Nine years ago today, my life was forever changed. Some would argue that receiving my cancer diagnosis on October 3 was the day my life changed but I beg to differ. Even with the diagnosis, my body seemed to function normally, or at least as normal as I had come to know it. But on November 3, 2006, I would undergo a surgery that would remove my thyroid and the cancer in it but leave me with years of side effects, misunderstanding and frustrations. Frustrations over the ignorance that surrounds my cancer.
First there was the radiologist who told me if I had to get cancer, this was “the best kind of cancer to get.” What a jerk! Who chooses to get cancer and who picks out what kind like shopping for a pair of shoes???? In my mind, cancer is cancer regardless. Nobody’s story is better or worse than another because the pain is real in the moment. We are all survivors.
Then there was the ignorant columnist this year who had the audacity to say that thyroid cancer patients dare not compare their struggles to those who suffer from real cancer like breast cancer. These people have no idea the emotional scars they leave when they are so shortsighted with their words. Even though my type and stage of cancer was not as serious as some, loss was felt. I still feared leaving my girls behind without a mother. My husband still lost time and memories with his wife. I still was unable to mother my children as I wanted to. Even now, I deal with the aftermath…the anxiety, depression, hair loss, weight gain, dry skin, rashes, dry mouth, mood swings, sleepless nights, etc., etc., etc. And I am 9 years out.
As you read this you may be thinking to yourself…”Man she sounds bitter.” Well, let me set the record straight…I am not bitter. I am realistic about my struggles and the struggles so many others go through. Thyroid cancer patients not only battle their disease, they battle the stigma that it’s not as serious as other cancers. They battle the aftermath once their thyroid is removed or killed off. They battle the side effects as a result of the daily maintenance medication. I battle myself over the guilt that it wasn’t as bad as some.
Through it all, I remain grateful. I am still here. On November 3, 2006, my thyroid and the cancer within was not all that was removed. I also lost a short-sighted view of life and gained a second chance to never take anything for granted ever again. It’s been hard and some days present more of a struggle than others. But today I am going to take a moment to reflect on how far I have come since my life began again…since I got this second chance to live a life of gratitude and respect for everyone who suffers from all cancers and any other debilitating disease or condition.
Cancer is real to those who deal with it. No one cancer has the right to be grieved any more than the other. It all causes pain and loss. None of us should judge or rate one’s pain and right to feel pain in relation to another person’s struggle. So if you get nothing else from this post, I hope you gain some understanding and the insight to know what to say and what not to say the next time you meet a thyroid cancer survivor. Because it’s never “just” thyroid cancer.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/95962912@N00/2653033567″>Borboleta</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>