On Tuesday, I wore this new sweater to work:
It was my latest and favorite Goodwill find. I instantly fell in love. Why would anyone get rid of this?! The morning I slipped this sweater on and walked out the door I had no idea that it would become a visual reminder of my cancer diagnosis.
About 3 hours into wearing my amazing new sweater my doctor called me. You see, it had been a while since I’d felt like my normal healthy self. I’ve been coined hypochondriac, pessimist and worrier on more than one occasion. I’m probably a little bit of all of those and sometimes that gets in the way of really knowing when something is wrong. But on the morning of December 16th, none of those things would really matter. What mattered were my doctor’s words that hung on the other end of the line like the cold, hard icicles hanging outside my window, dripping, ready to fall when you least expect it.
I remember listening to her talk while running my fingers over the sleeve of my sweater. I like the way the sweater feels. I ran my fingers over the lines and held on to the only tangible thing I could grasp in that moment; my new sweater.
I wonder who used to wear this sweater and if it wrapped them up in moments like this? I wonder if they dropped it in that Goodwill bin to get away from it for some reason. Or to pass it’s comfort on to someone new?
What was that my doctor was saying now? Why is she still talking? I should probably grab a pen and start writing this down. Her voice was starting to sound serious. I probably shouldn’t have joked with her about the music that had been playing while I was on hold earlier. I think I know why she didn’t laugh.
That sweater became the sweater that wrapped me up when the doctor told me that my thyroid biopsy revealed cancer this time. Wrapped up like an unexpected embrace. It was in my lymph nodes now, too. Seems scary, but really this was the “best news we could get” as my doctor put it.
I guess it was. My other option was lymphoma.
We were well past the clean bill of health option apparently. When did I lose that option?
I’ve heard it more than once, “This is the good kind of cancer.” “The best kind you can get.”
Depending on a few factors, they are right.
But really, nothing about cancer is good.
You see, I am a single mom. I am it for my son. We have been each other’s lifeline for the last 3.5 years + 9 months. Cancer has no right to get in the way of this.
So, when the doctor says cancer- no matter how good the prognosis, I do what any mother in my position does.
I crawl into my son’s warm bed after he’s fallen asleep. I wrap my arms around him, tucking his little body close to mine… and I bury my head into the back of his little superhero jammies and I let my tears flow.
He has no idea. But it’s the place I find my strength. Always has been.
I’m so afraid of surgery. But I’ll do it for this little guy.
So afraid. But oh so willing to be brave.
I smell his little boy smell as I lie there and fall into a place that no longer needs to hold it together. Each day I hit a place where I’m done holding it together. Some days it happens earlier than others. But it most definitely occurs late at night, when the demands of the day have subsided and all that’s left is my sleeping boy. When all is peaceful except the illness I can feel in my neck.
Gosh, I love kissing those cheeks when he’s asleep. I could live off of those moments.
I feel the effects of what’s invading our home. My body.
I want to claim my body back. I don’t want CT scans and hospital stays and surgeries and radioactive iodine and isolation and appointments to get in the way of our playtime. I don’t want explanations of illness and cancer to creep into our happy bedtime conversation. I want our snuggles and routines to be old and normal. Magical and mundane.
And this is just the beginning.
But I’ll do anything for this little guy. I’ll face it, embrace it with grace and fiercely move forward.
I’ll do anything to work my way through this. So, in a couple of weeks I will say good-bye to a part of my body that hasn’t done anything wrong, but is too sick to stay with me. I will have a total thyroidectomy with modified radical neck dissection. It’s a mouthful (I believe the other way to write that is $$$$$!), but it’s a blessing. Not everyone in the world gets the opportunity to take care of their bodies when they are sick and have access to such good healthcare.
So, I’ll brace for impact as those giant bills start filling my mailbox if it means I can stay healthy for my son. For me. For all I love in life.
While it’s in my lymph nodes now and that seems scary, I have access to an amazing surgeon who has promised to “fix [me] up real good.” I know she will. And a few weeks after I part ways with my beloved thyroid and more than 30 of my lymph nodes, I’ll swallow a radioactive iodine pill and be placed in isolation while it destroys any remaining thyroid cancer cells.
I will swallow radioactive iodine if it means I can stay healthy for my son. Friends, that is crazy.
But I’m crazy in love with this boy and with this life I’ve been given.
I don’t like the thought of doing any of this.
But I’ll do anything for this little guy. Anything.
While I knew I’ve been sick lately, it wasn’t until my doctor made me promise to go in for another biopsy that I’d find out why. Try getting this needle fearing woman to take eight needles to the neck… not easy! Knowing just that, my doctor looked me in the eyes and said exactly what it would take for me to make that scary biopsy appointment, “Maureen, do it for your son then.”
I’m no cancer expert and am still quite new to my own diagnosis, so I don’t have any brilliant tips here beyond advising you to listen to your body and to find a doctor you trust. My diagnosis could have been made two years ago when we initially suspected cancer. I could have avoided having it spread to my lymph nodes had I pushed for more tests then. Had I not been so afraid.
Take care of yourselves ladies. Find doctors you trust. Do it for your family. Do it for YOU. Do something crazy to make sure you stay healthy. Get that mammogram or screening or whatever it is you’ve been putting off. Spend the money you’ve been saving on a co-pay for you for once. And if you find that hard to do, kiss those little cheeks tonight as they sleep and you’ll realize just how brave that love can make you.
My struggle with my thyroid postpartum has been a big part of my life and I know I’m not the only one going through this. I’ll be posting more on my thyroid journey in the future, but in the meantime, if you or any other moms you know have been through this I’d love to hear from you. You are not alone.
I was just diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I have a 10-month baby girl and my biggest fear upon hearing my diagnosis was that I wouldn’t be around to watch her grow up. I have surgery scheduled for 4/16/15. I will be having a TT as well. I just wanted to say thank you for your well-written and very honest words. How did your surgery go? Sending love your way!
Susie, I know how scary a diagnosis like that can be, but I assure you the journey can be just as sweet and soon you’ll be on the other side. The anticipation of it all was the hardest part. You’ll find yourself equipped for each step as you take them and before you know it surgery and recovery will be over! I’m 2 months out and couldn’t be feeling better! Best wishes to you- I am sure it will all go well. You can read more about how things went here: https://twincitiesmom.com/thank-you-a-thyroid-cancer-journey-part-2/