4 Years

This picture came up in my Facebook feed on the yesterday.  The caption with it read, “Good morning LaCrosse. Doctor day again.”

I was on my way to Lacrosse to see my doctors after I had my thyroid removed.  It was supposed to be something simple.  I was supposed to have my stitches removed and be on my way back home to live my life without a thyroid and without the worry of it being troublesome.  That didn’t happen.
I was so shocked when the doctor told me that the pathology report came back and that I had follicular thyroid cancer.  What?? How??  Me???  Are you sure my chart isn’t mixed up with someone else’s?  I was in such shock.  Seriously, cancer was something that happened to other people.  Not me.  Not my family.  I was strong and this just couldn’t happen to me.

I remember asking him if he would write down what he told me.   My mind wouldn’t wrap around the words “follicular thyroid cancer”.   I remember him writing, “follicular thyroid cancer” on the note pad.   I can’t tell you how many times I looked at the pad.  I can’t tell you how many times I said the words over and over again in my head trying to make sure I knew how to pronounce it.  I can tell you that I wanted to drop that note and run.  Somehow I felt like if the note wasn’t in my hand, it wasn’t true.  I was so sure that once I had to tell people, I would never remember what it was called so kept the paper in my hand.  I so wanted it not to be true.  I remember asking him if this cancer was hereditary.  He said follicular wasn’t but papillary is.  He also said follicular was a little harder to deal with…

That has proven to be true.

I was so ignorant the morning as we crossed the bridge.  Ignorant about cancer.  Ignorant on the toll it takes.  Ignorant that it never really goes away.

When I got home I wrote a blog post and I told all of you about it.  At the time, a reader wrote, “you need to think of cancer as a chronic illness, not a death sentence.”  I can see now those were wise words for many people with cancer.

I naively thought that the doctors would treat this…I’d beat this.  I’d go back to my normal life.

Seriously, there is no going back once you are diagnosed with cancer.  Testing doesn’t end.  The anxiousness of waiting for test results never ends.  The wondering if your body is betraying you as you try to live a “normal” life is always there.

I remember Googling, “Life expectancy of thyroid cancer”.  Oh my.  I was so encouraged.  Life expectancy was better if I were younger that 50 but I had just turned 50…Life expectancy was better if tumors were smaller than 4 cm.  Mine was 4 cm.  I was sure that I was close to the 90-some five year survival rate….that sounded so good.  If it’s a 90% chance or rain, we get rain….so I was going to live.  I had no idea that I would live a different life.

Here I am 4 years later.  I have a completely new look on life…a completely new look at cancer.
-in that time I’ve lost my husband to lung cancer and although it isn’t thyroid cancer, it’s cancer.  129 days past from diagnosis to death.  I can see that people die from cancer….even people in my family.
-I lost my niece to breast cancer.  Again, it’s not thyroid cancer.  But, it reinforced that people do die from cancer all the time.  Jody beat the 5 year survival rate but she lived a very hard 6 years from diagnosis death…very hard.

The survival rates no long are on my radar.  I know I might only live 129 days…or even less..I might live the six years Jody did…I might be 90.  What someone has predicted as a survival rate, has no real barring on me.  I realized there is not way to know.  No one predicted Kramer would only live 129 days.  I learned cancer is not predictable.  I realized I can’t wait to live my best life until I retire…until I’m past this cancer.  It’s time to live my best life NOW.

I learned that if there is something I want to say to someone, I say it.  I’ve always been slow to say sweet things.  I have too much stoic Swede in me.  That’s changed.  I’ve learned to tell people I admire them.  I know someone who recently lost a bunch of weight.  There was a picture of her on Facebook and someone wrote, “so beautiful”.  She was…but to me, she’s always been a beautiful person.  I wrote that.  I didn’t keep it to myself.

Speaking of weight and body image.  When I crossed the bridge that day, I was so worried about the scar that the thyroid surgery was going to leave.  I didn’t want a scar.  Ick…I was sure people would look at it all the time.  Now I laugh that I ever thought that.  I would happily have a scar that looked like I tried to slit my own throat if I knew that cancer was truly behind me.  I don’t worry about my weight anymore.  I don’t beat myself over self image issues.  Isn’t it sad that it took a cancer diagnosis to “fix” that in me?

I don’t worry about my hair.  I don’t worry about the clothes I wear.  These things are all so trivial to me now.  I almost laugh that I ever worried about them.

I am so much more genuine.  I know life has a clock.  I know mine it ticking.  It always has been but now I know IT IS REAL.  I am more content with life.  I feel my emotions.  I’ve realized work isn’t everything.  I’ve learned the expectations of others are their problem, not mine.  I don’t let the expectations of others be my guide.  So many people say “you do you”….well for me, “I’m doing me”.

In these ways the cancer diagnosis has been both freeing and imprisoning.  My body is imprisoned by this diagnosis-I can’t get away from the tests.  I can’t get away from the waiting.  I can’t get away from the doctor visits  BUT…my mind is freer and more content than ever….I’ve learned what is important in life…you know, the real important things…not weight, not clothes, not the truck I drive, not the expectations of others.  In an odd way, it’s a good place to be.  I’m just sorry it took cancer to make me see inside me the person I always wanted to be….a more contented person.

