One More Year

When you think about it there are different milestones we experience throughout our lives. Some of the common ones you think of could be starting school for the very first time, learning how to ride a bike, going on that first date, attending and graduating high school and college, starting your career, getting married and having kids.  The last four years has been another important milestone for me in remaining a cancer survivor. Today, February 22nd marks the day I consider myself to be a survivor. Many cancer patients use different ways in which they recognize that they became a survivor. Some may use the day their doctor gave them that fateful news that they have cancer; others may choose to use the day that they were declared cancer free. For me, I use the day that my cancer laden thyroid was removed for good and how I recognize my survivorship. Many call this their cancer anniversary and something which should be celebrated and accumulated every year you reach that milestone.

Having the opportunity to celebrate another year of survival and reaching yet another birthday, especially when you are at Stage 4 is something to be valued. I feel so very fortunate for still being here; however, then those thoughts start swirling in my head and sometimes I wonder why I am here when others have lost their battle? I have pondered over this so many times, especially over the last year as I have had to watch some friends lose their cancer battle.  Moreover, I’ve watched other close friends lose people who didn’t even stand a chance, because they had cancers and other deadly diseases which spread so rapidly that resulted in their demise in only a few months’ time. Their life was cut so short way before it should have been.  It has been a struggle coming up with an answer as to why my life has been spared, but their life was not. So far the only thing that I can figure is that God must have a higher purpose for me and maybe there is something that I still have yet to accomplish; although, I’m not sure exactly what that is. Perhaps it is just to be there for people who are experiencing cancer whether they are a survivor or a caregiver. Knowing there is someone out there that understands what you are experiencing and can share their knowledge just might be what that one person needs. When we can begin to have an understanding of things that just don’t make sense, I believe that is the ultimate test of our faith. There is a music video from Kutless that I want to share about faith:

Never before at one point in my life has my faith been tested more than it has been by going through this cancer experience.

When I was first diagnosed I really thought my days were going to be very numbered as I didn’t understand that it was possible to survive a Stage 4 cancer. I allowed all of those doubts and fears to overtake me. The thing about fear is that it can paralyze you, if you allow it. It can prevent you from moving forward and living life as you should. I know just how crippling that fear can be; it was as though I was at a standstill for the longest time. I am truly grateful for the people in my life that helped me to realize that I had to learn to let it go; I needed to change my mindset and how I look at things. However, sometimes those fears can somehow seem to sneak back into your life when you least expect it. With the challenges I am still facing, I just have to constantly remind myself to let it go as I don’t want to go down that road again in letting it control my life.

Nevertheless, I am grateful for my fellow cancer survivors who have shared their experiences and insight helping me to really understand that I can be a survivor. Some of these survivors have literally been to hell and back again with what cancer has put them through, but yet they are continuing to stay in this fight and are winning this battle, some even 10 years, or more down the road. Being able to relate to someone else who is walking these same lines and knows the dark valleys I have experienced has been so imperative for me. My cancer support groups both local and online, have been that lifeline that I have been able to cling to. Many of them I have never met in person, but yet we have cried, prayed and laughed together through a digital world; we are all uniquely bonded by similar circumstances.

I want to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude for my outstanding medical teams who have always had my best interest at heart, even when I haven’t always understood the reasons for some of their decisions. I could not have had a better team of skilled doctors, nurses and other professionals who have dedicated their lives in the service of others. God certainly put the right people in my path who have provided me with such excellent care, but yet so much more; some of them have become such close and dear friends to me.

Being a cancer survivor has really helped me to understand and appreciate that our time here on earth is so limited and why we need to savor every moment that we have. I now place my focus on those things and the people in my life that make it worth living. One quote that truly stands out for me is this:

What matters

 

It is not about those material possessions we have in life, but what matters most is the people in our life. My family and friends are my most precious jewels in my life that I no longer take for granted. The piece of wisdom that I would like to pass on to others is with the following quote:

 

 

Opportunities

 

You never want to leave words left unsaid. Sometimes you may think you have time and then that precious commodity we call time is swept away from you, because of cancer or other situations that is something beyond our control.

