once I could reason with the irrational worry that had flooded me. But I could not dismiss it truly enough that I did not consult Dr Google once getting home that evening. Even though everybody knows that Dr Google will always end up promising you the worst.
However, much to my surprise, this time it did not. A small, movable lump, it said, is unlikely to be more than a swollen lymph node brought on by a cold sitting in the back ground, or some kind of infection. Unless it does not go down after a couple of weeks, you have nothing to worry about.
Even though I’ve never felt a lymph node like this before, near the base of my neck and around to the side, I felt the worry ebb away. With a mental note to check for it every now and then, I forget it for the night.
Three weeks down the track and I can not ignore that the lump has not changed. Four weeks, and I find myself mentioning it to my mother, though I know it will only worry her over nothing. But it has its hold on my mind now, as well as its place on my neck, and I have to mention it to her.
Five weeks, and both her and my sister are asking me if I’ve booked in with the doctors. I haven’t; between work and full time uni I don’t have much spare time, and in the evenings I am just so tired. It niggles at my brain though, and by week six I have finally gotten an appointment.
The doctor doesn’t seem too worried. It’s not quite where she’d have expected to find a lymph node, and it has been up for a while, but there’s no overt concern. She sends me to have my blood taken so she can run any, and all, tests she thinks might give us a better understanding of why the gland is swollen, books another appointment with me early next week, and then I go.
That appointment was this afternoon. My bloods have shown nothing unusual, except low iron, which would explain how tired and unmotivated I have been.
But nothing isn’t necessarily good news. Nothing means she still doesn’t understand why it is there, or what it means. Nothing means that it isn’t a simple cold or infection that one good dose of antibiotics can get rid of.
Now, I find myself waiting on an appointment so they can ultrasound it, and take a small sample of it.
The doctor still doesn’t seem too worried. “You’re young and healthy,” she says. “It’s most likely going to be an ultrasound only to find out it is a blocked gland. We are only checking to make sure.”
I know she is right, and I’m not truly concerned. It does not feel dangerous, this lump. Foreign, maybe. Unusual. But not life-threatening.
But it is odd, having a lump in your neck. A simple, small lump that feels like it could be so easily removed. So insignificant.
And yet, though this lump may not hurt me, similar ones have taken lives.
We never really know what is around the corner. Or how easily our bodies can become strange, and dangerous to us.
Wake-up calls are harsh reminders.