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The Real Life by Carolyn Anderson

On December 4, 2009, my entire life changed forever in a way that I never dreamed. I was a school teacher for 32 years, having retired in June of 2009.  I looked forward to retirement and all that went with it.  Instead, my oncologist at Vanderbilt Hospital diagnosed me with Adenocarcinoma and Squamous-cell carcinoma of the salivary gland. In the removal of the salivary gland, I would lose half of my tongue, my salivary gland, and a lymph node; the result of which would be my inability to eat or drink because I was unable to swallow. Numbed by this massive prognosis, my major thought was, “Would I be able to live through it.”


This has left me with a crazy looking tube coming out of my stomach that is my life line.  Everything in my life that I want to eat or drink has to go through this tube.  This I could not have imagined. However, the astronauts do, so I did too.

Can one really imagine not being able to eat?  NO!  It’s not a malady that will clear up in a couple of months, you will “NEVER” eat.  The way I handle this is if I get hungry for something I cook it for the family.

We do not stop to think about the social nature of eating. There are Birthdays, Anniversaries, Holidays, Graduations, Baby Showers, Weddings, Fun Times, Disney World, Church Socials, Pot Lucks, Grandchildren’s first baked cookies, and on and on.  So do I stay home and pout?   Of course not, I go on and enjoy being with who ever is being honored.  I remember my first outing after my surgery, Mother’s Day 2010.  We always gathered as a family and went out to eat.  The children all said let’s stay home, but I flat out refused.  The first time was tough, but it got “easier” as I became accustomed to the look which appears on your servers’ face when you say, “ I do not want anything.”

So, when we do eat out, I find ways to cope. I started by waiting until we got home to eat with a gravity bag hanging overhead while everyone else engaged in other activities.  Then, I started taking it with me and pumping it into my tube in the restroom of the restaurant where people stared and children asked, “What’s that?”  Not to mention the public bathrooms even in America are not very desirable.  Now, I simply sit at the table with whomever and proceed to pour my formula into a syringe that I insert into my feeding tube.  I can laugh and talk while we are eating and finish when everyone else does, sometimes ahead.  To date, I have never seen anyone else do this, but it is a delightful way to manage things.

The only thing that is still hard to do is go to a movie without popcorn and a large Pepsi.  I use to tell my doctor if only I could have some McDonald’s sweet tea, I would be happy.  Some things are a little harder than others to say, “OK.”

But after all, I am still alive and with my wonderful family.  I can still see my grandchildren perform at school, listen to others sing at church, go to social events, and celebrate life itself.

I have become as the eagle, the only bird that flies above the storms rather than perish.

None of this would be possible if I did not believe in God, have the most unselfish husband in the world, and a family of children and grandchildren that are the world’s best.


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Food for thought is providing comment posts

How does your experience compare with Carolyn’s?

What is one thing you learned from Carolyn that you could apply to your own situation?

If you’ve experienced a similar situation, what helped you cope with your experience?

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