Wednesday, 26 November 2014

How To Train Your Health Scare

(Given the choice, I'd have much rather had a dragon. Image from

I wasn’t initially going to write about this, but I think I might be able to turn it into something useful and possibly entertaining, so I think it’s worth a try.

Essentially, the lump I’ve been talking about got quite a bit scarier after my consultation and tests this week. We know nothing for certain yet (test results next week) but it’s almost certainly a tumour and currently being classed as “indeterminate” as it has features of both benign and malignant masses. And so, we wait.
There are definitely both good and bad ways to go about handling the intervening period between tests and results. Here are some ideas:

Let’s be brutally honest – you’re going to drive yourself completely bananas worrying about the problem until you get a definitive answer. This is normal and expected. However, it can be made at least a little bit easier having someone to talk to. They can’t fix it, but they can let you bounce your thoughts off them and just be there for support, which we all need from time to time. Bottling it all up will not make the situation any easier or less unpleasant.
If nothing else, talk at your pet. I say “at”, because I have a cat and we all know they don’t deign to talk “with” mere mortals. Fiddler’s contribution to proceedings so far has been to try and sit on my face and yell at me this morning. Truer words than “there is no snooze setting on a kitten who wants his breakfast” were never spoken.

A word about Google
Rule One – Don’t Google it.

Rule Two – Don’t Google it.
Rule Three – Why aren’t you listening? See Rules 1 and 2.

In all seriousness, it won’t help. It will only make you worry more and add to the confusion. Spare yourself at least some anxiety and don’t go look it up. If you really feel you must, do so with a championship ski slope’s worth of salt and a very critical eye.

Keep busy
This doesn’t have to mean tearing around at ninety miles per hour, but mostly it’s about keeping your mind occupied so you don’t dwell and end up, as mentioned, driving yourself up the wall. For me this meant going back to work, where I can’t help but be occupied because I’m a secretary to seven people (who are proving once again they are in fact some of the nicest people in the world). My friends took me to the pub on the day of the hospital visit, and I’ve a few things planned between now and next week’s results. One of those things is putting together a three door wardrobe whilst trying to keep Fiddler’s “allen key = toy” confusion at bay.

This leads nicely into….

Look after you
You’re allowed, after all. Do whatever you need to do to feel calm and content (or as close to that as you can get). If needs be, spoil yourself a bit. Do all the things you would usually do when you want to feel better. For me at the moment that’s tearing through my Springsteen collection and devoting rather a lot of time to my latest re-read of the Malazan series (me, fangirl? Perish the thought), and watching some really rubbish telly of an evening after work to help switch my brain off.

Also tea and cake, because I’m British and why not?
Most importantly though, make yourself the most important thing for the time being. You’re allowed the break from everything else, and those who matter will understand. I don’t think it’s possible to be worrying about a health scare and lots of other things at once without spontaneously combusting, but we shouldn’t really test that theory.
(Metaphors amuse me, I make no apologies. Image from

Be the Rhineland
I am a demilitarised zone, you are not Germany.
Drama is right out with something like this. It really is important not to get embroiled in the sort of silliness everyone encounters at some point, because in a lot of ways people (all of us) are a bit stupid. We get upset about silly things and we let those things grow out of proportion, and in doing so we make angry phone calls or send ill-thought out bitchy Facebook messages, then the receiving party does the same and it all gets rather messy.
Now is not the time to be involved in those sorts of things. Look after you, ignore everything you need to and everyone else can go have a World War somewhere else. Be antisocial when you need to be, and this sort of thing qualifies.
Mind you, I live in a village in the middle of nowhere in the deepest darkest North, where people think might not have discovered fire yet. It’s really easy for me to be antisocial when I want to.

Be kind to yourself
You’re allowed to be upset, and you’re allowed to be frightened. It’s completely normal. No beating yourself up for being a human being is allowed at this juncture.
Be human- it’s what most of the rest of us are, and to be honest it’s alright.

Have you had a health scare? What did you do while you waited for clarification? I’d love to hear others experiences of this sort of thing as (happily) it’s completely new to me.

