From the beginning.
The young lady had been feeling “Under the Weather” for several months. Her name was Michelle Linson.
It all started in the fall of 2013 with headaches and a general tired and exhausted feeling. Sometimes a fever, sometimes cold symptoms.
Michelle didn’t know what to think. She thought the headache part might be simply the result of hormonal changes caused by “getting older.”
But, the conditions continued on longer than any sickness she had ever experienced. Moderate headaches became migraine headaches. The headaches were so severe they started causing her to miss work. And Michelle wasn’t the type person to miss work.
Her lymph nodes under her jaw seemed to be a bit swollen, but only if you really studied it. But to most everybody nothing out of the normal.
The migraine headaches started getting worse. Michelle described them as “debilitating.” It now was a pain not an ache, not what someone might consider a migraine as she thought she had been having. And it had now widened to the area going up from behind her cheek bone and made her ear hurt too. At times it even made her “dizzy.” The conditions then got worse.
So, Michelle went to see her family physician on Valentine’s day of all days. The physician tested her for mononucleosis and that test came back negative. The physician told her, “There is nothing I can do for you – you need to see an ENT Ear, Nose, and Throat physician.”
She saw the ENT physician on the 19th and he ordered an ultrasound scan for the 21st. The physician saw just what seemed to be swollen lymph nodules, nothing to unusual in the scan.
The day it changed.
Michelle was at work on March 4th when the pain came back with vengeance. In tears she advised her supervisor, “I don’t think I can stay at work.”
After that conversation she went over to the interconnected fire department to get her blood pressure taken. When one of the old firefighter medics took her blood pressure it was “highly elevated.”
She was told that she needed to go to the emergency room immediately – either by ambulance or by car. She chose the car option. Her dad drove her, she was unable to drive.
With a blood pressure of 186/109 the emergency room physician wanted her to get a CT SCAN. There was a discrepancy with the size from the original test that was performed the week prior.
Her ENT physician then ordered a LIVE ultra-sound guided biopsy to be done on March 12th. During this biopsy she experienced incredible pain. Afterwards the swelling increased to the size of a softball on the side of her neck. And more high blood pressure and continued head pains.
After another CTA on the 20th, several of the physicians consulted each other and agreed upon the problem. It was a “Carotid Bifurcation Tumor” or also known as a paraganglioma. She would need surgery.
The surgeon told Michelle that he only did this type of surgery maybe once a year. He drew a diagram of the tumor for Michelle. Michelle remembers him as being very thorough – and very concerned.
He explained. “During or after the surgery, you could have a stroke. You could be saddled with a feeding tube for the rest of your life. You could permanently lose your voice. And your voice might be lost forever. And worst case you could die.”
He also explained that had she waited any longer the tumor could have became “inoperable.” If the first scan was accurate the tumor had grown in size from a grape to a golf ball – tripling in size.
The surgeon wanted to do the 2 1/2 hour surgery “as soon as possible.” But Michelle being Michelle, she scheduled the surgery – with the surgeon’s approval – for just over two weeks out.
The reason? It would cause as little as possible impact on her employer.
It was Tuesday, May 13th. The surgery took longer than expected – 4 hours & needed 2 units of blood. The tumor was dangerously entrapped around the carotid artery. One of the nerves had to be literally “stretched” to make room for the surgeon’s instruments and the tumor’s removal.
Michelle made it through the surgery in remarkable fashion. For a period of time she wasn’t able to speak, then began to speak with a slur, but this was an expected affect explained beforehand. A little numbness on her neck & in the mouth remains and she says there’s an occasional drool. And, of course there’s the scar. But, considering the alternative it’s a Mighty Beautiful Scar.
Michelle says, “I’m glad I did what I did. I’m glad I didn’t push back. I feel amazing now. I can’t believe all that was from this THING”. And her message to others is, “Go with your gut feeling, don’t leave it up to the brain.”
Nobody knows your body as well as you know your body.
Medical personnel be careful.
Seemingly healthy young people can have serious underlying medical conditions. Everybody in the medical “ladder of care” needs to be vigilant.
Michelle Linson is an amazing young lady.
She worked through this period in her life like a “Champion among Champions.”
We thank Michelle for allowing her story to be told.
Think of Zig Ziglar’s famous quote whenever you see Michelle and her beautiful smile: “Whenever you see someone without a smile, give them yours.”