Ep. #81 So, You Need Surgery… Now What?

Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #81 So, You Need Surgery… Now What?
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If you know me, then you know I LOVE to talk (hence Podcast 😉 ).  From teaching and coaching, to rehearsing and working on sets, my voice is a key part of how I make my living, and it distinguishes me from everyone else… So, you might imagine how I felt when I got the news that I needed surgery to remove a “massive” cyst in my vocal cord.  This episode offers a peek into how I am preparing for my surgery, and an 8 step process you can use if you or a loved one wind up on the receiving end of news like this. 

Quicklinks:

Tiler Peck’s Episode: https://www.thedanawilson.com/podcast/ep-13-winning-even-when-youre-down-with-tiler-peck

Raab Stevenson’s Episode: https://www.thedanawilson.com/podcast/ep-50-vocal-coach-to-the-stars

Freeing the Natural Voice by Kristin Linklater: https://amzn.to/3hyDRYA

Dr Shawn Nasseri: https://www.nasserimd.com/press/

Adele Cabot Voice Coach: https://adelecabot.com/

Transcript:

Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.  

Dana: Hello, my friend. And welcome to words that move me. I am Dana and as per uszh, I am stoked that you are here and I’m sorry that I abbreviated the word usual. Oh my goodness. Sorry. Jillian Myers. If you’re listening, she all right, my friend, I’m going to keep this one relatively short and sweet per the doctor’s orders. Spoiler alert, spoiler alert, spoiler alert per one of the highest regarded ear nose and throat doctors in Los Angeles. I need surgery on my vocal chords. So let’s do wins. Shall we? My win is that I have a great doctor that could show me the cyst in my vocal chords. And now we’re taking care of it. Booyah, for me. Now you go, what’s going well in your world, both vocally and otherwise.  

Congratulations. I am so glad to hear that you are winning. Now. You might be concerned by this news about the vocal chords. I am not. In fact, holy smokes. Did it make for good podcast material today. I’m going to tell you the story of my voice as I choose to believe it. And I’m also going to tell you a little bit about what I did when I received the news and what you might do and feel and think if you are on the receiving end of similar news, we’ll start with the story of my voice. So I was born, um, I learned how to speak, but I couldn’t say my R’s and that part of the story is not relevant per se. It simply adds character and including it here is a demonstration of my love for speaking, which will be important later. Um, kind of anyway, I did learn how to say my R’s eventually. I learned how to speak and I developed a distinguished, deep and raspy voice as heard here in exhibit 1A. um, eventually I even got a voiceover agent who said that my voice was unique. And then 30 some years later I lost my voice for about six days, zero voice, six days. Whoa. So at that point I went to an in network, ear, nose and throat doctor. Um, that was after I had regained my voice, obviously. So I could tell him what was going on. He stuck a tube up my nose to look down at my vocal chords. And he said, yep, soft nodules, no need for surgery. Just stop drinking coffee, cut out the booze, limit the spicy and acidic foods, um, and avoid talking or shouting over music. So basically surgery on my social and professional life, but not my voice. Anyway, he prescribed that I meet with a voice pathologist who was excellent, and we did a lot of fun exercises and tests and she took measurements and it was covered by insurance bonus. All of it great. I also started working with a separate vocal coach at that time. Um, she was awesome. Also. I learned a lot. It was very emotional for me in fully six sessions. We focused on almost exclusively breathing. I did not even graduate to speaking, let alone singing in our sessions. Um, but she did recommend that I read this book and I’m going to recommend it to you too. It is called Freeing the Natural Voice and it is by Kristin Linklater and I will be linking to it later in the show notes of this episode, you should definitely check it out. If you are a person who has a voice. 

