I collected images of storms. I tore the paper and scribbled my feelings. I was fighting for my life trying to get doctors to help me fix the “something” that was wrong in my body. I went to a doctor with my symptoms – got blood tests and medication (that didn’t help) and was told to come back in 6 months. Eventually I found a doctor who not only believed my symptoms, but could help. A myriad of tests and 3 biopsies later, I finally had my answer. The big ‘C’! The word that changed my life.
When I heard it, I was prepared (at least I thought I was). I had researched my illness and knew what the worst case scenario was…Cancer. It was very unlikely I had read, but still I prepared for the words I was certain I would not hear…until I did. When the doctor called with the results of the last biopsy, I shocked him with my calloused attitude calmly asking “So what are the next steps?” While outside I did what needed to be done, I was screaming inside “This can’t be real! How did this happen? Why did this happen?” I went into survival mode because that’s what I do – figure out how to get through this with the least amount of disruption to my life and my family. I tell everyone it’s going to be fine. I tell them all the things I don’t believe. Outsiders, people who have never been given the “C” word diagnosis, try to make it better for you or maybe for them. “Thank goodness they found it early.” “I’m sure you’re going to be fine.” “Everything’s going to be fine.” And the absolute worst thing I ever heard was “Lucky for you it’s the “good” kind of cancer.” REALLY? Is there a good kind of cancer? Just because it is not supposed to be fatal, that makes it good?
My world was spinning out of control. The diagnosis was devastating and liberating at the same time. Finally I had a reason for the weight gain, the hair loss, the emotions, the tiredness, and everything else. Now we could fix what was wrong with me (well, maybe not everything – lol). They would cut this nasty thing out of me and then everything would be okay. But everything was not okay except of course, I was alive but I was also different which was something I didn’t expect. You see, the “C” word, it changes you.
I was relieved, angry, and scared. So many worries. What if it came back? What if it manifested somewhere else? What if my children were at risk? Could someone else in my family be sick and not know it? And try as I might, I could not collage my way through this. The anger was a part of me, I couldn’t let it go. Holding onto it like a badge of honor I wanted to shout to the world, “I’m not fat, I have thyroid cancer!” (as if being overweight was the worst thing about this). I collected images of disapproving eyes and put them around the storm but could not glue them in place because it just didn’t feel right. I wanted answers but got more questions. Why couldn’t I finish my “cancer collage”? What are the storms in my life? And now I see the most important question, the one I wanted to deny…Why isn’t, “I’m a survivor” the most important thing?
I see that the very thing that led me to the cancer diagnosis was my concern over weight gain. I was gaining weight in spite of rigorous dieting. I knew something wasn’t right. I researched it and found answers, never imagining that finding a doctor to help would be the bigger challenge. Never imagining I would get disbelief and disapproving eyes from the people who were supposed to help. And never in a million years imagined it would be cancer.
I have spent my years since hearing the “C” word trying to learn how to love the body that I have. It’s a constant challenge. I exercise, diet and repeat. I don’t feel the disapproving eyes anymore. I try to surround myself with the people who matter to me, to enjoy life and love the people in my life. I sometimes dislike the body I see in the mirror but I know that it is just that, a body, not who I am. And I know the people who matter don’t see the body, they see me.
It’s been twenty years since I got that cancer diagnosis and I still have a hard time dealing with it. I still sometimes worry that someday it will rear its ugly head again. I still struggle with my weight and worst of all, I will never feel safe because I know that stress made my body vulnerable to the attack. So I am different. I protect myself and protect my body from stress. I am learning how to love and accept myself just the way I am. Yes, I am a survivor, and that is the most important thing. I will keep telling myself that until it becomes my truth.