Life Redefined My Cancer Story
Written by Joanna Isbill: Editor, Life Redefined (Thyroid Cancer in Young Adults Columnist)
It was Wednesday, October 8, 2008. Just a few days after my 24th birthday. I woke up with an ache in my neck. I reached up and felt a large knot on my thyroid. Something inside me told me it was cancer.
The next day, I saw my primary care physician. He ordered blood work, sent me to have an ultrasound, and referred me to an endocrinologist. The ultrasound showed three nodules on my thyroidÃ¢â‚¬”one on the left and two on the right. The blood work indicated Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. I met with the endocrinologist. He told me that the chance of this being cancer was very small. However, he still recommended I have a biopsy to confirm what the blood work suggested. Another endocrinologist in the practice performed the biopsy. It was less than pleasant. Afterward, I heard him talking to my endocrinologist about the appearance of the nodules. They were talking in hushed tones about calcifications. I later learned that calcifications are commonly seen when cancer is present.
On October 21 I got a phone call from a medical assistant at my endocrinologist’s office. She told me I needed to come in the next day to get the results of my biopsy. Who calls and asks you to come in to tell you everything is benign and you’re in better health than ever? , After this phone call I broke down and cried for a long time. Even though I had known in my gut all along I had cancer, that phone call still hit like a brick. I will never forget the emotions that coursed through me that day.
The next day, my endocrinologist confirmed what I already knew. The biopsy indicated papillary thyroid cancer. I had a total thyroidectomy and central node dissection on November 5, 2008 followed by RAI a few weeks later.
I’ve been through several different frames of mind since I was diagnosed with cancer (which I’ll discuss in further detail in future installments). Relief. Denial? Fear. Acceptance. The day I was actually diagnosed with cancer I felt relief. I was relieved because, although I knew in my gut I had cancer, the actual diagnosis confirmed my instincts. During the two or so months after my surgery, I think I was in shock. I don’t know if it was denial or not, but I do know that I had not yet absorbed the fact that cancer was no longer something that happens to other people, but something that happened to me. Once I absorbed this, the fear set in. The fear that cancer brings is crippling. It is absolutely all-consuming. After I got over the fear, and I did eventually work past it, I was left with acceptance. I accept that I have cancer, and I accept that it’s something that has changed my life.
Throughout the weeks and months after getting my biopsy results I was bombarded with emails and cards full of encouraging messages. Many of my friends who sent these messages told me they hoped I could soon put this all behind me. If only. Cancer is not something that I can put behind me. I carry it with me every single day. It has changed every single part of my life. As much as I fought the change, it happened. I am a different person. And so it will never be “over…
Cancer left my life in pieces. But when I tried to put them back together, I realized they no longer fit the same way they once had. It’s a work in progress, but I am trying to figure out where everything goes, redefining my life.
I’m looking forward to walking this road with you, because it’s not a road that should be walked alone.
Read Joanna’s Bio.