When I was 24 I had a good friend who was in dental school. One day she told me that since she was now a senior, she needed patients and asked if I would be willing. Ironically, dental insurance had just been added to my insurance plan, so why not? I actually remember telling her that this would be fun. I would go in, let her clean my teeth, and that would be the end of it. But, being a good dental student, she talked in me to x-rays. The night before my follow up appointment, she called and said that she did not want me to be alarmed, but the head of the school would be doing an examination the next day. I immediately thought that this was not normal procedure as she tried to convince me it was, but okay, no need to worry, just wait for tomorrow. As it turned out, it was not normal procedure, I had a tumor. Luckily, the biopsy showed that there was no cancer in that region, but I was told that with this type of tumor there could be cancer in another region. So, the race was on to prepare me for surgery. Needless to say, I left that day with my head spinning. My husband and I had only been dating for a couple of months. I was so happy that I did not have to go home and be alone as he had taken the day off in order for us to go canoeing. To be honest, I can't even remember whether we canoed that day or not.
The following couple of weeks consisted of many tests and root canals to save the teeth that were over the area where the tumor was. The day arrived for me to check in to the hospital. At the time, I smoked. Yes, me, Miss Health Nut...I smoked. On my way into the hospital that day, I threw my cigarettes in the trash. I had already been told that I would have an 80% chance of the tumor recurring so I thought that if it turned out to be cancer, there was nothing I could do about it now, but if I continued to smoke and it returned and it was cancer, I had been warned. If I stopped smoking and it returned and it was cancer, well, at least I tried.
As it turned out, the tumor had taken over more of my jaw than they had thought, but there was no cancer. What I had been told would be a month of recovery turned into three months. My husband, whom I was dating was so good to me through all of this. Regardless of his efforts to feed me, I lost so much weight. I came to realize that so much of the joy that we receive from eating has to do with chewing. I was left with only a small sliver of my jaw, so this had to heal before they would allow me to chew again. I longed for crunchy vegetables!!
Throughout the process of all of this, I was told how rare this was, in fact, in the history of this school, they had never seen my particular case. So, they decided to make my case the final test for all graduating oral surgeons. They had said, "you'll be famous!." Believe me, I could have lived without that type of fame:) I also did not realize at the time that this would benefit me one day.
Finally everything healed and I thought that would be the end of that. Not so. Some years later, I began to have horrible headaches and pain that was directly related to the surgery and there was also some thought that the tumor may have returned. My dentist sent me to see a wonderful woman who was now head of the same school that had dealt with the tumor. When she walked in the room, she sat down, smiled and said, "So, it was you!." She had my case as a graduating oral surgeon. Incredible!
What needed to be done was reconstructive surgery. I went through a three year process to rebuild my face from the damage that had incurred from the removal of the tumor. Bone graphs, metal plates and screws...I look like the ride of Frankenstein in x-rays!! The good news was that the tumor had not come back. Once again, I thought, "that's the end of that."
Once everything had healed, I needed to have my gums repaired and once again I thought, "that's the end of that." I need to stop saying that!!!
Last December I went in for my normal dental checkup only to be told that once again, there was a problem. My dentist and the surgeons all said, "this is very rare." I will say one thing about this, it may be rare, but when it happens to you, it is no longer rare. Initially, it all looked very bleak. I cried to my dentist, "but, I take such good care of my teeth," as if pleading my case would somehow change things. It had nothing to do with how I take care of myself. It just happened.
The surgery was on Thursday and I am very happy to say that it turned out to not be as bleak as they initially thought. It was not fun to have my mouth cut open once again, but, I'm really doing quite well.
In my own mental preparation for this surgery, I looked back at all I have been through and I thought of how the right people have always been put in my path precisely at the right time. So I took comfort in the fact that the hand that has carried me through is still there guiding my way. Of course I am no different than anyone else who faces something that they have so control over. I too have asked why. This life holds so many unanswered questions and to situations far more tragic than mine. I could say that it reminds us to realize the gift of our life, but that seems rather trite when I think of the incredible suffering that some endure. There is a verse that says, "All things work together for good..." What I do believe is there will be a day when I will understand why. Not during this lifetime, but the answer will come.
I will leave you now with the Prayer of St. Francis, as it has given me great comfort.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen