Knife Fight: Battling Cancer Is Easy. Surrendering to My Surgeon? Not So Much.

Wanda E. Fleming
Wanda E. Fleming is a writer living in the District. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post and Skirt! magazine. (Courtesy Author)
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By Wanda E. Fleming
Sunday, December 7, 2008

Three days before he cuts my throat, I dream my surgeon defuses a bomb in my basement. Removing his mask, he ascends the stairs to the kitchen, where he's met with thunderous applause.

I don't share this reverie with him as I sit in his office. Behind me, invisible, he presses the tumor. He holds my neck in a gentle choke. Thump-thump, tap-tap.

Soon, my throat will meet his scalpel. It's a gamble: He may extract the malignancy with ease or fall into a whirlpool of mishaps, among the worst being an errant nick that severs a vocal cord.

Thump-thump. Tap-tap. "Thyroid cancer is typically slow-growing," he pronounces. "It's small; we'll get it."

Thump. "Good. Swallow again."

As he palpates my neck, he chitchats about cookies a patient baked and a recent excursion to Africa, but all I hear is double chocolate chip and tuberculosis shots. I'm too busy focusing on submitting to the judgment of a man I barely know and a procedure he assures me is vital.

Surgery requires surrender and a bow to fate. For me, these demands are unsavory. Most nights, I go down reluctantly then only half-sleep for spinning the next day's to-do list. I distrust anesthetics for their theft of awareness; never mind the prospect of having my throat slit.

"You'll be fine! You can fight this," he proclaims.

Fight? Enter the double-edged mantra.

After the diagnosis, I girded myself. When my family slept, I stole to the basement and surfed medical Web sites. I gobbled up articles like warm cinema popcorn. Downloading reams of data, I filled binders, two big ones.

Then the unexpected happened. I stumbled upon a survivors' forum and into a vigilant crowd.

"Whatever you do," one woman typed, "DO NOT LET THEM take out your thyroid!"

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