I’ll be crossing that bridge over the Mississippi river into Wisconsin again on March 20th.  The cancer is back.  It’s illusive and we can’t find it…so we hunt.  More tests…more waiting.  More wondering…more tanks of gas to make the trip to the doctor.  My body is once again betraying me, but I won’t let it get to my mind.  I’m staying the contented person I’ve become.  That is priceless.

So much has changed in the four years since I crossed the bridge to learn that I have follicular thyroid cancer.  I’m so very thankful something really good has come from this cancer diagnosis.  I’ve found the best me on the inside  (I truly believe that is what has saved me through the death of Kramer and Jody..finding my best me)  I hope it doesn’t take cancer for all of you to find the best you.  Cancer is a high price to pay for contentment, but it the end…it’s been worth it.

21 thoughts on “4 Years”

  1. Mary Ann Mettler

    Jo – great insight. All those things you have mentioned are so true. Prayers on this journey.

  2. Gayle Shumaker

    This is an unhappy welcome to this new reality. You learn to live in the now. Before you loved your kids and grands, in the now they and time spent with them becomes excruciatingly precious. I think we become stronger living in the now. You have to face your own mortality and make peace with it. For me it’s not cancer but an autoimmune disease. Hugs

  3. JO, once again thanks for sharing. You are so real. nothing artificial, no illusions, and vulnerable, you just say it like it is and keep moving. I am so glad you are there and are real and honest. You give me hope. I’m looking for the best me, thanks to you!

    May the good God continue to be gracious to you and your family.

  4. Thank you for a post which should make all of us think twice and then think again”What’s important in life?” Your insight and attitude are what brings us back twice a day to visit. Keeping you in my prayers as you cross those bridges.

  5. Judith Fairchild

    Jo, I don’t know why it takes things like cancer or the loss of a loved one to shake us up and take a good look at what we are doing and how we are living. I’m so sorry the cancer came back and that you have to deal with it again. Still praying for you and all your family. You say the things I wish I could . But you are you and I am me. Keep up the good work of living. Trusting Jesus to bring you through.

  6. God Bless You and keep you strong on this journey. You have helped so many of us by sharing and I will continue to keep you in prayer.

  7. Sometimes reading your blog is like a couple of visits to a psychologist. You are able to put everything into perspective in a common sense approach without self pity. I admire your courage. May God continue to bless you.

  8. Jo- you have such a busy, active, vibrant life that sometimes I forget that you have cancer! Unfortunately, you cannot forget. You handle things so well. When I read your posts, I’d like to think I’d handle things as you do. I love that you share with us.

    On another note…I tea/coffee dyed my first linen for counted cross stitch! It’s for my second project. I ordered sticky board from Amazon and it arrived today. Maybe next week I’ll screw up the courage to mount it! I think I’m hooked! I’m looking at ways to organize my floss!

  9. Hi Jo,
    Facing cancer checkup for a family member on Wednesday this week. The worry, the waiting, the wondering – I get it. I am glad you are being who you really are. One of the reasons I so enjoy your blog. Will continue to pray for you and your family, and it was so great to hear Gannon’s good news today!!
    Stay Kramer strong – –

  10. Katherine Gourley

    What you have said is so true. I have a very rare cancer and there is no chemotherapy that is approved to treat it, so it is a combination of surgery and immunotherapy that helps manage it. I reoccurs and is chronic, so I go with the flow. I had surgery in 2014 and it returned in 2019 and we used immunotherapy. When it is under control and not painful, I almost forget that I ever had to deal with it. I am checked every 3 months and have had many biopsies when things don’t look right. But, life goes on and Jesus is at my side at all times, so I no longer worry. I know it will shorten my life from what it could have been, but I do not ask why. I was an oncology nurse and it makes it so much better for me and I can talk to my doctor easily. Who new my choice of that profession was meant to be. May the Lord continue to bless you and keep you. You are an amazing lady with an amazing family.

  11. I don’t have swede in me, mostly German but I agree with you and I tend to be more realistic and stoic about these things and work with what you know and feel. No sense in wasting time on the other things that are not really important. You are a great, kind and compassionate person. Keep up the good work, say what you feel and do what you feel needs to get done and we will continue to pray there is a good care plan in the works and this darned cancer is dealt with.
    God Bless.

  12. Dear Jo- I signed up for Bloglovin emails hoping to be inspired to get back into quilting after my retirement. I perused the pretty pictures, but somehow I landed on your blog and actually started to read your posts. I am so glad I did. They are always worthwhile, whether funny or sad. Yesterday we lost a very important person in our family—also a farmer. Now your words have even more meaning and relevance. Thank you.

  13. Thank you for writing this, you have given me the proverbial kick up the backside to stop judging myself! Hope you get some clearer answers on the 20th. Sending hugs xx

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