One hard lesson I’ve had to learn throughout this journey is that I don’t always have control of things and learning to let go of some things has been a bit of a challenge. I will admit that I am a total control freak, and it has taken me quite some time to understand and embrace the fact that I am not always the one in control. However, what I have learned is to control the things that I can and the rest is in God’s hands. We may not always understand why things have to happen, but there is always a reason or purpose for it.

Just as precious metals are refined in the fire, so are we being refined as we face trials and tribulations. I think that is when we learn more about ourselves; at least that is what I am finding out for myself. This turbulent journey has also been one of self-discovery in realizing who I am, where I am going and just what I am capable of accomplishing. Just because I have cancer does not mean I can’t continue to live out my dreams and to see those dreams become a reality. I have come to understand that you just have to keep pushing forward and live life day by day. You do your best with the circumstances you’re given, as the attitude you carry truly does play a role in determining your destiny!

 

attitude

 

No matter what challenges that lie ahead as I continue on this cancer journey, this is something that I would not trade for anything.  I have learned so many valuable life lessons and it has helped me to be a stronger person because of it. I have met some of the most wonderful people along the way, who have truly touched my life more than they know. Moving forward, I am very appreciative of being afforded one more year of being a cancer survivor and will continue celebrating each year of survivorship as an important milestone in my life!

The Injustices of Cancer Part 2

Well this is a short follow-up to my latest blog on the Injustices of Cancer. The author of the article “The 6 Injustices of Cancer” has since edited the article and I just wanted to inform readers of my blog that the link I previously posted has been changed. However, even with that edited version I feel that the author has missed the mark here. She still states how people get off easy, which still puts across the message that there are cancers which are easy, which couldn’t be farther from the truth as there is NO easy cancer! When she still continues to state that cancer patients who don’t go through harsh treatments such as chemo and that they need to “sit down and be quiet” I feel she continues to belittle and diminish others’ cancer experience which shows such disrespect to them. I was very hurt by her thoughtless and insensitive remarks and she obviously did not do her homework very well.

We each have a unique story to tell and like I said in my previous comments is that I plan to use this as a teaching tool to not only educate others about Thyroid Cancer and its devastating effects, but also to demonstrate a united front among ALL CANCER SURVIVORS, no matter what type they have, because everyone needs to feel valued as their journey is just as important as the next person. I think there is a lesson to be learned among those in the journalism business to be careful and to choose their words a bit more wisely. On the flip side, I will be a bit more cautious on what I read and how I let it affect me! I know the living hell I have been through because of cancer and I know it’s not over by a long shot, but I will continue to keep pushing my way through it as I will not allow it to win! I will be stronger because of it!

The Injustices of Cancer

I have been truly appalled and infuriated by the recent article in the Huffington Post entitled “The 6 Injustices of Cancer” and many of us in the Thyroid Cancer community are no longer going to “sit down and be quiet” as was stated in the article. We are going to tell the world about our stories and experiences of what it is like to live without a thyroid and that this is NOT the “easy” cancer as has been portrayed by so many. So here is the link to the article from the Huffington post that all readers can understand what has me in such an uproar. Some of her points are valid but #5 has struck a nerve with me and many other thyroid cancer patients.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cindy-finch-msw-licsw/the-six-injustices-of-can_b_6573648.html?fb_action_ids=10206283269346550&fb_action_types=og.comments

 

Sure some thyroid cancers are “treatable” but there are those which are not and some which are incurable. It comes with it a lifetime of continued surveillance and yes a very high rate of recurrence. I had a very aggressive tumor which has required more than just having my thyroid removed and swallowing that little tiny pill every day and I then I am golden. That can happen for some which can be great if you are one of the so called “lucky” ones, but for others myself included, it is far from it. Over the last 4 years I have had to live with the fact that I still have remaining cancer residing and housing in my body, sure it is slow growing, but it is still cancer nonetheless. Let me enlighten you on what it has been like to live without a thyroid and the multitude of challenges I have had to face.

