Some cancer patients are fortunate enough to be deemed cancer free and I think that is absolutely fantastic for them. However, depending on your cancer type recurrences can and will happen. For those with thyroid cancer, it seems there are a different set of rules as it is something which requires lifetime monitoring, because you are reliant on a tiny little pill for the rest of your life and they have to ensure that you’re getting the proper amount of thyroid hormone. Sometimes you may not get enough of the hormone and at other times you get way too much, which is why it is so necessary for continuous monitoring. In addition, with thyroid cancer the incidences of recurrences are very high. In some instances, it can recur years down the line up to 20 or even 30 years after initial diagnosis. I am nearing that 5-year mark since that pivotal moment of being told that I have Stage 4 thyroid cancer. No matter how long I have been at this, I still have those moments of anxiety. Those negative thoughts tend to creep in my head and it usually begins a month before the next scan.
Here is a bit of a recap as this past year the cancer had grown some with some increased calcification and discussions were thrown around on what to do about it. I thought that this was my chance to be rid of this enemy out of my life. However, that chance was short lived. After many doctors and experts looked at my case from every angle possible with discussions of repeat surgery, to other less invasive procedures it was decided that none of those choices were in my best interest. Surgery poses too many risks to my laryngeal nerve which would in turn affect my voice, other less invasive procedures such as alcohol ablation, or even radiofrequency ablation poses other risks as well. Essentially, because of the location of my cancer on my laryngeal nerve if they were to try those less invasive procedures it would put a hole in my trachea as there are no surrounding structures to absorb the alcohol or radiofrequency beams. My quality of life would surely go downhill mighty quick! Is that something we really want to do? I think not. It’s like you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. There have just not been any good answers to my difficult situation and so now we are back at square one with watching and waiting. Even though the watching and waiting is hard at times, I know I will be thanking these doctor’s years down the line for preserving my life and doing what was necessary to ensure that I would have the best quality of life as possible. I have truly been so fortunate to have such excellent medical teams who are really looking out for me!
Recently, another survivor came up with the perfect word to describe what I feel every time I get close to the next scan. He penned the term “Scanxiety” and I think it is the perfect word to describe what I feel like prior to a scan. I am glad that someone came up with a word that I can identify with. There is anxiety, but for survivors like us Scanxiety is much different. Can you imagine what it is like to feel on edge not knowing if your scan is going to be good, or whether the cancer is spreading and exactly to what extent? It can be compared to watching a football game on T.V. with your favorite team and it is down to the wire in the 4th quarter or even when the game goes into overtime. You are literally on the edge of your seat waiting to see what your team is going to do. Are they going to make that touchdown and bring your team to victory or is the opposing team going to get the upper hand and beat you? Just as with the cancer are you going to rise above this, or is the enemy going to make you believe it has you in its clinches to which you cannot recover from? For me sometimes I just wish this would all be a bad dream that I would wake up from. However, this is real life for me and something I will be experiencing for the rest of my life. I’ve been living that 4th quarter play and will be for quite some time. It is my hope and prayer that with more advances in medicine that they can and will come up with better treatment methods, or even better a cure!
Usually it is about a month prior to my scan that my anxiety level starts to kick into high gear. I guess the not knowing is the hardest part and even when you finally get the scan done then there is more waiting for the results. The technicians who take your scans and bloodwork and the doctors themselves, literally hold your life in their hands. Not worrying about what is going to come up is easier said than done. Nevertheless, it helps knowing that other survivors are experiencing the same things and can relate. Here is the blog post from the survivor who penned this term Scanxiety and I want to share it:
My latest scan and my thyroglobulin level (which is the tumor marker) shows stability with no further growth and I will take that as a victory! The bloodwork does show my TSH level being very low and nearly non-existent which explains why I have not been feeling great, but that just means we need to do another adjustment in my dosage. Just when I thought we reached my magic number something gets thrown off, but we will just have to keep working at it to get it right. Nevertheless, I know that my situation could be a lot worse than it is right now. I know that eventually, I will reach that point when the cancer will progress further and then some very tough decisions will need to be made on what will be the best course of action. Another thing which makes my anxiety increase further is that I have had to watch a lot of friends lose their battle to this enemy this past year and I just don’t want to be that next statistic.
Nevertheless, I am grateful for those fellow survivors who know what it is like to experience these feelings and to have someone that I can talk to who can relate. However, I know the only way to beat this cancer is to fight until the end. If you give the enemy one little inch into thinking it has the upper hand, then it wins this war! It has been through the example of other survivors who have showed me what it means to fight, to give it your all until your body literally cannot fight no more. As we face the many facets of what cancer does to us physically and mentally I am often reminded of words spoken by survivors who have been through this battle and some who have lost the battle, but their words are forever on my mind and in my heart. It is of great importance that each one of us embrace the challenges and the suffering, because that is when God does his precious work of refining us in the fire. Having said that, my cancer journey has taught me many things and I have become a stronger person because of it and would not trade this journey for anything.
I will close with the following quote and I have posted it before, but it is a favorite of mine and I believe it speaks volumes and I hope it can provide hope and light to those facing their own cancer journey as it has for me.