It IS true, first, you cry. My surgeon had just very gently said, “We have to consider these results cancer and treat it accordingly.” Tears had squirted from my eyes and I gulped in air as if that might control the sob I felt coming. I didn’t hear much after that. My doctor promised we’d talk about it thoroughly at my post surgical appointment. I needed to gather myself, have a think, a prayer, about what it all meant. Cancer…I’m a person with cancer. I cried in waves of anguish and fear, and in grief.
I had thought the results would be the usual. I’m a lumpy person. My family has lumps. Really, until now, everything had been benign. In 1988 I had the right half of my thyroid gland removed because it was enlarged with nodules. My neck was actually bulging and to some extent my swallowing and breathing were being affected. It was an okay surgery, the recovery was quick and life went on with medication to assist the remaining half of my thyroid.
Several years later nodules began to form in the remaining half of my gland. My endocrinologist would palpate the nodules and every so often we’d check for fluid with a needle biopsy, which always was clear. She expressed concern about the growth but left it up to me to determine how uncomfortable I was and ready for surgery. One day, when I was pruning a shrub, I found with my arms raised I couldn’t breathe at all. I felt like I was being strangled. The truth is, more and more often when I was eating, I’d have swallowing issues to the point of choking. It was time.
It was almost exactly 10 years after my first thyroid surgery that I had the remaining gland removed. It was extensive. Over the ten years the gland had grown and spread far beyond a normal size. My surgeon was surprised and had to work hard to get it all, and managed to save my parathyroid glands. In fact the surgery was so traumatic to my throat and vocal chords, I lost my voice for 4 months. So that day on the phone, I was just listening. I had no voice except for my gasping cry.
Betty Rollin titled her 1976 book First, You Cry which told of her breast cancer diagnosis and journey. I have always admired her and had been touched by her words on more than several ocassions. A movie was made of the book which took her message even wider. I think this book opened emotional doors and validated anyone, not just those with breast cancer diagnosis, but other cancers as well. It also revealed the steps of healing, progress, and life following.
There are four kinds of Thyroid Cancer. Mine was the “easy kind.” Followup to surgery was radiation to kill all the remaining thyroid cells in my body. And, I have gotten tested for thyroid cancer cells every 6 months since. Thyroid hormone does a couple of key things, one, it stimulates the heart to beat. I am on medication for the rest of my life. I take a little green pill every day…which keeps me alive.
I confess I wallowed a bit in my grief. I especially grieved the loss of normal, of a complete and whole body. I grieved until I realized how blessed I was. It was a journey though. It was a journey of questions and answers, and more questions with the realization there are no earthly answers. And this is just one of the journies the Lord has me on. I also realized the grief was a sort of cleansing readying me for what He had for me next. The reality is each day is a gift. Each day should be purposeful and valued. Each day is our Lord’s.
This post is a contribution to One Word at a Time Blog Carnival, on the word grief.