So here is a brief snapshot of my journey thus far:

I was diagnosed in 2011 with Stage 4 Papillary Carcinoma with Follicular Variant. Oh yes, there are four flavors of this cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary, and anaplastic. With papillary, there is such a garden variety with many differing subtypes which include columnar, diffuse sclerosing, follicular variant of papillary, Hürthle cell, and tall cell. When I was diagnosed I was ripped from my family for months, taken away from I job that I loved as I was living overseas at the time and had to be transported back to the United States without my family in order to get proper care. I had a very aggressive tumor that was not encapsulated within the thyroid, but spread to many lymph nodes. I had my total thyroid removed along with a right and left neck dissection, in surgery for over 7 hours with 58 lymph nodes removed and 19 which were positive for cancer. My surgeon had to leave cancer in my body on my nerve that controls my voice. I had to ingest the Radioactive Iodine I-131 in hopes that it would eradicate the remaining cancer. However, it never worked as I am iodine resistant. About nine months after my thyroid was removed, I underwent an unsuccessful 2nd neck dissection to try and remove the remaining cancer on the nerve that controls my voice, but they couldn’t contain it, because it was embedded under very extensive scar tissue. The decision was made to leave the nerve intact and watch with close surveillance having ultrasounds every 6 months, having blood work every 8 weeks in an attempt to get my TSH (that is my thyroid hormone) in line where it needs to be; it has been such a struggle and after four years of trying drug after drug we now have achieved that. During this whole time of surveillance I always wait and wonder each time I have that ultrasound if there is going to be further spread to other areas of my body. I depend on daily thyroid hormones that have required very high doses in order to keep the cancer from spreading further. Those high doses have come with many side effects from my hair falling out, extreme fatigue, memory issues, weight gain, the list goes on….

Now after 4 years my medical teams are still trying to determine the best course of action on how to deal with this remaining metastatic cancer on my laryngeal nerve. Another surgery provides many risks which can include potential damage to my laryngeal nerve resulting with problems of not being able to speak, Radioactive Iodine treatment is out because of my body not being able to absorb the iodine, they could possibly do procedures where they can inject ethanol alcohol or use radio-frequency beams into the nodule on my nerve with the hope that it will kill those remaining cells, but still no guarantee that it will work, and then of course the option of still doing nothing and just playing this continuing waiting game in hopes that it doesn’t grow even further.

In addition, there are other things which I have had to deal with such as extremely high heart rate and palpitations and feeling like my heart is going to leap out of my damn chest which resulted in having to take another medication to keep the heart rate down to a decent level. This was all due to having to be kept so suppressed in order to keep the cancer cells from growing and spreading further. On top of that I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimotos that attacks the thyroid in which I have antibodies that can make it more challenging for my docs to know exactly what my tumor markers are. These antibodies make that test less reliable. Although I no longer have my thyroid it still presents challenges. Moreover, my daughter also has the Hashimotos disease as well and I worry constantly if this so called “good cancer” is going to strike her as well! In addition, through all of these treatments I’ve had to endure it has put our family into near bankruptcy.

We don’t get any benefit of big cancer organizations that helps with research of this cancer which is becoming increasingly prevalent. It all comes from private organizations as there is no help from government entities or anything like the American Cancer Society that funds research in finding a cure for this nasty disease! It comes from cancer patients themselves who do everything they can to raise awareness and funding for research.

I think the real injustice here is when myself and many other thyroid cancer patients are left feeling that these thoughtless and insensitive comments as was stated in this article belittle and diminish our journey, just because we typically don’t endure harsh chemo treatments. However, in very advanced thyroid cases that is what sometimes has to be instituted.

Now that I have had time to cool off, I think instead of lashing out that I use this as a way to educate others and I hope that other thyroid cancer survivors will join me in doing the same in bringing about awareness of what it is truly like to live without a thyroid and I encourage others to get their neck checks. Ensure that your doctors are doing these neck checks; if they are not call them out on it and demand that they do their job. The statistics for 2015 show that 62,450 people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the United States, although it is slightly fewer than the 62,980 in 2014, deaths from thyroid cancer will increase by 3% to 1,950, up from 1,890 in 2014 (Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association). I surely don’t want to be one of those death statistics and would not wish this disease on anyone. Simply put CANCER IS CANCER and none of it is good period!

No good cancer pic