“Am I going to die?”
That was the first thing I said when my doctor, looking at my medical chart, told me I had cancer. I could tell it was serious because he couldn’t even look at me. His eyes went right from his clipboard to his computer screen as he started pulling up my sonogram pictures to show me the tumor that had taken over my thyroid gland.
Before I continue with my story, I’m going to pause and explain what your thyroid is because many people have no idea how important that little gland in your neck is. I had no idea what my thyroid did before it started to slowly kill me. According to this website, “the thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate as well as heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development, mood and bone maintenance”. The thyroid is part of the body’s endocrine system and does a lot to regulate and maintain your body. A thyroid that is diseased can wreak havoc on a person’s body.
My doctor’s answer to my question was “no, but we need to take care of this soon”. I didn’t feel much emotion. I didn’t cry and my mind didn’t start racing. I was in a fog, a state of disbelief. In hindsight, being told you have cancer is a terrifying thing, but at the time, I felt nothing. My husband was with me in the doctor’s office and he asked all the questions, figured out next steps with my doctor, and got all the information. As we got into the car and left the office, the tears started to fall and I began to panic. It all made sense, though. The fatigue I was feeling for months beforehand, sleeping for 15 hours a day, waking up in the middle of night in pools of sweat, getting constantly sick, unexplained pain in my neck – all signs that something was not right with my body. I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t expect it to be cancer.
The days that followed my diagnosis were filled with biopsy needles, pain, sonograms, tears, anxiety, and fear-induced Google searches when I couldn’t sleep and lay awake fearing the worst. I researched and I learned all that I could about this disease. I learned that it is highly treatable and curable, and has one of the highest survival rates. I also learned that it is often referred to as “the good cancer”. Hearing people say that makes me roll my eyes so far into the back of my head. It is such a dismissive statement and makes the patient feel foolish and unimportant. At a time when I was so vulnerable and afraid, I had to hear that my cancer was “good” and “the best cancer to get”. I’m sorry, what? I didn’t realize there was a “good” cancer. I was under the impression that all cancer is cancer and all cancer is difficult in a different way for each patient. I understand that the people saying those statements thought it would make me feel better. In reality, it made me feel worse. It made me feel that I shouldn’t be sad or scared, because my cancer was “good”.
Just a week after diagnosis (the longest week I will ever have to live, I’m convinced), I went to one of the best cancer hospitals in the Northeast and met the head of their Head and Neck Cancer Department. I was on board with his treatment plan, and so was my husband. His course of action involved removing half of my thyroid, the half with the tumor on it. He explained that sometimes, people have difficulty living without a thyroid, so if he removed just half, then I could still have the other half functioning and will most likely not need to take a hormone replacement pill every day. I agreed to this, and a few days later, I said goodbye (more like good riddance) to my evil, murderous thyroid that was destroying my body.
The whole thing.
Yup. My surgeon ended up needing to remove the entire thyroid. When he was performing the surgery, he noticed that the non-cancerous side of my thyroid was completely dead. What killed it? Not cancer. Hashimoto’s Disease, an autoimmune disease, was the culprit. Lucky me, not only was I cursed with cancer, but I was also cursed with this disease. My course of treatment changed at that moment, because instead of working with half a thyroid, I would now have no thyroid to work with.
Today, I am about a year and half out from surgery. I have a scar on my neck to serve as a reminder of the time I beat cancer. I still have a long medical journey ahead of me, filled with unknowns, but I know one thing I didn’t know before – how important it is to advocate for your health. I always thought “not me”, “that won’t happen to me” but it did. I got cancer. And no one knows how, why, or when. All we know is I had it and I had to deal with it. If I could leave you with one piece of advice, please remember that you are important and you deserve the best. Take care of yourself, listen to your body, and get a second opinion from a different doctor if you feel something is wrong! I was diagnosed because I went to a different doctor after my first doctor told me “not to worry” about the tumor he saw on my thyroid.
This journey has taught me so much about myself and showed me how beautiful life is. I wouldn’t trade this crazy journey for anything, because it’s inspired me, strengthened me, and made me a better person.
I am a survivor, and I am so grateful for that.