Of Course, I Thought I was Dying

Last Thursday, I woke up with this very large lump behind my right ear.  It was painful to the touch, and because of its location, I could not see it.  All morning at work, it plagued me with pain.  Every time I touched it, it felt like it had grown another centimeter, and to be frankly honest, I was alarmed by its gargantuan mass.  At lunch, I asked a co-worker to look at it.

“Ummm, I’ve never seen anything like that before.  I think you should call the doctor,” he said to me.

I thought he was kidding.  “Really, what do you think it is?”

“Cheryl, I am not kidding.  It doesn’t look good.”

Of course, my stomach clenched and my mind immediately went to the worst: brain tumor.  I was walking around with a brain tumor.  I suddenly felt light-headed and my vision didn’t seem right, obvious symptoms of a brain tumor, I was sure.

I sat down, I took a deep breath and regrouped.  Knowing that I am quite the hypochondriac, I did not want to allow myself to coax my mind into the labyrinth of fear and worry over what probably was nothing.  I chose not to call the doctor and continue with my day.

The next morning, it seemed a little smaller and a little less tender to the touch.  Surely, brain tumors do not shrivel up and go away, now do they?  Yes!  I knew it was not a brain tumor, but what could it be?

  • Maybe a spider had burrowed a hole in my head in the middle of the night and laid its eggs!  I saw that once on television, and it was totally disgusting, watching hundreds of spiders emerge from a person’s skin.
  • Maybe it was a boil that needed to be lanced.
  • Maybe it was an ingrown hair that got infected, so the tenderness was really just the pus that surrounded said hair.
  • Maybe it was a swollen lymph node… uh oh, doesn’t that mean cancer?

So there I was, back to thinking I had cancer and worrying about spiders crawling around my skull.  I went through the entire day thinking that it might be my last.  I thought about sleeping in my bed until Tom came home and having Chipotle as my final meal.  Yes, if I was going to leave this world, I was going to do it on my terms.

As much as my family got a good laugh out of my catastrophic demise, I survived until Saturday.  Carson was a bit bummed because I verbally willed her my shoes and my car.  She wanted my iPhone, but I told her that it is just a 4 and she should wait for the insurance money to come in and get a better one.  She agreed.

Saturday evening, we went to dinner with friends who happen to be doctors.  Through the course of Saturday, the bump abated more, but I had started to develop a horrible cough with tightness in my chest.  I asked my friend to quickly look at my bump, and she said it was a swollen lymph node, and it probably was the precursor to my chest cold.  She told me to give it a few days, but if I did not feel better, to call the doctor.

Relieved, I enjoyed some delicious Thai food and good company and conversation.

Sunday, the rate of my coughing escalated, and I could not fully catch my breath. By Sunday night, I was wheezing.  Clearly, I was going to see the doctor sooner  rather than later.

I called the doctor early Monday morning from work to make an appointment.

“Hi, I am wheezing, do to a pretty serious chest cold.  Can I get in to see Dr. K. today?”

“Well, let’s just see,” the kind scheduler said on the other end of the line.  I heard her tapping away at computer keys.  “Hmmm, it seems that Dr. K is booked solid until November 7th. Would you like to come then?” she asked.

Umm what?  I thought.  I just said I was wheezing.  Doesn’t that mean I am not getting enough oxygen in my lungs?  Potentially, I really could be dead by then! 

“I could check if there is another doctor available today,” she added kindly.

“That would be great.”  I am sure my tone was a bit standoff-ish.  Could  she not have led with this solution?

“Dr. S is available at 2:20.  Would you like that?”


It was perfect.  I would be able to teach all day, even though I was coughing horribly and wheezing.  Short breaths and student-centered activities could get me through until 2:00!  I called the secretary, and took a quarter day off, and I went about my day.

When I arrived at the office, I waited a bit to get in to the doctor.  I didn’t mind.  Knowing that assuagement was in my near future offered me enough comfort to wait in peace.  After almost a half-hour, I was finally ushered into a room.  After a quick, “What are your symptoms?” by the nurse,  she exited, and almost immediately the doctor walked in.  He asked me virtually the same questions.

“What have you been taking for this?”  he asked.

“Nothing.” I said.

“Nothing?”  He looked from the computer to me, gauging the sincerity of my response, I imagine.

“Yes, nothing.  I am not really a drug girl unless it is prescribed.”

“Not even cough syrup?” he asked.

“No.  Last time I had my daughter to the doctor, they told me that cough syrup only masks symptoms and does nothing to actually abate the problem.”

“That’s true,” he contested.  “I’m not an over-the-counter drug taker myself,” he admitted.

“Oh, then you understand,” I said.

“No, not really,” he responded, which left me totally confused.

In the end, he prescribed a steroid and an antibiotic, clearly indicating to me that neither Robitussin D or Dayquil would have helped, anyway.

Luckily, I am not dying.  I hopefully will live a long, happy life, and as for the new phone for Carson, she is just going to have to wait!


Struggles With Self-Image: Part One

Self-image is a funny think because it is not really contingent on the self.  For me, I developed a self-image in fourth grade.

I idolized the seventh-grade girl who lived next door.  She was older.  She had already kissed boys.  She wore make-up and she had fashion sense.  One afternoon, I was over her house and she was flipping through a Vogue magazine.  The pages were laden with pictures of Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington, and Elle Macpherson.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” Lisa said gazing enviously at each and every picture.

“I guess,” I said.  Sure they were beautiful, but to me, they weren’t real.  They were pictures in magazines.  I had never actually seen anyone dress the way these women were dressed, nor had I ever met anyone who looked like any of these girls.