Okay, moving forward, between the voice pathologist and the vocal coach. I heard a lot of reasons why I might be experiencing what I have been experiencing with my voice. You have a small, soft palate. They said you stopped breathing correctly. They said, that might be because of your ballet training and holding your belly. And they said, you have a deviated septum and asthma, which doesn’t help. They said, um, your posture when you speak, especially when you get excited and lean forward, which is always, is putting additional strain on your vocal chords. They said, they said a lot. And for the most part, I did my part. I love thinking that I was caring for my voice. And I loved finding my voice here with the podcast. The podcast brought a magnifying glass onto what I have to say and much more attention to how I say it and how I sound. So I became more mindful of my posture. I was doing less speaking at the end of my breath, less run-on sentences and yeah, maybe overall, a little less coffee and a little less wine and certainly a lot more cup bubbles and more *liptrills* every single day of my life, but things weren’t getting noticeably better. Um, in fact, according to my husband, my voice was sounding noticeably worse. He never said worse. He’s a different, in fact, Raab Stevenson, my special guest from episode 50 vocal coach to the stars and master at improving voices. He recommended that I go see a specialist, a very, very special specialist at that enter Dr. Shawn Nasseri and this guy is good. If he wasn’t his office, wouldn’t be home to so many platinum plaques and signed CD jackets. He treats some of the biggest names in pop and entertainment at large, and some of the biggest baddest dancers too. So let’s wrap up this story. I tell Dr. Nasseri necessary what I have been told about my voice, what I’ve been experiencing. And he says, let’s take a look. I’m expecting more soft nodules or maybe hard nodules, if that’s a thing. Uh, well he took a look and says, nice, we’ve got a plan. What’s the plan, I said. Surgery on the cyst that is renting space in your vocal cords he said. Now I had never seen my vocal chords before or any vocal chords for that matter. So he had to show me a photo of normal vocal chords as a comparison. And whoa, yikes. Up there I have a cyst. All right. Dr. Nasseri. He said that someone is parking a school bus sideways in my throat, or that someone’s sneaker is in there. Um, to me it looked about the size of a jelly bean, but I think in reality, it’s much smaller anyways, more analogies and some calming words and success stories. Um, and resounding encouragement to move forward with surgery came from Dr. Nasseri the end. As for my method for handling this news, of course, your method for handling the news that you may need surgery might include getting a second opinion or choosing an alternative, et cetera. This is what my process looked like. And I hope that it might be helpful to you. 

Step one, after receiving this news from Dr. Nasseri was to do a full blown thought download. Get all the thoughts from my nugget onto a page, the scary ones, the thoughtful ones, the confused ones, all of them on the page. I did mine digitally. You can do that too, you know, with a computer, okay. Then I re-read them and gave my best shot at answering any of the questions that hit the page. For example, what if something goes wrong and I lose my voice forever? Or why did this happen to me? So on and so on, there were actually a lot of questions in there when I did my initial download. Now, these thoughts appearing in the form of questions can really hit the gas pedal on a downhill confusion and frustration spiral. So I prefer to answer them immediately. Answers might look or sound, something like this. To the question “What if something goes wrong and I lose my voice forever.” I answer I will silently cry. People will love me. I will love on me and nurture my non-verbal voice. I will get creative and I will find new ways to make noise. That’s my answer to that question. How about this one? “Why did this happen to me?” I’m asking that question as if I don’t know, because I’m a person that uses my voice a lot, duh, because working hard can lead to hard times and that’s okay because I can handle hard. Can you see how letting yourself think that you don’t know the answers to questions like these can feel really disempowering and frustrating and confusing and can lead to a whole bunch of unnecessary worry. Meanwhile, simply answering them for yourself is tremendously empowering. Taking this step alone can help you have agency, even in a circumstance where you are not technically in control. So that’s step one, the thought download and step to answer your own questions to the best of your ability. But let’s go a little bit deeper now that you’ve answered all of your questions either on your own or with the help of more research. And I wouldn’t suggest the internet is a great place to get a lot more confused actually. Um, once you’ve done a little bit more research, broad research and you’re ready for step three, which is one of my favorite steps, also favorite numbers.  I love the number three, moving on, just excessive talking, grab two different colored pens or pencils I’m serious. This is part of the step then circle and highlight, or somehow separate the thoughts with one color and the facts with the other color. Now, when you’re dealing with anatomy and medical jargon, sometimes this can be difficult. I’ll give a couple of examples. One of the sentences that I had written in my thought download was I have a huge cyst on my vocal chords. That is a thought, I know this is a thought because huge is relative. Somebody else might think that this is cyst on my vocal chords was small. Somebody else might think it was gargantuan. I have a huge cyst in my vocal chords was the thought that I chose for whatever reason huge is relative I have a cyst in my vocal chords is the fact another thought that showed up for me. I can’t work without my voice. Thought. The fact is that part of my work is to listen, watch and learn. And the fact of the matter is I can do those things without speaking. That’s an important distinction. I think for many of us dance types, when we’re separating thoughts about surgery from facts about surgery. I won’t be able to work is a thought that can so easily sneak under the radar as a fact, when actually, and if you are a dancer you know, this a professional dancers work is much more involved than moving the body. Now it might be a stretch to believe that in the moment, but what if your job now is to master the non physical components of your creative career, the research, the introspection, the connection to self and to the world around you. What if your job now is simply to heal? What if your one job is to heal and understand healing so that you can create work that might also heal? What about that?  

