The first time I heard the word ‘Cancer’, it was my mother’s diagnosis. She was in her mid thirties, being diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a terrifying experience. I was 16, it was my father’s birthday, and no one knew what to make of it. We took each day as they came. Surgeries (double mastectomy), recoveries, treatments . . . high school . . .
I wasn’t given any information unless I asked, which most times I was simply too afraid to do. Being an only child, I had no where to turn. I couldn’t fall apart to my mother, she was dealing with enough. I couldn’t fall apart to my father – we just didn’t have that kind of relationship. So instead – I would head to the bathroom, run the shower and have a good cry. I felt exhausted. Nights spent sleeping on the floor as my mother slept in my my bed. Afternoons/evenings spent doing household chores and changing bandages. I started doing crappy in school for the first time in my academic life, and gave up caring. I told no one at school what was happening. I wouldn’t allow myself to take any shortcuts or sympathy – this was my mother’s battle, not mine.
What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I needed support. I needed someone to turn to. Someone who could answer my questions; share my fears with. Someone who understood I was still just a kid – taking on more than a kid should be expected to on her own.
Fast forward 12 years. In my immediate family (extended to parents brothers and sisters), there was 7 diagnosis’ and one fatality to cancer. It was everywhere. I seen a lot; I supported people through a lot; I carried around a lot.
Then my call came. Seems as though it was a game of roulette I wasn’t meant to win. In October 2013, I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. A story that can be found here.
One would think that after everything I had seen my mom and other family members go through, I would be some what prepared. God, I was anything but. I was a goal digger. I was the optimist. Always pushing myself to turn wishes and hopes to reality. Funny enough, a full thyroidectomy followed by a scan to ensure what they were seeing on my lungs wasn’t cancer as well – kinda throws a girl for a loop. A girl who was the epitome of perfect health.
The frustration that came after the cancer – sweet baby Jesus. Within a month of being told I was all clear, my ENT/surgeon retired, my endocrinologist went on maternity leave, and I was left with a family physician who shrugged his shoulders more than he gave me answers. I couldn’t process carbs without looking like a pregnant woman. I couldn’t work out anymore, my heart would race and I would get so light headed I would need to lean on something to remain upright. I was running low on energy, and the brain fog – lordy the brain fog.
My family physician sent me for an EKG and constant blood work – that was it. It was stress. Always stress. I needed to cut back and stop trying to be superwoman.
This went on for 2 years. In the space of 24 months, I had gone from a vibrant, athletic, honor student – to a woman damn near crippled by depression. Most mornings I didn’t want to get out of bed – some days I didn’t get out for long. I cried all the time. I was constantly moody – like PMS on overdrive. I had a new ENT, my endocrinologist went on maternity leave before my next appointment, and I knew I needed a new physician. I needed help. I was so desperate to feel ‘normal’ again. I was so desperate for Vic not to have that helpless look in his worried eyes anymore.
I remember sitting in the office of Vic’s family physician uttering the words that would begin an incredible chain of events. Let me back track for a second. We stumbled upon this man shortly after our car accident last year. Vic didn’t have a family physician at the time, so he seen Dr. M first. I loved him from the get go. He is my age (maybe a year or two older), so passionate about his patients health and well being, but even more than that – he truly believes in the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Something I had been searching for, but simply couldn’t find anywhere.
So I made an appointment, just a few weeks after I officially became his patient. The morning of, I got out of bed, pulled clothes from my closet that used to make me feel good, and set out for my appointment. Sitting there, looking at a man I barely knew, I uttered 4 words, “I need your help.” It was the first time in my entire 30 years I had admitted to needing someone and it felt like the world was lifted from my shoulders. He leaned forward in his chair and listened to me. He didn’t simply hear the words I was saying, he listened to them. I continued to see him for two more extended visits where we would talk. He would ask a question here or there, but would mainly listen. We discussed medication, but I opted to try therapy first. He recommended I see someone and I took his advice. Because for the first time in my life, I trusted my doctor – explicitly.
He did more than that though. I went from a shoulder-shrugger, to a man invested to do whatever humanly possible to get me back to my ‘normal’. In the matter of 6 months, this man had changed my life in more ways than I could possibly explain. Instead of requesting my old medical file, I was sent a litany of tests and scans. Finally I was getting answers. Granted, it wasn’t smooth sailing . . .
I was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia just over 3 months ago. Even after just a week of taking supplements, I felt the fog lift. I had more energy than I had had since the surgeries. I began to see a difference in my memory and cognitive function as a whole. A giant step forward.
Dr. M also referred me to a new endocrinologist. A sweet woman who was equally invested in her patients health and well being. In one visit, the accelerated heart rate was explained, as was almost every question I’ve had in the last 3 years. Simple clarifications, but helped me to finally understand what was going on with my body. It was also discovered the my former endocrinologist thought I might have POS – 3 years ago. For those unaware of what POS is, it’s Polysystic Ovarian Syndrome. Another hormone imbalance, this time of the sexual hormones. Dr. O (new endo), is currently testing for this.
I still wonder if anyone is lucky enough to walk away from cancer, able to close the chapter and move on. Due to my own personal medical file and those of my family, I’m on a high-risk screening regime until I’m 70. Never again can I go an entire year and not see a doctor. Instead, my year now looks something like this:
- family physician
- family physician
- family physician
- family physician
- family physician
Barring no complications or bumps along the way, such as this POS screening, this is my year. No chance to really forget about a disease that was removed from my body 3 years ago. Because with every scan, as any cancer survivor can attest to, you’re solely focused on a negative result. It’s hard not to. So far, impossible for me to do. I’m reminded every morning as I take my lifelong medication and again at lunch as I take supplements. I’m reminded every time I look in the mirror and see a scar staring back at me; though fading, still visible. I’m reminded every time I try on my old favorite clothes and see how it now hugs in places it never used to.
Life after cancer isn’t easy. It’s exhausting. Regardless of how positive I fight to be, the reminder stares me in the face constantly. But as a girl who has always loved life – I’ll keep fighting. I’ll look at other survivors and empathize with their life-long battle, both internal and external.
If I were to take something good away from having any dreadful disease, not just cancer, it would be the importance of being absolutely accepting and tolerant of everyone. I never judge anymore, not even for a second. Regardless of what someone does, I’ll never look in scorn. We have absolutely no idea what someone else is battling. None. We don’t know what has or is happening in their lives. So when someone reminds you to stay humble and to be kind – chances are it’s coming from a place of experience.
And remember, please, if you know someone battling an illness – just because the procedures and treatments are over, it doesn’t mean their battle is. Try to practice a little extra patience with them. They’re processing things the best the can; it really isn’t easy when you have no idea what’s happening to your mind/body or how to deal with it.