Life Redefined: In Sickness and in…Sickness, I’m Stuck With You Forever
I remember the day my doctor told me the lump in my neck was thyroid cancer. I remember that the very first thing I felt after hearing him say “cancer” was relief. I know that sounds completely ridiculous. How could I possibly be relieved to hear the doctor tell me I have cancer?! I wasn’t relieved that the lump was cancer. I was relieved to have a game plan. I remember the weeks leading up to my cancer diagnosis, and during those weeks I was being consumed by anxiety. You see, I had a gut feeling the very instant I found the nodule on my thyroid that it was cancer, so to actually have those instincts confirmed was relieving. Once I felt that relief, I was naively under the impression that I could handle everything that was coming with no problem. Yes, I knew that I was facing surgery and RAI, but I thought I had already overcome so much anxiety that I could endure everything else.
I’ve since come to learn that life after diagnosis and treatment is so much harder than anything else I’ve endured to date. It’s harder than the biopsies, the doctors’ appointments, the surgeries, and the radiation. After the surgery and the RAI were over, I had to suddenly figure out how to get back to living.
I remember the very first meeting I had after being away from school and work for a couple of months. I was sitting in a conference room with about eight other people. Colleagues. Friends. And when I was sitting there, in that moment, I realized that the only thing that had changed was me. Everything else was carrying on as it had before, and I could not grasp that. It seemed as though life was going on all around me but not inside of me. I could not understand how these people could be talking about various projects when I was dealing with CANCER. While everybody and everything around me seemed to be the same, I was so drastically different and I could not figure out where I fit in.
That’s what cancer will do to you—it will stop your world from spinning while everyone else’s stays in motion. But the thing is, you can’t just stay in your own world. To really live, you have to figure out how to be a part of everyone else’s world, too. That’s been a hard thing for me to figure out how to do. I can’t just forget about cancer because it’s always there. Every ache, pain, bruise, cough, headache, and lump triggers a train of thought that leaves me with the conclusion that my cancer has metastasized. Every time I look in the mirror and see the scars on my neck I am reminded I have cancer. Every time I take a pill I am reminded I have cancer. Cancer is always there.
The presence of cancer in my life does not change the fact that I have to figure out how to keep on living. I HAVE to live or I’m letting cancer win. I haven’t completely figured out how to accomplish that, but I take it day by day. I’ve learned that I need to talk to people whose world has been stopped by cancer. I need to talk to people who have already been in my shoes and already know how to live side by side with cancer. I have a buddy who has lived with cancer for many years. When I am with him, I listen and soak up as much wisdom as I can. This is new territory for me, but it’s not new territory for my buddy, so I learn as much from him as I can. And what I’ve learned is, it’s normal to feel anxious with every ache and pain. It’s normal to feel as though you have changed but nobody else has. I’ve also learned that it’s okay to feel these things. It’s okay to let these feelings become part of who you are. Rather than fight it, I’ve learned to embrace it. I don’t embrace cancer in an “I’m so glad you’re with me for as long as I live” kind of way. I just accept that love it or hate it, it’s a part of my life now. With my friend’s nuggets of wisdom combined with advice from others who have walked this road, I’m learning how to get back to living, and even though I can only live small chunks of life at a time, I’m living.
I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m not. I don’t claim to have all the answers. I don’t. But I do know that life is worth fighting for. When I give up on life, cancer wins and I refuse to let that happen.
How do you get back to life after diagnosis and treatment? How do you live alongside your disease? I want to learn from you, so spill!
September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month and Dear Thyroid is launching two campaigns to raise awareness for thyroid cancer and to recognize thyroid cancer survivors. We want you to participate as we stand together to give a voice to thyroid cancer patients around the world.
We’re also going on a blog tour and want to make a stop at your blog. If you’re a thyroid cancer survivor and a blogger, check out this post and let me know if you want to participate. We hope you will!
Tags: (RAI) radioactive iodine treatment, despite cancer living a life, first time hearing you have cancer, hearing your name in association with cancer, how a cancer diagnosis changes you, I’m Stuck With You Forever Written by Joanna Isbill, life after thyroid cancer, Life Redefined: In Sickness and in…Sickness, life with thyroid cancer, living with cancer, Thyroid Cancer in Young Adults Column