Friday, November 20, 2009

An Aniversary

About a week ago I celebrated an anniversary. There was no party, no cake or presents. I just looked at the calendar, saw what date it was, sent up a prayer and went on with my day. I didn't even mention it to my husband or my friends.
It was November 11, 2009.

It's been four years. Wow that long already?

Let me explain.

On November 11, 2005 during a surgery that they assured me was routine and that the results would prove to be negative, I found out I had cancer. Thyroid cancer, which I was told is minor and easily cured, but still cancer. I had been seeing an endocrinologist for problems with my thyroid gland for over a year. The left side was enlarged and I was suffering the symptoms of hypothyroidism. For anyone who doesn't know, hypothyroidism means your thyroid gland is "underactive" or working slower than normal. Your thyroid gland controls all sorts of things in your body.
Metabolism(you gain weight)
Skin condition(dry itchy skin, hair loss)
Hormonal Levels(depression, menstrual problems, anxiety, etc. the list is long here)
Body Temperature(cold all the time)
Energy Levels(weak and fatigued)
Anyway, I had been struggling with the above issues for a long time and was undiagnosed. I was even put on Prozac at one point by my gynecologist. Finally my mother noticed that I had a lump in my neck. At which time my doctor recommended an endocrinologist because as she said "It may be a goiter" and "maybe we should just watch it for awhile", "I'm not sure how to treat this" Yes, she really said that. I originally had a few tests by the endocrinologist which were negative. He put me on medication and I had a standing appointment every three months. It was a year later that he did another biopsy and it came back "abnormal." I saw a surgeon who then told me he was 99% sure that it was nothing. He also said there would be pathologist in the operating room and that once my thyroid was removed he would tak it for testing.
After the surgery I awoke in the recovery room. A student doctor gave me the news. It was cancerous. They said the pathologist took one look at it and knew right away it was cancerous. He had seen it before. My husband received a phone call in the waiting room from the doctor after hours of waiting. Don't they know how to keep to a schedule at those hospitals?
He told him the same thing. Poor thing. It breaks my heart to think of him alone in that waiting room getting that news. Of course he immediately called our church and spoke with our friend, one of the pastors who was able to help him in that moment. He was alone because we weren't expecting anything to come of it.
I spent about two weeks recovering from the surgery. Next came the treatment. Even though they removed the thyroid gland, and part of something called a parathyroid gland, the cancer had started to spread, it wasn't over. I had to have radiation treatment as a follow up. But it was almost Thanksgiving, then Christmas was coming so I put off the radiation until January. However, from November 11th until January 13 when I started treatment, I had no thyroid gland and they could not give me any medication until after the radiation. It really was the worst part of all of it.
I gained about 20-30 pounds.
I fell asleep any time I could.
My body ached from the muscle weekness.
My face and neck became puffy. A lovely side of effect of this is snoring. It was terrible, my husband slept on the couch.
I became paranoid, anxious, depressed and moody.
You get the picture. It was ugly.

When it was time for the radiation treatment, I had to be isolated from my family. I took a radioactive pill and then spent 6 days alone while it worked it's way through my body making sure there wasn't any cancer left. You know as much as us moms wish we could be alone sometimes, that old saying "Becareful what you wish for" is true. 6 days alone wasn't as much fun as I thought it was going to be. For one I was sick for the first two days from the radiation, and I was still suffering the side effects of no thyroid gland. I basically just laid around watching tv and reading magazines. Really, not as much fun as it sounds.

But through it all I wasn't afraid. Now, did I feel a little anxious about the surgery? Did I cry when they wheeled me into that operating room? Yes. I think most of that was just normal uncomfortable fear of an unknown situation. I had a short moment of weakness. Do you know what kinds of things can go wrong during surgeries now a days? I read things like spontaneous combustion, waking up during surgery and not being able to tell anyone you're awake, not waking up from anesthesia. Oh the risks of surgery were endless.
I don't think of it as the fear that the bible describes. I wasn't afraid of what was going to happen to me at. I knew God was with me and this was part of his plan for me and no matter what happened I wasn't alone and I could rest in him. From the moment I heard the word cancer, I knew me and God were in this together and that he was going to see me through. I never questioned it. The Bible teaches that we will have tribulations in this world. It is never a question of "will we", it is always a question of "when". This was mine.
I think that is why I don't make such a big deal about the anniversary. In fact, most of the time I forget that technically I'm a cancer survivor. I usually get reminded once or twice a year when I receive literature in the mail for the cancer center, or when I need to have my once a year check up. The word survivor makes me think of someone who had to fight there way through. I wasn't really a fight or a struggle. I just did what God said we should do in these times and before I knew it, I was through.
I've been able to help other people to. I've had numerous calls from people who know someone who is going through it or is going through it themselves. I'm able to answer their questions about what is happening and encourage them as they go through it. For me that is a blessing.
To be able to use my experience to help others. It's one of those things where it makes you thankful for what you've been through. Only God can give you that.

And no, it's not completely over.
I've had four years of yearly follow up visits and testing.
I still see my endocrinologist every three months.
I will take medication for the rest of my life.
I'm at risk for early menopause and diabetes.
And get this, life insurance costs me more now because I had cancer.

But, it is what it is, I know I'm not alone and no matter what, good will come of it.


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