When I was little and crying about something only little ones can cry about, my dad would first assess the situation and when he had decided that the issue was in fact trivial, would say: “Why are you crying? You cry if you have cancer, you don’t cry because your toy is broken, or you lost your hat or your brother is picking on you or...” (insert any other kid ‘tragedies’ here). I would invariably stop crying, put the situation in a little perspective (perhaps reluctantly) and move on. Maybe not the most sensitive way for my dad to handle those situations but he did have a point. It’s human nature to get worked up over the problems or issues at hand, and not always keep the proper perspective until something else comes along and you realize that your problems could be worse.
At 35, perspective was not a lesson I thought I needed a refresher on. I had survived my 20s, where I spent most of my time looking for love in all the wrong places. I had gotten married at 32 and had my first baby (of many, I hoped) at 34. I was happy and grateful for where life was headed and I can honestly say I didn’t take it for granted. I loved my home, my husband, and I loved being a mom and couldn’t wait to have another little one.
It was in this euphoric state of mind, and with planning another baby fresh on my mind, that I learned I had a nodule on my thyroid. It was discovered innocently, during a regular physical exam. My doctor suggested an ultrasound, which led to a biopsy. The chance of its being “anything” was about 5%. Those odds sounded pretty good to me and I didn’t think much about it. Nodules are common and usually nothing to worry about and I figured these were just the steps I had to take to show that I was in that 95 percent “all good” bucket.
Then the biopsy result came back as “we can’t tell.” What does that mean? Biopsies should be one way or the other. Good or bad. Benign or Malignant. Definitive. But apparently a lot of times they are inconclusive. Not to be confused with being an “insufficient sample” where you’d have another biopsy done, inconclusive results mean that they have a good sample but that the cells are suspicious and cancer can’t be ruled out. In my case they recommended surgery to remove half my thyroid so that they could test it thoroughly. Now the chance of its being “something” was 20%. Still, I was confident that it was nothing to worry about.
Surgery was successful and then came the wait for the result. Seven to ten days, they said. The first week I was still confident. But after day ten had come and gone and there was still no result, I became less certain. Each passing day I got more and more anxious. On day 14 I finally got the call on the way home from work and I pulled over to hear the verdict. As l listened to the intern rattle off big words and percentages (and as my car battery quietly drained of life) it slowly sank in: She’s telling me I have thyroid cancer. What? I’m 35! That’s several years out of being in my “Invincible 20s” maybe, but still too young for cancer. And I had been SURE I was fine. So much for instinct.
I waited two hours in the dark for Triple A to come, so I had a lot of time to try and process my new reality. I called my husband but had little cell battery left so we decided to talk when I got home (he did offer to wake the baby to come get me but I declined). I thought about what my dad said about crying over cancer. Well that was sure to happen! Then I thought about something else he had said when my mom was battling breast cancer and I had been so impressed with how they handled it. He said, “Well, what are you going to do? You deal with what you have to, the best way you can.” It took a few days to settle in but it became the perspective I needed to focus on what lay ahead. I could dwell on how bad all of this was, or I could concentrate on the next step and be grateful that my cancer was one with a very good prognosis. Cancer might be worth crying over, but then you pick yourself up and deal with what you have to, the best way you can.
Kate’s journey will continue in future Mosquito articles. ∆