Oh, there was another thought, a sneaky one that landed in my thought download, but also passed as a fact. But upon further inspection, it was definitely a thought. I need surgery immediately is what I thought. That’s a thought, you should do this by August at the very latest where the doctor’s actual words. Disclaimer, you may be in a situation where you really do need surgery immediately. But if a doctor is saying those words to you and they are true, and the doctor believes you need surgery immediately, you are probably being wheeled into an operation room and not doing a thought download at home on your couch. So my doctor said, you should do this by August at the latest, but what my brain offered me was panic immediately. That’s why it’s important to separate your thoughts from the facts. Those are two very different things. 

Ah, note take notes, from here on out. I am making it good practice to take notes during doctor’s visits, write down the words the doctor says. The exact words, because I think thought that doctors are more careful when they speak than we are when we recall what they told us. I think that most of us have a tendency to either inflate or deflate their words in the direction that suits our appetite for drama. So stick to the facts. Doctors say words and having those words written down, it makes it so much easier for you to do more research. 

Okay?  Now the separation of thoughts and facts is important because you cannot change the facts. You cannot change the words the doctor said, you cannot change your diagnosis. You can not change what was written in the DSM four, but you can decide what those facts mean to you. And with a little curiosity and a little compassion and yes, maybe a little creativity, you can change the way that you are thinking. One of my favorite things to think about injuries in general is this little thought gift at Tiler Peck gave us an episode 13. This is happening for me. Not to me. That’s a big one. So I have a cyst on my vocal chords, provable indisputable, measurable. In fact, actually I wonder how big it is. I wonder if I could keep it in a necklace, like one of those, uh, uh, necklaces with a piece of rice in it with your name written on the piece of rice.  Oh my God. We’re back. I could decide to think that the cyst on my vocal chords, in my vocal chords on it, I think it’s in, I could decide to think that I might lose my voice forever, or I broke my most valuable tool or I could choose to think that I’m getting a brand new voice. I could choose to think that my podcast and teaching career is doomed, or I could choose the think nice, I have one cyst and it isn’t cancer and it can be removed with a routine surgery jackpot. I could also choose to think that I can finally see the biggest mystery of the last three years, if not more of my life. Like that’s better than the end of a Scooby-Doo episode, where they pull off the mask and you get to see who it was the whole time I mean so gratifying. This is awesome. Can you see how choosing your thoughts carefully can dramatically change your experience of this circumstance? This is huge. Spend time with your thoughts, choose them wisely. 

That is step four to decide what you will think about these facts. I decided to think that this is happening for me, not to me. I decided to think that I am in good hands, both the doctors and mine. I’m deciding to think that this is perfect timing. I am deciding to think that there is no better way to improve my voice, both my physical voice and my non-physical voice, no better way to improve it than this. I am choosing to think that this healing is essential to my health. Boom, that’s my process. And that’s where I am today. Now, the nuts and bolts and future of my situation look like this. Several days of vocal rest, leading up to the operation. And then the doctor suggests 10 days of silence. Post-operation silence, no voice. After that, some visits with a voice pathologist to get me back in ship shape. By the way, I have had a lot of fun thinking about what to do with those 10 days of silence. I haven’t made any concrete decisions yet other than to remain absolutely silent, but you will almost certainly hear about those 10 days of silence. On the other side of them, what does this mean for the podcast? It means that we’ll be replaying some of our favorite episodes from the first two seasons. They might be new to you, but no matter what they are worthy of multiple listens. This also means that my birthday episode coming out on July 21st, 2021 will be much different than the birthday episode that came out in 2020. That’s all I’m going to say. It’s a surprise, but speaking of my birthday, which by the way is on Wednesday, July 21st. And I do love flowers and I do love dark chocolate wink wink. My goal of having a hundred thousand listens in downloads by July 21st is rapidly approaching. And I’m not quite there yet. Have you downloaded this episode or your other favorites or all of them, or have you told your friends to do the same? I really hope so. I so appreciate if you do, because I’m not going to lie. The thought that my voice, my pre-surgery voice lives all warm and fuzzy in your pants pocket. That makes my heart warm and fuzzy too. All right. My friends, I hope this episode has been helpful to you and whether you are struggling with an injury or not, you’ve got this and I’ve got you. And I’ve got my man who can ask for anything more. Maybe someday we’ll be able to sing that for real, so exciting. All right, my friends, that’s it for me back to vocal rest, get out there in the world and keep it very, very funky. I will talk to you soon.  

Me again, wondering if you ever noticed that one more time. Almost never means one more time. Well, here on the podcast, one more thing actually means two more things. Number one thing. If you’re digging the pod, if these words are moving you, please don’t forget to download, subscribe and leave a rating or review because your words move me to number two thing. I make more than weekly podcasts. So please visit the thedanawilson.com for links to free workshops. And so, so much more. All right, that’s it now for real talk to you soon. Bye. 

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