As I reflect on my own life, I am grateful for those milestones that I have reached from when I was very young all the way through adulthood, but the one I want to talk about is the important milestone of being a cancer survivor. Today, marks the day in which I can now call myself a 5-year thyroid cancer survivor. I can’t believe that I made it this far! After being diagnosed with Stage 4 thyroid cancer, I never would have imagined that I would be here 5 years later and still be able to talk about it.
What really defines being called a survivor? There are many different definitions of what it means to survive. Some define it as having the ability to carry on despite hardships or difficulties in your life, others may say it is to remain functional, whereas others may even say it is to remain alive or in existence. So when exactly do you define yourself as a cancer survivor? That is really up to the individual going through it – that exact moment to which they can call themselves a survivor. Some people believe it is from the time of diagnosis, others say it is five years after being cancer free, whereas others believe it is one who remains alive. For myself, personally I view it from the day I was rolled into surgery to remove my cancerous thyroid.
This has been quite the journey filled with many ups and downs and a lot of unknowns. Recently, I was sent a book by one of my surgeons, Brandon G. Bentz, M.D., who is also a very dear friend. The book is called “Love, Medicine, and Miracles: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon’s Experience with Exceptional Patients.”
For those who have read my blog before, you may be aware that I have remaining cancer which they have had a difficult time in treating, because of where the location of the cancer is. Any of the treatment options that they can do puts me at great risks that could potentially reduce my quality of life. The remaining cancer is located on my laryngeal nerve. If they were to do another surgery it most likely would cause them to have to sacrifice that nerve as the cancerous lymph node is embedded under very extensive scar tissue that the surgeon just can’t get to safely, because of its small size. The consequences of sacrificing that nerve would cause me to lose the function of my voice. Traditionally, most thyroid cancers are treated with surgery and Radioactive Iodine; however, another added twist to my complicated story is that my body no longer takes up the iodine to absorb it and so it is resistant to that treatment method, which is of no benefit to me. In addition, other less invasive procedures can put my life at great risk as well, something my doctors don’t want to see happen.
The book talks about how some patients just want that quick fix such as an operation and I can see that was totally me. I just wanted them to completely cut this out of me without even considering the consequences of what that would cause. Reading this book has helped me to gain a better perspective on how I look at my situation. Before, I had a really difficult time understanding how nothing could be done to completely rid my body of this cancer. However, my doctors have been taking a very careful approach of watching and waiting to see how the cancer will progress as it is a slow-growing cancer. If it had progressed at a more alarming rate, they would have taken swifter action; however, the magnitude of what they were trying to do had not really hit home for me until recently. So, at this point, we patiently wait in the hopes that it does not do anything further to spread; at least that is what we are counting on.
The book further describes many cases of cancer patients who took a negative view of what they were facing which ended up resulting in their demise, way before it should have. They simply gave up and lost their will to live. One important principle that the book discusses is about one’s attitude when facing such a life-altering condition as cancer. One piece of advice that my doctors have always tried to get me to understand is that my attitude and outlook on my situation is key. As I reflect on where I have been, I believe that they were exactly right.
I have always thought that there is some type of mind, body, spirit connection, which is what this book depicts and I am beginning to believe that more and more. This book has been a tool to help me to understand that I can be that exceptional patient and take a more positive perspective. One of the important concepts that I took from the book is that we all have the power to heal ourselves from within. I believe that part of the healing process is to be able to heal yourself from the inside out. When a cancer patient or anyone going through an illness can understand that and believe it for themselves that is where change can take place. As noted in the book, love is a powerful stimulant and can be a great healer. Miracles happen every day, something which science just cannot explain. Just as the author described that there was no scientific evidence of what was making his patients get well, but it was the way that his patients viewed their situation that was the change. It was the connection of love and miracles. As the author stated, “when a patient can stand with courage and actually work with their doctors they can participate to influence their own recovery.” Am I saying that I am going to cure myself from my disease? No, not necessarily, but what I have been able to recognize is that healing is not always in the physical outward sense, but the inner as well. I have realized that I needed that healing on the inside too. I highly recommend that cancer survivors and their families read this book, because I believe the principles in it are something every survivor needs to know. Now there may be some people who may not have this view or perspective on their journey and that is fine. Everyone has to come to their own understanding, but it is something that works for me that I wanted to share, and perhaps it could also help someone else.
I now have a better perspective on not only my cancer situation, but also the way I look at life. Although I know I still do have cancer, I view my life differently and choose to be happy despite my circumstances. How one responds to a situation I believe can play a role in the outcome. For the first time since I began this journey, I finally feel at peace and I am good with where things stand for me. I had to reach this point myself, in my own way and in my own time. I had to come in agreement with the decisions my doctors have made on my behalf. I really do know that patiently waiting this out is the is the decision which is right for me. Being that exceptional patient means you look at your life different and you really live with purpose and meaning until you do die. Having cancer makes you face your mortality much sooner than you want to, as you know this disease is something that could possibly end your life as you know it. Nevertheless, it is also understanding that it is possible to have a full and abundant life as long as you accept each day you have as a true gift and use it to do good.
This has really been such an awakening as I don’t think that I have been really appreciating the time I do have. Nevertheless, another important thing I have learned on this journey is that life is far too short to worry about things you have no control over – something I have to be reminded of frequently. I am learning the importance to really live in the moment and something which is to be treasured and savored. With that I want to share the following song called “One Life.” We have to live as though the moment we are in right now is going to be our last, because tomorrow is never promised!
I am truly grateful for every person who has crossed my path on this journey. Most importantly I have to give the credit to my doctors, for without them I wouldn’t be where I am today. It’s also been those fellow survivors who have taught me what it means to fight for your life and to never surrender! Moreover, a very big thank you to my family and friends who have been there to support, encourage and give me the strength to keep driving on. One last final thought………even though I still do have cancer, in my own mind I feel as though I have already won this battle! As one fellow survivor used to tell me often “when you lose your mental battle…..your body will not be far behind.” That is something that has always stuck in my mind and I believe that to be very true. If I made it to the first 5 years to survive this cancer it is my hope and prayer that I will make it through to the next 5 years and beyond and I wish the same for all survivors!!