The first thought I have when I wake up is “I have cancer”. It was on my mind as I fell asleep as well. My chest is tight, either from the surgery or the fear, has it spread? Will I get through this? I’m not living in total fear, it’s just sinking it, assimilating, becoming a part of who I am.
I just finished reading “The Immortal LIfe of Henrietta Lacks“. How ironic that I’d be near the end of reading a book about the woman whose cancer cells, taken from her without her consent, became one of the most important tools in medical research. Her cells were the first ones scientists were able to exist and reproduce in vitro. Cancer cells differ from regular cells in that they can divide indefinitely, unlike regular cells which are limited by the Hayflick Limit, the limited number of times a normal cell can reproduce before becoming mature. I think about my cancer, are the cells continuing to reproduce inside me or did the surgeon get them all out when he removed my thyroid? My chest tightens when I think of this, I feel my lymph nodes in my neck, are they growing there too? Has it spread? When they removed my thyroid, they also removed two lymph nodes, and the cancer had spread to one of them, very common in thyroid cancer.
I’d prefer my cancer cells not be immortal.
I speculate about my response to all of this if I was still drinking. Would I get wasted every night, blotto, wiping out the fear and ultimately making it much worse than it actually is? Instead I go to meetings and talk about it, demystifying and sharing my fears. I’m enveloped in the fellowship of the program. I feel the love and support of my fellow alcoholics, it’s a miracle, really. My friends who’ve gone through this with their own cancer are reaching out to me, one wrote me an email late last night which I read right before I fell asleep. I’m walking with one of my best friends, a breast cancer survivor, on Monday morning.
I joined the “C” club without even realizing I’d been invited.
I remember when I was about 5 years old and my mother took me to the hospital for treatment for recurrent tonsillitis. I remember standing in a room and being told, “this is just like what you get at the dentist office, it won’t hurt.” Then everyone else left the room.
Exposure to radiation, especially as a child, is a common reason for the development of thyroid cancer. Shortly after my treatment, I had my tonsils and adenoids removed anyway, my first surgery and first hospital stay. The highlight of that event was eating popsicles and a visit from my favorite big brother. I was 6 and he was 16, he meant the world to me.
I’ve gained weight since the surgery. My thyroid is suppressed, I’m on a low dose of synthetic thyroid hormone replacement. But honestly I think it’s the chocolate chip cookies. I’m blocked about going back to the gym, a hurdle I just need to get over. The plan is to hit the gym for a spin class today at 3:30pm. Wish me luck.
I want to live my life fully and do everything I can to be healthy through this. I know I’ll feel better if I go back to being dairy, soy and gluten-free. And the sugar. I need to cut out the added sugar, cancer’s favorite food. Sugar was the first substance I abused and one I fall back on by default. My best friend and my worst enemy. It doesn’t make me feel good, well it does initially, but the feeling I get soon after dispels the temporary high, much like the hangovers I’d get from drinking too much.
Practicing moderation and temperance is tricky for the alcoholic in me. My passions run amok. This time it’s gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins and a character defect I had to face during my fourth step. If I can channel these passions into healthy ones, exercise and meditation, I’ll be ahead of the game. And gratitude. I need to practice gratitude. After all, I could be facing a more virulent form of cancer and the treatment and prognosis could be much worse. So what if I’m radioactive for a week? The worst part of that will be not being able to cuddle with my pups.
I’m grateful for having this outlet to write about my experience. Writing down the bones. That’s it. And this is therapeutic. It’s my story and it’s a good one, really. In a few years I’ll look back on it and it will be a memory, just like the one of me at five years old standing in that big empty room with the large noisy machine. It will be over, I’ll have moved on.