Wishing you all many spoons xxx

Friday, 21 November 2014

The Art of Being Polite II

In which Hannah seriously considers never cutting or tying up her hair ever again.
I mentioned in my last post that I was having some problems with a swollen lymph node in my neck. Annoyingly, it’s still here. Blood tests showed no sign of current infection and as there is no history of recent infection or virus that I’m aware of, I’m off to see an Ear Nose and Throat consultant in the near future to sort out a biopsy.
Bang went my hopes of it just being something you could stick something sharp in, drain and have done with!
The point of this post however is to discuss other people’s reactions to it thus far, which today in particular became quite interesting. Usually I wear my hair down and so you can’t see the lump at all, but today I needed the mane out of the way and decided to stop being silly about it. It’s a lump at the end of my bottom jaw which is about two inches long by an inch in length. It’s not as if there’s a football growing out of my face.
Or, so I thought…

“What’s that on your face?"
My ear , given where you’re vaguely pointing. Oh, you mean that fairly small unobtrusive lump that really isn’t the major event you’re pretending it is? That? It’s a baby monster that if you don’t stop pointing at it will jump out and eat you, Alien style.
“You’ve got a lump on your face. Why?”
Well spotted. If I knew why, I doubt I’d be a legal secretary.
“I can’t stop looking at it!”
You have a approximately 160 degrees within which you can turn your head. I humbly suggest you pick a degree my face isn’t currently occupying. Also, it’s really not that alarming. Face on you can’t see it at all.
“Aren’t you worried about what it might be?”
No, not at the moment. As a society we’ve learnt to run around panicking at the first sign of an unexpected lump of any kind (and I agree you should always get a lump checked out by a doctor to be on the safe side) but the chances of a swollen lymph node (even without the obvious presence of infection) being something sinister are actually really, really slim.  The most likely scenario at this point is that the biopsy will reveal a benign growth or cyst of some kind, or that there is in fact some sort of underlying virus I’m unaware of that said lymph node is arguing with. Either way, I don’t really think there’s any point working myself up about it at this stage.
“Would it hurt if I poked it?”
No, but *you’ll* hurt if you poke it.
“Shouldn’t you be covering it up?”
Oh for goodness sake.  It’s completely unobtrusive. It’s not lit up like a Christmas tree or declaiming in Dova. Are people really that freaked out by anything that’s just ever so slightly off-kilter?
“You know, you look a bit peaky as well…"
Say it with me: “pale complexion”. Yes? Good. I realise that’s tetchy of me, but I do get tired of being told I look ill when it is in fact just my normal skin tone. When I’m actually ill, I look like a one of the Drowned Dead  from Dungeons and Dragons. Believe me, you’ll know the difference if you see it.
And so we learn “normal” sick is actually no different from invisible illness in terms of the propensity for silly questions. And no, I didn’t actually say any of this, merely thought it all pointedly.
Also, in the midst of all this, I feel slightly mean for not congratulating my body for circumventing Petunia and actually managing to be sick all by itself. It’s not actually managed this since she made herself at home until now. I feel like a bizarrely proud parent.
Gold star, body. Now pack it in.
Wishing you all many spoons xxx

Thursday, 13 November 2014

To Google or Not to Google? That is the Question

Well, actually, no it isn’t. On a basic level you should never do a straight up Google search for anything health related. Or, if you do, you should be prepared to take anything you find with half the planet’s production of salt in accompaniment.
I say this after a recent doctor’s appointment whereupon I was, with good humour, banned from Googling the problem because as we both agreed “Google will assure you that you have cancer”.
To give a short background, I have a solitary swollen lymph node (or that’s what we’re assuming it is at present) at the back of my jaw. It’s come up very quickly and having ruled out throat and ear infections doesn’t seem to have an underlying reason for deciding to wake up and party. I get the results of rushed-through blood tests tomorrow, and as far as I understand it the urgency is to do with the size and character of the swelling in that it’s hard to the touch (but it does move, which apparently is a good thing).
For the moment then, I look like I have about a couple of inches worth of spare lower jaw on my right side.
(All the better to eat you with, etc.
Image from

