Theme: I am not…
by Laura Gene
I am not a cancer survivor.
But I’m not back from the dead to write this either.
After moving to Singapore, my body began to break down. I thought I might be losing my mind, for real this time. My first endocrinologist tried to convince me that it was all in my head. Your tests are normal. Your biopsy was fine. Maybe you just need to talk to someone. Moving to a new country can be hard and stressful.
Thirty-three years old and my body ached as if I’d had all my joints replaced with rusted metal fixtures. Waking up in the morning was a challenge, at best. My body was now weighed down and only able to function ‘normally’ with brute force. Must – go – to – work. Must – get – groceries. I subjected my poor Kyle to unfiltered mood swings and often ended up on the couch at night waiting to pass out from exhaustion, no longer able to cry. In the midst of it all, none of it made sense.
Who knew a tiny little butterfly organ in my neck could throw my whole world into a tailspin?
Once I found Dr. Ho Su-Chin, she quickly recognized that I had an autoimmune disorder, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. In short, my body decided my thyroid is, let’s say, Hitler, and sends a bunch of Antibodied Allied troops to go kill it.
This news finally helped to explain the (almost complete set!) of symptoms I collected over the last 20 months. This symphony of symptoms culminated in an anticlimactic ultrasound biopsy of a singular 1 cm ball hiding in my neck. The denouement? The big C.
I was diagnosed with thyroid papillary cancer in May 2013. My doctor said it was “the good kind”, as if there is such a thing. But all my obsessive online research agreed: papillary cancer + early stage I detection + localized growth + young person (if you call 34 young) = nearly 100% five-year post-cancer diagnosis survival rate. So I was lucky. I got good cancer! Now where’s my lotto ticket.
Of course, that didn’t curb the anxiety attack and meltdown that followed as the words came calmly vibrating out of my doctor’s mouth. She’d done this before.
It was actually the best news I could have had after a year of self-doubt, uncertainty, unexplained pain and fatigue, and mood swings. There was something wrong with me. It had nothing to do with me being a hypochondriac or being lazy or avoiding responsibility. If I had stuck with that first endocrinologist’s diagnosis, I’d be in a very different place right now. It’s a place I don’t care to think about.
But my cancer has been easy.
A cancer survivor survives blasts of laser beams to eradicate the disease and subsequently the rest of her insides. A survivor survives with tubes protruding from her chest and lungs: one to streamline poison to her heart, the others to drain fluid from her drowning lungs so she can breathe.
I don’t tell people I had cancer unless they notice the barely-there scar at the base of my neck.
A survivor knows that her body has turned against her, that it’s become a shrinking skeleton of her former life–unable to walk upstairs in her own two-story house, confined to her bed and recliner, watching TV because she’d use too much oxygen walking around.
My treatment was easy, relatively.
A survivor braves countless needles and blood tests, so many that her veins collapse.
I went into surgery, shed a thyroid, became temporarily radioactive, and quarantined with HBO and no side effects for a few days during my Radioactive Iodine Therapy.
She survives multiple surgeries to remove new growths that spread their wings and metastasize to the only healthy parts still left. She loses her love of food, especially chocolate, the taste turned sour and metallic in her ulcered mouth.
My treatment was a little over a year ago. So far, so good.
But I am not what I would call a cancer survivor.
My cancer survivor endured nine painful years for her family and for her fear of what was to come.
THAT…that is a survivor.
Image: Light of Life Foundation