A Lump In My Throat

Each January and February, there seems to be a week in Chicago where every weatherman and news outlet is predicting the coldest temperatures in history or the most snow on record or a combination of both in one week. Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans alike are often left asking, “Why do we put up with this?” Well, all my life I’ve been hearing that Chicago winters build character. This winter, it’s looking like I’m going to need as much of that stored up character as I can muster.

It all started with a lump in my throat, which my wife and I now creatively refer to as “Lumpy.” I trace Lumpy’s birth back to a dinner at Red Robin before the late October Northwestern homecoming game. I felt something too big on the right side of my neck. Was it a muscle? A tumor? A large egg I had eaten? Why was it there?

I didn’t think much of it over the next few weeks, but kept checking to see if Lumpy had checked out. I hadn’t been to the doctor in a while, so I found a new one in my neighborhood with good ratings and a friend’s recommendation. Lumpy got looked at and the doctor seemed mildly concerned, asking me to get an ultrasound and have an ENT doctor take a look at it.

I always knew there was a chance I would be going for an ultrasound shortly after getting married, I just never dreamt that it would be for me. The ultrasound showed that lots of lymph nodes in my neck were swollen, so I made an appointment with an ENT.

In what was possibly the worst doctor’s office experience of my life to date, the ENT introduced himself and soon after stuck a tube up my nose that went down my throat. As I watched video of my nasal cavity and vocal cords, my vision blurred and my entire body got sweaty. With an overactive vasovagal response, who needs enemies? Apparently this is totally normal when a tube is poking around your throat and you’re a wuss. After I got my bearings again, he said we needed to do a “needle aspiration” of Lumpy, so he injected some anesthesia into my neck, poked a giant needle into Lumpy’s face, shook the needle up and down, and put some extracted lump cells into a test tube of liquid. Then I got all sweaty again.

The fun had just begun, however, as the ENT ordered a CT scan to get a better picture of what was going on in my neck. So there I was, flat on my back on Boxing Day with an IV of warm iodine flowing into my bloodstream as I was slowly backed into the CT scanner. I did not feel like I was going to pass out for once, but I did feel like I had wet my pants, as the iodine apparently first rushes to your legs before rushing everywhere else.

It wasn’t until January 2 that I returned to the ENT to get my results. After trading some jokes about how he wouldn’t be putting a tube down my throat this time, the doctor delivered some actually faint-worthy news: my battery of tests pointed to a suspicion of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


That was only five days ago, but it feels like five months. The world that was humming along so perfectly–four months into my marriage, six months into a new job, getting settled into my new house, starting a new quarter of teaching–has come to an immediate pause. Lymphoma? COME ON. I’m in the prime of my life! I have no other symptoms! There must be some mistake.

Well, tomorrow I’m having surgery to see if, by some miracle, there has been a mistake, or if Lumpy and I are truly on the road to war with each other. The surgery will “put me under” (a first for me) to take some more tissue from my neck and make a proper diagnosis. Whatever the result, I have a lot of things going for me. I seem to have caught this early, I’m in good health (there was some result on my EKG report that my doctor pointed out as meaning that I’m *particularly* healthy…so there!), and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is incredibly treatable and curable.

Unfortunately I did some Googling to try to determine just how difficult the treatment and road to recovery might be, which was not the smartest or most reassuring use of my time. No matter how good the prospects are, I think this will be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

That said, the past five days have also shown me that I am better equipped to deal with this than most, simply because of the caliber of people I have in my life. Prayers, positive thoughts, good wishes and doctor recommendations have been flying my way from all corners of the globe. The feelings of support and concern bursting into my inbox are matched in my memory only by the outpouring of love I felt at my wedding. Everyone has my back. Everyone wants to support me. Everyone is praying for me.

Best of all, I know God is present through all of this. My faith has always been my strength and my shield, but never more than at a time like this. It’s been powerful for me to hear from others about their faith or about the prayers they’re saying for me. It’s been a saving grace to pray about this with my wife and ask for strength and guidance. It will be an honor to unite any of my suffering with Christ’s suffering and walk with Him until I’ve seen this through. I trust that God won’t give me more than I can handle.

I admit it. There have already been some dark, uncertain–even annoyed or angry–moments, but I know that this is going to end with me as a stronger person who has a deeper appreciation for my already wonderful life and the people in it. I want to approach this with positivity, humor and faith. I also want to be open about it, and I do my best processing when I write, so there will most likely be more blogging.

Thanks to all my friends and family who have already done so much to keep my spirits up and make me feel loved and supported. Please keep the prayers coming, especially for those who are far less blessed than me.

Do your worst, Lumpy, for I will do mine!

“Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout as you did in Rome: Do your worst, for I will do mine!”  –The Count of Monte Cristo

Next: Baby’s First Surgery

5 thoughts on “A Lump In My Throat

  1. Geri January 7, 2015 / 8:02 pm

    I met your brothers on our Rome pilgrimage…fell in love with their faith, humor, and love for life. Surely it is a family trait. You have my promise of prayers and spiritual e-love. May God bless your journey. Be still and know that I am God…..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reedhima January 8, 2015 / 12:47 am

    stay strong prof payo. shit… just. we’re all here for you and definitely keeping you in our thoughts and sending tons of positive vibes your way! please feel better soon!!

    Liked by 1 person

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