It has been a year since I heard the words that no one wants to have burned in to their brain- Sorry, but you have metastatic cancer. Yep, that was me. A little more than a year ago. It was a sunny day. I was going for what was suppose to be a “no brainer” ultrasound of a few “probably nothing” nodes in my neck. I walked in an optomist thinking of nothing more than how I would spend the rest of the day after the procedure shopping. I walked out of Johns Hopkins outpatient center a statistic – someone with cancer. WOW! In fact, according to some recent stats, I was one of 357,000 women living with Thyroid cancer. Oh Goody!
Because people sometimes read what I write or ask me to speak in media, I get to talk about my Life with Cancer – a lot. As an educator, I don’t mind. It gives me an opportunity to set the record straight and educate others about being proactive with personal health issues. I learned from the best on how to be an example of someone who lives with cancer BUT is not defined by cancer, from my friend and colleague, Maimah Karmo. I learned to blog about my pre-op, post-op and treatment phases. I helped others learn too by talking to groups, being interviewed and blogging for others on websites such as, DEAR THYROID. I even filmed a PSA for IamtheFACEofTHYROIDDISEASE.org.
I learned that you can’t be a member of this “club” alone. That people will come and rally around you. Friends and family will support you in ways that are just too numerous to count. I was really lucky to have a bunch of Cancer Warriors join my team. They all should know who they are and consider this a group hug and THANK YOU! And, a huge thanks to all the Top Docs at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Overall, I was damn lucky this year to have so many in my corner.
I realized pretty quickly that if I had to go through this crap that I should do it with grace, humor and a purpose. So, I decided to run a TWITTER SCARF campaign. I stole the idea from my friend, Shara Lawrence-Weiss. (Pictured wearing her TWITTER avatar hat.Read the TWITTER story here). In essence, I changed my TWITTER avatar to be a free advertisement for a company or foundation. I simply would wear a different scarf and photo shop their logo. The company would then in turn donate monies to the charity of their choice. I had a lot of response and together we all donate almost a thousand dollars. Purpose.. yep- cancer can give you purpose when you are not caught up in the anger.
Now it was not all fun and games. Cancer never is. The treatment for thyroid cancer is not as bad as other cancers. I didn’t have to have chemotherapy, but I did need to have Radioactive Iodine treatments – which are no joy. The worst part of the process, however is the waiting. Did the treatment work? Do I need another? Is anything else growing and if so, where?
I also learned some really important life lessons. Cancer is expensive and insurance companies can’t make those co-pays magically disappear. I learned that not all people want to stick by you and remain friends because cancer may be “contagious”. Real friends stick around and those who are just in it for only the “good” but not the “bad or the ugly” will run for the hills. I heard from others who also are in the cancer world that it is not uncommon for relationships to unravel. That is a shame, but a reality. As I mentioned, I’m grateful for those who stuck around (including my amazing hubby) and deleted the rest. Cancer can be an emotional brain sucker. No need to spend any synapses worrying about those who were afraid that they may “catch’ the BIG C.
I will no doubt have more journey in the coming years. Cancer doesn’t like to just go away easily. There is always follow-up scans, blood work and more. Even if you are in remission you still have “more to do”. But, I intend to kick cancer to the door in 2012. Not the front door, but the back door. Cancer doesn’t have the right to go out nicely.
Lastly, Happy Holidays and please feel free to share your pearls of wisdom if you too have been on a cancer journey this year or in the past. Let’s all learn from each other.