September 27, 2019

My journey that led me to Dr. St. John and the UCLA Head & Neck Center

By Cory

Seven years ago, I noticed a small lump at the back of my throat. At a dentist appointment, I asked about it, and was sent to an ENT. The ENT sent me to have an MRI, and following that, I was sent to a surgeon at UCLA to discuss. At that time, I was told it was a slow growing, parapharyngeal tumor in my neck, most likely benign and that I could have it out or wait, but that it was better to do when small. Terrified of surgery, I immediately got on board with all my holistic and alternative people and used everything from acupuncture, a gluten free, dairy free, sugar free diet, to herbs, homeopathy, light and sound frequencies, etc. In the meantime, the tumor began to grow and affected me in ways that would have, sooner or later, been seriously destructive.

For the last year of the seven, it grew so large that my airway was obstructed. I wasn't breathing well so I was not sleeping at night, woke hourly when I was able to sleep, needing water as I was mouth breathing. Consequently I experienced severe exhaustion and would fall asleep sitting at a computer, having a conversation, eating a meal. My family was worried and probably quite annoyed at the gasping for breath sounds I made while falling asleep in a chair. My meditation group was instrumental in helping me get to a point that, as terrified as I was, it was time to move forward with western medicine. Huge thanks go to the amazing Dr. Joe Dispenza for his meditations which I did consistently. I also began hypnotherapy which turned out to be of tremendous benefit.

I found one surgeon, renowned in the field and we met with him. However, his demeanor and lack of willingness to listen to me and see me in my admittedly terrified state was enough to make me look elsewhere. And then, I found Dr. St. John. I read about her online. I made an appointment. I adored her from the very moment we met, as she and her team understood my fear, saw me as a whole person, were willing to work with me and the tools I needed in order to make it through the process. Knowing how fearful I was and how much hand-holding I needed, Dr. St. John brought with her to my next appointment, Dr. David Rapkin, who founded and leads the Mind-Body group at UCLA. He sat with myself and my husband for a good forty five minutes, giving me breathing exercises as well as calming words and advice.

On surgery day, I was allowed my hypnotherapist to do some work on me in the pre-op room (also some Reiki treatment). I continually told the team, all through the entire process, I did NOT want to be nauseated from the anesthesia, and that I was very sensitive to medications, etc. The anesthesiologist was more than wonderful. He answered all my questions and addressed all my concerns. Also, I needed a LOT of hand-holding, which they did for me as they wheeled me in to the operating room. I saw the da Vinci machine across the room. I was hoping for the shorter version of my surgery, through the mouth, as opposed to through my neck. The only bad thing I can remember was the pain of the breathing tube. But because my airway was so small, they had to insert it while I was groggy but still awake. Luckily I don’t remember the pain – just the experience of it.

Next thing I knew, I was in recovery and thrilled that Dr. St. John was able to go through my mouth to remove the mass. And it only took this brilliant surgeon an hour and a half! The care that I received at UCLA by Dr. St. John and her team and all the other teams and the nurses and aides was beyond amazing. I used very little pain meds in recovery and eventually switched to Tylenol. At home, I only used Children’s Tylenol for discomfort management. I credit Dr. St. John for her up-to-the-minute knowledge as well as surgical skills (and the da Vinci machine). I cannot say enough about each team. My healing has been quick for a surgery of this kind, and I am more than grateful to be on this side of it. That was always my focus – how good it would feel to be on the other side and here I am – living the freedom that I was imagining in my mind for the past year. My family is thrilled to have me back and I am ever thankful to my husband and daughters. It took a team of “angel” friends that got me through this experience, with the head angel, Dr. St. John, at the helm. I’m forever in gratitude.

Addendum: As an artist, I painted my feelings and my visions (from meditations and hypnotherapy and psychotherapy) throughout the 7 years. I am including some of the work I created in this past year or so, which helped me work through the anticipation, the fears and the hope.

Tags: Dr. David Rapkin, Dr. Maie St. John, Head and Neck Surgery, Mind-Body group, parapharyngeal tumor, patient stories, Surgery

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