Let’s examine this example for a second. Good old Google would no doubt inform me that I have a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, being in the most prevalent age bracket and showing a couple of the possible peripheral effects of recent weight loss and a general status of “under the weather” – because as we all know, they’re completely specific to cancer.
I’m positive (knowing a great deal more about my circumstances than Google does) said weight loss and my general feeling of malaise have to do with the horrible build up to our move and the fact we’ve barely stopped since in terms of unpacking and the general things you have to buy, put together and do when you move into a new house. Nobody’s kidding when they say moving home is one of the three most stressful life events you can experience (alongside a death and a divorce).
In fact, for the sake of accuracy I even checked this earlier today (sorry Doc, but you can’t knock me for checking a theory) – put in “solitary swollen lymp node” or indeed “swollen hard lymph node” and the top few search results will be articles with the words Hodgkin’s Lymphoma helpfully emboldened, just in case you missed the fact that YOU DEFINITELY HAVE CANCER.
Not cool, Google.
I am of course being monstrously sarcastic here, but I’m using this to illustrate the point that unguided and unrestrained internet searches are not helpful things in regards to health. Particularly as patients with long running conditions with unspecific and widespread symptoms, it is productive and helpful in the long term to wise up about how and where to search.
Firstly, don’t just Google it. If you need to search a particular symptom or condition, use medical websites. is a good resource, WebMD is another. You’ve more chance of getting something specific on a website like that than you would have on a general search engine. If you have a diagnosis already and are trying to find out if a symptom is typical or could be something new, head to websites specific to your condition.
If you can find a forum board dedicated to your condition, so much the better. Start a topic about your symptom (if you can’t find any existing ones) and you’ll find most patients are happy to share their experiences in the hope of being able to help.  
I’m probably teaching many readers to suck eggs, but it is so important to not fall into the traps of believing whatever Google tells you, particularly if you are new to the realms of chronic illness and finding these things out for the first time.
More importantly, bear in mind that even those sorts of websites can only give you a general overview, or an “average” take on the symptoms and the condition. They’re based on how a condition “usually” presents or what a symptom “generally” indicates – which is why they are not to be wholly relied upon in conditions where the number of symptoms is quite large, or where the main symptoms are general such as fatigue or joint pain.
Using those two as examples, there are a myriad of conditions in which those two either separately or together occur, and fatigue in particular is one of the most general medical symptoms in existence. Fatigue can be a symptom of just about anything - yes Google, including cancer!
Taking the above into account this brings me to my most important point. Never self-diagnose.  Do your research and compile any information you think is relevant, but always take it to your doctor.  The information available on the internet, though helpful, is just too general to be used to form a concrete diagnosis.
Even when backed up by the experience of other patients, remember that chronic illnesses usually have the particular quirk of being quite different from individual to individual. A symptom match doesn’t necessarily dictate a diagnosis match, however much it might appear to “fit”.
If you don’t feel you’re getting anywhere with a doctor, always remember you have the right to request a second opinion or indeed take you and your health elsewhere. It’s important in long term ill-health to maintain a good doctor-patient relationship and that means both halves of the relationship being happy that the other is pulling their weight. If you want further reading material resources, you can always ask your doctor where they recommend you looking.

(“In the name of love” or “Hammertime”? You choose!)

In my experience doctors will appreciate the question far more than you (however well-intentioned) attempting to be a Google physician.
On that note I’m going to leave you, as I need to go do some reading into why it might be that Fiddler is seeking to destroy a particular patch of our hall carpet which seems to have offended him in the last few days. Maybe it’s calling him names after we’ve gone to bed of a night.
Answers in the comments section as to which of them we’re betting Google thinks is the potential cancer patient – the cat or the carpet.

I hope this is taken in the tongue-in-cheek manner in which it is intended, and I hope it is helpful. It’s very easy to get caught up in internet research that appears to fit, but it’s always best to approach this with a critical eye and with your doctor’s guidance and support.

Wishing you all many spoons xxx