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Dealing With A Tumour

October 12, 2020

I vaguely remember the first days of excruciating leg pain – I was about nine years of age, prancing around a ballet studio in a black leotard. I lost balance and stumbled, but quickly dismissed the odd feeling as a symptom of my strict ballet regimen. What followed were years of second guessing myself as specialists stated that I had no more than growing pains or temporary ballet-related injuries. And it still somewhat angers me now, in hindsight, to think back to how medical experts routinely ridiculed the pain I could barely stand as a young child.

My first MRI was somehow set to examine my back rather than leg, which brought about no results but instead caused me to wait months for the second MRI, which was apparently carried out with technology that had not yet advanced to the necessary stage back in 2013 and the nurses had forgotten to inject me with GDM, therefore missing what was later found to be a mass. At the time, it was wrongly diagnosed as simply Achilles Tendinitis, and I was prescribed a round of physio that only added to the pain. Years had gone by, and it slowly worsened – I’d hold back tears if anyone brushed past my lower left leg a little too closely, and a shocking sensation would travel up my leg, leading me to fall at times.

I later attempted to get it checked out again and thanks to the first specialist who had ever listened, found out that it was some kind of tumour – probably benign, given that it had been there for so long with no spread of complications other than additional pain. And then covid happened, and my surgery was postponed indefinitely, despite the uncertainty surrounding the mass. I was eventually and very randomly called in for what felt like the thousandth check-up over the course of twelve years, only to be told my surgery was booked without the risks having been communicated – being the possible rupture of an artery, and therefore death, or potential damage of my tibial nerve, which would render me crippled. Its odd location would indeed make these risks quite likely to happen. So there’s this open-ended question: Take the risk and operate, or put up with the pain and hope it won’t worsen?

The frustrating part about it all is that I would apparently need to be operated on for the doctors to understand what risk this tumour actually poses if left there, and if it is even benign. It’s never been seen before on our islands, apparently. I’m not sure where I’m going with this – it’s no pity party but rather, an attempt to voice my thoughts and implore you to listen to your bodies and trust yourselves. There are so many things I wish I had known as the soft-spoken child who first walked into that doctor’s office. And in truth? Following more than ten years of constant mistakes from the Maltese health department – mistakes made with MRIs, a wrong diagnosis, surgeries booked without honest consultations – it is hard to have any faith in the health system here anymore.

Natalya Vukovic