Monday, January 20, 2014

Living Life After Cancer

It is hard to believe it has been two years since I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It seems like just yesterday that I received that call from my doctor telling me I had cancer. Not a day has gone by since that phone call that I don’t think about my cancer and how it has changed me. It has been a very long, hard, journey and, for the first time in these last two years, I can honestly say that I finally feel good and am happy with where I am at.

It’s interesting with these “cancerversaries” because, on the one hand, I am excited to have another healthy year under my belt and I want to celebrate that milestone. On the other hand, in the weeks prior to my cancer anniversaries, all the emotions and feelings of my diagnosis, and what I went through, start to swirl back, causing a bit of anxiety which, in turn, make me want to just get past that anniversary date.  Last year was much worse because it was all so fresh in my mind and I still wasn’t feeling great.  This year my anxiety is not as intense but it is still lurking in my consciousness. I’m hoping with each year that passes, this anxiousness will ease.

When I was diagnosed with cancer it was quite shocking. I felt like a million bucks at the time and I couldn’t understand how this could happen to me. With the help of my family and friends, however, I became determined to kick the crap out of this cancer.......and I did.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that, for me, going through the surgeries and treatment for thyroid cancer was going to be the easiest part of this journey. The aftermath of cancer and the medications I needed to take, and still need to take, to keep the cancer from coming back, proved to be a much greater challenge for me. I had periods of feeling really angry inside because I started to wonder if I was ever going to feel good again. For over a year and a half, I woke up almost every day feeling achy and tired. It was a struggle going out looking good on the outside but not feeling so great on the inside. I had a huge amount of guilt because I felt that I should be grateful for being cancer free, and don’t get me wrong, because I was.  I was also depressed because I was in a constant state of fatigue. Running errands, figuring out what to make for dinner, going shopping, making dinner, driving my four boys to the gazillions of activities they had going on, and trying to make it through my 12 hour shifts as a nurse in a busy emergency room  all were so overwhelming. The guilt of telling my kids I didn’t want to go outside and play with them, because I felt achy and just needed to sit on the couch, made me feel like such a failure sometimes. Deep down I knew my kids were just fine but I yearned to go out, run and play with them.

In the beginning of this journey, I really felt strongly that cancer was going to make me a better, stronger person. I definitely appreciated my family, friends and health a whole lot more than I did prior to my diagnosis. As the days, weeks, and months passed by, and I still did not feel like my old energetic, fun self, I began to question whether this cancer really was making me a better person. I certainly didn’t feel strong. Frankly, it really pissed me off that I might never feel good again. It angered me that I couldn’t control how I felt. I had to rely on a medication to give me the energy that my thyroid used to do on its own but I was required to take more of that very medication to keep the cancer away. That, in turn, made me feel bad. I started asking myself, is this really making me a better person??

I began to wonder if I just needed to come to terms with the “new me”. I even hoped that I would forget what it felt like to feel good because then maybe I could deal with the fatigue better. Maybe if I could just get used to it, the thoughts of my fatigue would not consume me. The problem was that I couldn’t just get used to feeling achy and feeling like my brain was in a fog all the time. It just all felt frustrating and I came very close to telling my doctor that I didn’t think I could deal with the way I felt for much longer.

Fortunately, a wonderful thing happened to me.  I was given the great news that I was still cancer free after my one year testing and, because of this, my doctor allowed me to back off of my medications a little bit.  Over the next 4 months I began to feel less achy and have a whole lot more energy. I felt like the fog was finally lifting and I was getting glimpses of my old energetic self and what an amazing feeling that was! Now, two years after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I have days where I hardly think about my cancer because I often feel “normal”.   It is a beautiful feeling and something I definitely do not take for granted.

So am I a better, stronger person because of this cancer diagnosis? This journey continues to teach me a lot about myself. I am much more grateful for each day.....the good, the bad, AND the ugly days. I might complain sometimes but I am always able to put myself in check.....because I had cancer. I am painfully aware that there are so many others diagnosed with cancer traveling much tougher roads which sometimes lead to death. I don’t take life for granted......because I had cancer. I see hundreds of acutely and chronically ill patients every day in my job and I now know what it means to not feel great for a lengthy period of time. I will never take my good health for granted.....because I had cancer. I often see Facebook posts about how sad it is that the weekend is over and it is only the start of the long new week.  I used to feel the same way, but those types of posts really bug me now. I love EVERY day of the week...especially Monday......because I had cancer.  Life is fragile and things can change in an instant.  I know...... because I had cancer. So, YES, I am a better, stronger person who is extremely grateful to be healthy and I feel blessed to wake up each day and find the beauty in each waking hour.....because I had cancer.

Photo by Brenda Bisharat Photography


  1. Normal is such a beautiful thing. Congratulations on your cancer free anniversary. ~Catherine

    1. Thank you Catherine! Normal is definitely a beautiful thing and I realized through this journey how much I used to take that for granted:-) Thank you for your support!!! ~ Anna