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.