Friday, November 21, 2008

November 21, 2008 - Always On My Guard

Busy week. So busy, in fact, that I’ve been meeting myself coming and going, as they say.

Diane, our church secretary, gave notice a couple of weeks ago – early retirement – and, as of this week, is no longer on the job. We’re muddling through with the help of Dottie, our part-time secretary, who’s graciously agreed to give us a few extra hours. Last week, we ran an ad in the classifieds for our modestly-compensated, 30-hour-a-week position. Bam! In no time at all, there was a stack of over 120 resumes spilling off my desktop. (That compares to about 25, the last time we ran a similar ad in response to a secretarial vacancy.)

I’d originally booked the classified ad to run for 10 days. I called the newspaper up and canceled it after 4.

It’s a comment on the state of the economy – not only the sheer number of applicants, but also who they were. Real-estate agents. Legal secretaries. College graduates. Even two or three people with MBAs.

It’s also a comment on the state of health care in America – because, even though our pay scale is barely competitive with for-profit businesses, we do offer excellent health-care benefits: Blue Cross/Blue Shield, through the Presbyterian Pension Plan, for the employee AND family. I think that’s what sent them flocking to our door (or, I should say, to our e-mail address and fax machine). Decent, employer-funded medical insurance with a 30-hour-a-week position is pretty uncommon, it would seem.

But, I digress. I started commenting on how crazy-busy I’ve been, as a prelude to talking about an annoying little medical problem I’ve developed. It may or may not have been exacerbated by lack of sleep.

I’ve got a mouth ulcer, inside my cheek opposite my gums, that’s getting more and more painful. My cheek’s even starting to get a little swollen. Time to see the dentist, I guess. I wouldn’t want to think it’s some kind of abscess, though I suppose it could be – even though there’s no pain coming from any of the nearby teeth.

I have to confess, though, that one of my first thoughts was, “What if it’s cancer?” My rational mind says it couldn’t really be lymphoma, because I’m not aware of any lymph nodes in that part of the face (I checked a couple of anatomy diagrams on the web, just to be sure). The very fact that this thought came to mind, though, is a side-effect of my cancer survivorship.

The thought of recurrence is never far away – even more so for someone like me, whose cancer has already recurred, though it’s been advancing at a snail’s pace.

Most likely, it’s a minor dental problem of some sort – although it’s hard to keep my mind from jumping to the worst possible alternative.

I suppose my mind will always play such tricks on me. Goes with the territory, I suppose.


Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

Dear Pastor,
You are right: For many survivors, when they develop symptoms that before their cancer would never have prompted concern, they now worry, "What if this is cancer again?"

Some survivors respond to this line of thought by acting immediately, so a professional can evaluate their problem. Others respond by NOT acting, thinking they don't want to be (or appear to be) an alarmist. And magical thinking can come into play: "If I don't see someone, then it can't be bad."

So the real issue is not what you think or feel when you develop a new problem, but what you do.

I hope your evaluation by a dentist or physician (1) is soon, especially with the weekend coming up, (2) reveals a problem that puts your mind at ease and leads to treatment that helps resolve the discomfort and ulcer as soon as possible.

With hope, Wendy

Carl said...

I like the way you lay out the alternatives, Wendy: overreacting, not reacting at all, and magical thinking.

I did speak with my dentist this morning, and I discovered his office isn't open on Fridays. He did phone in a penicillin prescription for me, which I figure should get me through the weekend. Already I'm feeling the swelling starting to shrink, so maybe it's just an infection and my immune system is kicking in, to push it back.

I'll reasses on Monday, if all goes well.

Thanks for your concern.