I went to see the doctor for my annual medication refill for my colostomy bag. I have had an Imperforate Anus since birth, which resulted in me having a permanent colostomy bag.
is a defect that is present from birth (congenital). The opening to the anus is missing or blocked. The anus is the opening to the rectum through which stools leave the body. It usually requires immediate surgery to open a passage for feces unless a fistula can be relied on until corrective surgery takes place. Depending on the severity of the imperforate, it is treated either with a perineal anoplasty or with a colostomy.
The doctor asked me “how long has your neck been so swollen?”. His assistant did a routine check up of my neck and lymph node, and felt a tiny lump on my thyroid. He told me that nodules are common and happen with age but recommended that I get an ultrasound to be safe. The ultrasound found three suspicious nodules that had to be biopsied and the results suggested that it was papillary thyroid cancer.
Cancer is the last thing I want hear, so when I went to seek a second opinion on my diagnosis, I went alone hoping it was a problem with my thyroid. In February 2015, at the age of 21 years old, I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer.
It was 4cm, the size of a golf ball!
At the time I knew nothing about thyroid cancer. I knew I had a thyroid but didn’t really know what it did. We are told to check our skin for moles or for lumps in our breasts but no one ever talks about checking your neck. Things moved very quickly from there. Within a few weeks, I had to have my whole thyroid surgically removed. They removed 2 lymph nodes together with the entire thyroid gland. Unfortunately, the involvement of my lymph nodes made the surgery more invasive so for a long time I had lingering pain.
A few weeks after my surgery, I celebrated my 21st birthday. I remember others complaining about how old they felt, and feeling impatient with them. We should be grateful for every year we are able to celebrate.
Unlike most cancers, thyroid cancer patients are treated with radioactive iodine.
Patients are usually isolated for five days to ensure that they don’t endanger others with their body’s radioactivity. Shortly after undergoing surgery, I started on radioactive iodine treatment. Because I was alone in the hospital, I felt afraid and isolated. Eventually, anxiety took over me and I was out of control. I reached out to the National Cancer Society of Malaysia
and found out that there was a Young Survivors Group that was put together by NCSM. Through this group, I have found many new friends and it has helped me feel less alone about going through cancer at a young age. Thankfully with the help of NCSM, family and friends, I managed to pull myself back together.
Having thyroid cancer really changed my life. Being diagnosed with cancer as a young woman is difficult, but through this experience I feel more grounded and the experience has given me wisdom, maturity and a perspective that I would not have had if I didn’t go through it. I see life very differently now and try to live each moment to the fullest. I realized I had to change the way I think in order to change my life. I want to be more positive and to give more to others in need.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that when you give, you get.
An earlier version of this post originally appeared on Lavania's blog.