“I think they are perfect.”  Her fingers traced the outline of a Calvin Klein ad, a young woman without curves wearing a loose-fitting blouse over tight fitted pants, suggesting a figure that did not exist.

“How are you going to look like that?” I asked naively.  At this point, Lisa stood and shut the magazine.  She walked over to her dresser mirror and started to study her face and body.  She traced her hand down her face to her chin and pulled at the skin underneath.  She lifted her shirt and stared at her stomach, sucking in and puffing it out to see the difference.  She turned and looked at her derriere, crinkling her nose as her eyes looked at her bum and thighs.  Before me eyes, I saw an average seventh grader turn on herself.  What she saw in the mirror is not what I saw.  I saw a put together girl who boys liked and wanted to take for moped rides.  She saw something else–  something corpulent, something homely, something that was not what was being portrayed in American magazines.

“I think I am going to have to starve myself,” she said facing me.  A look of determination crossed her face.  She wanted to be what editors were toting as perfect.  “You know,” she said sitting down next to me again.  “You should think about dieting before it is too late.  You know I read that a person should weigh one-hundred pounds when they are five feet tall, and then only gain five pounds for every inch past that.”

I swallowed hard.  I looked down at my body.  My thighs were thick and my stomach was the stomach of a well fed ten-year old.  I was not fat, per se, but in no way was I skinny.  Nonetheless, in that moment, I developed a self-image, and it wasn’t a good one.  I was only four-foot eleven, and I was already almost 110 pounds.  If Lisa was right, I was already too big.  I had never thought about my size, but certainly, if Lisa thought it important to mention it to me, certainly others were thinking it, too.

I shrugged at her in response.  I then looked down at my thighs and stomach a second time.   They had gotten a lot bigger.  I was self conscious, and although up until that point I had never really thought about my body, that day I realized I didn’t like it.

You Know What They Say, “You Are What You Eat.”


“You are what you eat;” that’s what they say, at least.  Yet, I never really took heed to what some consider an ominous warning.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have always watched what I have eaten.  I’m not a glutton.  I do not scarf down gallons and gallons of ice cream, nor do I over indulge in cookies or candies.  Nope.  I try to eat sensibly, and even though in the course of my lifetime, the food pyramid has been updated seven times, changed entirely in 2005, and then altered to “MyPlate” in 2011, I have tried to be sensible about my choices (Harvard School of Public Health).

Recently, however, I came across something startling that through me for a loop.

It is not uncommon knowledge that fast food isn’t good for you.  I know that.  You know that.  Who doesn’t know that?  Assuming we are intelligent human beings who will not eat fast food three times a day for thirty days and throw our bodies so out of whack that a doctor warns us we might die (If you haven’t seen SuperSize me, click the title and watch it, and you will know what I am talking about.), I have always felt like an occasional Burger King Chicken Sandwich or Big Mac is not that big of a deal.  Sure, they are chocked full of calories and fat grams, but I am not talking about eating said sandwiches every day.  I am talking about occasionally, and that means not even once a month.

Well, I thought it was all right and forgivable up until two weeks ago.  Two weeks ago, I walked into my friend’s classroom to ask her a question, and she had a McDonald’s bag on a chair near her desk.  The contents were exposed.  I looked down and I saw a small soda, a cheeseburger, and a small fry.

“What’s this?” I asked.  “Lunch?”  I giggled.  It was only 8:30 in the morning.

Her eyes widened.  I could tell she was excited I asked.  “Class,” she said to the room.  “Could anyone tell Mrs. Huffer why this is here?”

“You are what you eat,” one boy shouted from the third row.

I felt totally confused.  What is going on here.  Jen teaches English not health.  Why does she have McDonald’s in the room?

“Look at the date on the receipt,” she said to me.  I moved closer to the food and picked up the receipt: October 6, 2012.

I did a quick calculation. My mouth dropped open as I spun and looked at my friend.  “That can’t be real!” I said incredulously.  You should have seen it.  It looked virtually perfect.  The fries had not shriveled.  The bread was intact.  The meat patty seemed fine.  I did not detect even the faintest odor of decay.  I did not detect the faintest sight of mold.

“It’s real.  I read an article about fast food a few months ago and decided to do my own experiment.”  By this time every single eye in the room was staring at that bag of food.  “I have this here to remind these students, ‘You are what you eat.’   Food that does not decompose or rot cannot be good for you.”

I left her room without even asking her what I came to find out.  I was flabbergasted.  I was disgusted.  I was horrified.  Not only do I indulge in fast food, but so do my children.  When on a road trip or at the mall, when everyone complains they are hungry, the easiest way to satisfy hunger has always been fast food.  Oh, it’s every once in a while, I told myself.  I justified it.

But what was I justifying?

I came home and told my girls about her experiment and they told me to take a picture.  I had every intention to do just that, but wouldn’t you know, Jen threw out the meal because she was going on maternity leave for the rest of the school year.  Needless to say, if you Google Image “McDonald’s Meals Do Not Decompose”, dozens of images will appear.

Image borrowed from "Can a McDonald's Burger Last Forever?"

Image borrowed from an article titled, “Can a McDonald’s Burger Last Forever?”


The girls and I Googled it, and they were so horrified, even Lizzie who loves Chicken Nuggets, said she did not want to eat fast food anymore.

As we perused the images, Carson added on, “Even the supposed healthy food has to have chemicals.  I mean, in a Happy Meal, you get apple slices in a bag, and they don’t brown.  When you cut us an apple, Mom, if we do not eat it, it is brown in less than an hour!”

She’s right.  My friend’s tiny experiment was a wake up call.   Fast food is officially on the forbidden foods list in our household, and as for the present, no one seems to miss it!