My Journey: Life After Thyroid Cancer
HOT OFF THE PRESS FROM MY PERSONAL DIARY
I cried a few tears to myself this morning as my Facebook news feed revealed my memory from exactly one year ago today. I was in the hospital, recovering from a total thyroidectomy. I was about to receive the bad news, that unfortunately, the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I would have to undergo radiation in the months following my operation.
I have not really talked much about this or written any updates since before my radiation almost a year ago. I thought I’d write this as a one year post-op update, and shed some light on the fact that there can be a happy ending to it all. You might be thinking,”this has nothing to do with adventure travel, why is she writing about this on her blog?” Well, it actually has a lot to do with my thoughts and beliefs around being adventurous and experiencing new things. I’ll get to that later.
As much as I try to stay away from negativity, it hasn’t been all lollipops and rainbows, so I’m going to be completely honest about my experience. I am not writing this to complain or gain sympathy, I just want to be open about my experience and not sugar coat anything. Luckily, thyroid cancer has a 95% success rate, but that doesn’t mean it is an easy thing to deal with. The past year has been full of ups and downs. I am going to start with the negative, so please bear with some of the not-so-lovely things I have to say, and don’t worry, there is what I perceive to be a good ending to all of this.
First of all, my life has been forever changed. That nasty cancer thing came in and took an otherwise healthy, perfectly functioning organ out of my body. The ugly scar it left across my neck is the least of my concerns. For the rest of my life, every morning, an hour before I can eat anything, I have to take a thyroid hormone pill, to try and regulate my body. Unfortunately, no man-made pill will ever function the same way that an organ in my body naturally functioned. Over the past year my dosage has been adjusted many times. For about 8 months it was too low. I was in a state of hypothyroid. This led to weight gain (15-20 pounds), mood swings, exhaustion, and a bunch of other unfavorable symptoms. Now my dosage is too high, known as hyperthyroidism, and I have hot flashes all of the time, can’t sleep at night, and am putting my body at risk for heart problems. My doctor says it’s good to keep my dosage a bit higher than it should be, because this is supposed to suppress the thyroid cancer and keep it from coming back. One minor perk to this is that it speeds up my metabolism and will hopefully result in weight loss.
Every six to eight weeks I have to have my blood taken to check my thyroid hormone levels and my thyroid cancer marker, which thankfully right now is completely undetectable (happy tears). Throughout my life, I will continue to have scans and ultrasounds to make sure this thing doesn’t creep back in without me knowing about it. Additionally, the radiation, which I swallowed in a pill form of radioactive iodine, has burnt away parts of my salivary glands and I often have a dry mouth with a weird metallic taste. Not fun. Maybe the most annoying part of it all, is the acid reflux I’ve been experiencing since the radiation. It may be totally unrelated, but most days I walk around feeling like there is a large rock in my throat and it burns. Goodbye hot sauce, our affair was long and good but I must put my body first!
Okay, so that’s the worst of it. Not too bad considering I got to keep my hair… and my life! I also know that what I experienced is nothing compared to having to go through chemotherapy, so I thank God every day for that. Things could have been a lot worse and I try to remember this when I get frustrated with the new changes in my life.
Have I been totally inconvenienced by this whole thing? Yes. Do I consider this experience to have had a negative impact on my life? Absolutely not. I am 100% in charge of how I let things affect me and I see so many new and wonderful things that have been a result of all this. For starters, I appreciate the health of myself and loved ones far more than ever before. I do not take the luxury of good health for granted by thinking that we will always be alive and well. I have learned that anything can happen at any time, so I live my life in the NOW and try to not put things off for another time. I say YES to stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying new things – YES to new adventures, cultures, and friends!
I used to have so much anxiety that I had anxiety about getting anxiety! Now I welcome fear into my life so that I can conquer it. I do not want to hold on to negativity or bad feelings. After all, stress has been linked to cancer and many other health issues.
Perhaps the biggest and best change is this: when I first got my diagnosis, there was a brief period when I thought I might be on my way to exiting this world. There were so many things going through my mind, and think what you will, but all of the thoughts I was having said the same thing:
“I wish I had loved more”
and I felt that in so many different ways, because love comes in so many different forms. I wish I had given more to charity, spent more time with certain loved ones, gotten to know my amazing in-laws better, forgiven my father for more things than I can count. Then I really got to thinking and discovered something I’d never thought about before: I wish I had loved myself more. I was constantly carrying around so much anxiety and self hate. How can I love others properly if I do not first fully love myself? I wish I had loved my body enough to appreciate it in its natural, healthy state. I wish I had loved myself enough to be comfortable in my skin. I wish I had loved myself enough to stop blaming myself and face things from the past that I had no control over; to stop shoving them under the rug hoping they would go away. Enough to stop worrying and be more confident with my endeavors. Negativity and anxiety do not make for a better outcome, so why did I let it consume me? Through this journey, I realized that there was so much holding me back. My inner critic had been keeping me in a state of constant turmoil.
My cancer served as a wake up call and an invitation for a second chance, which I plan to show up for! I’ve traveled far and wide – to all corners of the earth – but my biggest journey in life will be this journey of self love, and then all other forms of love. Here’s to a cancer-free life, going to destinations (within myself) that aren’t reachable by airplane.