March 6th, 2019
| Survivor: Thyroid Cancer
Hope. It isn’t just a word, a sound that rolls from the tongue. It’s a beacon, a bright light that is more powerful than anything else on this earth. Entire civilizations have been built upon hope, and millions of people have clung to it like it is the only lifeline they have. When you discover that you have cancer, the whole world goes quiet. It’s like time itself pauses. No matter what kind of support system that you have, it is nothing without the hope of survival.
When I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, my entire world went dim. I was in my early 30s, active, healthy, and happy. Throughout my life, I had suffered from the usual scraped knees and elbows, a few broken bones, and your standard cold and flu viruses. Nothing could have prepared me for the day I learned that I had a cancerous tumor growing inside my thyroid.
I left the office in silence and wondered what I had done to deserve this, despite the fact that I have never been a religious person. My brain raced through every possibility and I nearly drowned myself in frustrated guilt in a matter of moments. I couldn’t help but wonder why this was the plan for me. Why now? This wasn’t supposed to happen to people my age. It was supposed to happen to those who have already lived a full and prosperous life. While my doctor had given me a 97% life expectancy once the tumor was removed, I was trapped in that realm of 3%. I couldn’t escape it no matter how many times I read my diagnosis and no matter how many times my friends and family members tried to reassure me.
For days, I didn’t sleep. I simply lay there in bed, staring at the ceiling and the walls. Eating was difficult, too, and even though my survival prognosis was spectacular, over and over again I wondered why. Why, why, why? My mind was crippled by the turbulence of fear and my body was no better; I didn’t want to die.
That knowledge, that raw statement of ‘I don’t want to die’ set a fire underneath me. I realized that if I wanted to survive not only my cancer but the emotional weight of my diagnosis, I needed to fight. Not with material weapons and fists, no, but with the most powerful ammunition in my arsenal: hope. Above all, I had to believe that there was a life for me beyond cancer. I had to not only live in the present, but be willing to look ahead to the future. None of this happened overnight and each moment felt slow, as though I was slogging knee-deep through a sticky swamp. See below for a quick list of how I clutched hope to my heart and overcame the emotional burden of having cancer:
1. Support: Friends and family members, even acquaintances, are the support system that got me through my battle with cancer. Even when they weren’t close to me, just knowing that they were a phone call away greatly alleviated my fears. Even though I was the one with a tumor in my thyroid, which was something that set me apart from my friends and family members, I never felt alone. Sometimes, even when things seem impossibly dire, hearing someone tell you that it’s going to be okay can save a life.
2. Inner Strength: I’m a big believer in inner strength. You know, that courage deep down inside that is sometimes really difficult to draw out? When you go through a life-changing event, inner strength is what truly keeps you going. It’s what drove me to wake up each morning, get dressed, and live my life despite what was happening inside of me. Everyone has their own way of connecting with their inner strength, but I meditated daily and embraced my passions several times every week to remind myself that my life wasn’t an absolute disaster; it was still worth living.
3. Meditation: I know I touched on this briefly in ‘Inner Strength’, but this tool helped me so immensely that it’s worth mentioning in detail. Meditation was my time and no one else’s. It wasn’t as much sitting cross- legged in silence as much as it was touching upon who I was inside. It was deep self-reflection that awakened me to the fact that I was, indeed, alive. I was my own person and this was actually happening. It was my road to acceptance as opposed to denial, which I’ll touch on in the next point.
4. Acceptance: This was the most difficult thing for me to do. Even now, three years later, I’m still struggling to accept that I went head to head with cancer. I look back and wonder to myself, ‘did that actually happen? Was it all just some convoluted nightmare?’ Acceptance isn’t only accepting cancer, but it’s also accepting who you are. It goes hand in hand with self-reflection and I truly believe that you can’t have one without the other. In accepting cancer, I allowed myself to move forward with life instead of against it, alleviating my stress and letting go of my anxiety instead of hanging onto it.
Photo credit to Unsplash
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Rebecca was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in 2015. That same year, after her thyroid was removed, she was officially cancer free. She has been clear for the last few years and could not be more grateful for her second chance. Rebecca is a writer by trade and has dedicated herself to sharing her experiences with cancer to help others find the strength to keep on living.