I’ve had a stroke of bad luck and here is my story.
A large tumour was discovered in my jaw back in 2016 which eventually led to the surgical removal of a third of my jawbone and 5 teeth. In a few weeks I will need to insert a bridge of implants by a specialist dentist that is qualified to handle the complexity of my case. It is absolutely necessary for me to get these implants because the current bone graft from my hip will begin to deteriorate in a few years and I would be forced to undergo another bone graft surgery. Yes – I have hip bone in my face. Unfortunately, dentistry is considered “cosmetic” – similar to tattooing your eyebrows or getting a boob job.
What has happened to me is very rare, but could essentially happen to anyone. It isn’t something that I’ve done or not done that has led to this. It feels socially expected for me to chuck this on a credit card and accumulate more debt on top of my student loan and bear this burden solo. However, instead I choose to step out of my comfort zone, and ask you to help me.
My Swedish heritage has a firm belief in passive aggressive post-it notes in communal laundromats, avoiding strangers at bus stops, compartmentalising how a fellow metro commuter is sitting on our newspaper for the entire 60min journey to work, and not telling our vitamin D deficient friends that their spray-tan gives off a morbid rotting animal stench. But I’ve always been a shithouse Swede.
A community in denial with a façade of “I’m fine” is not one that I will represent. I megaphone this: I feel stressed and upset about my predicament and wish to live a normal life! Please help fund my granny-implants so that I can kick off my 30s with a smile.
So what happened?
I am optimistic by nature. And naive to believe that my body would immediately tell me if there was something not quite right.
Back in December 2015 I scored a sweet deal: a Groupon dental checkup including a clean and 2 x-rays for just $45 – bargain. Unfortunately, that x-ray came back in a dramatic fashion with the dentist grabbing me by the arm and frantically pointing at the image exclaiming she’d never seen a dental cyst that large in the span of her career. Things escalated quickly with a specialist poking my face with sticks checking for nerve damage, a trip through the doughnut (aka cat scan), a biopsy date booked and a debrief with chili fries and beer at Yellow Bird on Chapel St. I was told that my jaw was thin as an eggshell and a single blow to the face would certainly have snapped it in half resulting in a situation closely resembling a zombie apocalypse. Shocking and statistically odd that I hadn’t encountered that trauma already considering my reckless nature. A volleyball smashed in my face or getting doored whilst cycling would not be uncalled for.
I imagined the biopsy to be a syringe in my gum to extract some liquid from the suspected dental cyst. That is not what happened and I was not in a state to cycle home afterwards. After the local anaesthetics had been injected, I was disappointed that my “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you” statement to the surgeon went unappreciated. In all fairness his age and demeanour was a fusion of “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Jumped Out the Window and Disappeared” and “The Giving Tree.” The biopsy included a scalpel to my gum, crusty audible scraping with considerable pressure, followed by stitches watching the needle and thread going in and out of my mouth. A bit like being abducted, drugged, and surgically transformed into a walrus (Tusk 2014). My face went through all the pride colours.
I had amelo blastoma.
This is an aggressive wall tumour, and although benign, spreads like tree roots. First I had an optimistic surgery that scooped the tumour out and filled the space with medicated gauze for support. That got infected, and my colleagues kept a safe distance at work due to the smell. A surgeon ended up removing the gauze, pulling at one end and letting 5 meters of it unravel from my gob like a sick magic trick ending in blood spatter all down my shirt. My second surgery was based on the reality that a single missed cell of this tumour would mean a 100% chance of reoccurrence and a possibility of spreading to my brain. In under 3 hours, my rockstar maxillofacial surgeon and his minions slit my throat, sawed away a third of my mandible (lower jawbone) including 5 teeth, extracted bone from my hip, shaped my hip bone in a bone graft machine, stuck my hip bone in my face, and fastened it all together with a bike chain. I woke up with permanent nerve damage in my chin along with a blood drainage tube, another drainage tube from my hip, nose oxygen tubes, a catheter, intravenous morphine, and 4 screws drilled into my gums that could have held up a door hinge. Turned out the screws were in place to rubber band my jaws shut in case they didn’t heal straight.
Recovery is a patience game.
And my patience was tested early in life playing Super Mario World on Nintendo 64 without a memory card. Pro tip: Find secret passageways and skip levels. Life in the hospital ward revolved around restoring bowel movements with a relentless soundtrack of a truck in reverse. My neighbour Dominica had hitched a ride from the DeLorean time machine and insisted that it was now 1939, whilst Brian popped laxatives with an addictive craving like a scene out of Trainspotting. On day three when Brian finally farted the fart of champions, the standing ovation from the nurses on duty was my queue to GTFO. I bought crutches, a smörgåsbord of drugs, borrowed a toilet frame and a bath board, and moved home to my granny flat. My poor ex-boyfriend nursed me so caringly despite the possibility that my jaw mobility would never return – a.k.a. no blow jobs ever again. Bless!
My current situation
Our bodies are intelligent down to cellular level and evolve to adapt to a new environment or situation. Jaws are opposing forces that press our teeth together. Without an opposing force, my top right teeth are slowly moving downwards, whist my lower right jawbone made up of my hip bone will gradually realise that it’s not being used for chewing and will gradually disintegrate until I’d need to perform another bone graft operation.
I am at the stage where I need implants and I have reached a terrifying, humbling, decision to reach out to friends and family to ask for support. Dentistry is considered “cosmetic”, and is therefore not subsidised through the public health system. This is definitely an area up for political debate, but not one that will experience change in the near future.
The biggest hurdle for me, in the wise words of Shaggy is that “No matter how you’re sad and blue, there’s always someone who has it worse than you.” I have so many things to be grateful for and my troubles are miniscule compared to so many strugglers in this world. But sympathy isn't finite. I emptied my dinner plate in the mailbox as a kid to send off my unwanted food scraps to the starving children in Ethiopia. I later learned that incoming and outgoing mail go in different boxes. My point, that I swear I will get to, is that unless you reach out and ask for help and provide a channel for support, then there’s no chance you will receive it. Furthermore, we all have the freedom of choice. This may be a cause that you are willing to support, or it may not be.
We all lead our individual lives, channelling our inner Beyonce to be strong independent women that *snap snap snap* don’t need no man. I certainly strive for that façade and am repelled by the idea of asking anybody for help. However, it’s not weak. Weakness would be remaining silent and copping life hurdles on your own because of fear of being judged or rattling the taboo by not leaving your private life outside the swipe-card speed gates of the corporate world.
I want to live in a community where my friends and family and co-workers and complete strangers are comfortable entrusting me with their cares and worries and letting me help them any way that I can. Therefore, I have set up this GoFundMe page to share my current situation and to enable you to support me if you would like. Due to the complexity of my surgeries and the number of teeth that were extracted, the dent in my wallet will be a hefty 14,000 AUD. I have been saving for months and I don’t expect to get even close to the target that I've set of 10,000 on here, but I assure you that every individual contribution has such immense exponential value for me and will help me resume a normal life post reconstruction.
Thank you for reading.
- Big al
- Andrew Green
- Vilius & Thao
- Achal Barla
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