“My reactions to my cancer diagnosis weren’t what I had expected. But one thing cancer has taught me is that emotional reactions to things aren’t always what we expect them to be, and that’s ok.”
A Little Background:
Thyroid disease itself is confusing. Because the thyroid controls so many systems in the body, the disease manifests itself through symptoms that seem unrelated.
Like for me, I had racing heart, insomnia, anxiety, diarrhea, scratchy throat, crazy menstrual cycles, and I suddenly broke a nail. No seriously, I have beautiful nails, they’re strong, they grown fast, if you saw them you’d be jealous – and then one day I broke a nail, and then next day another one broke – and I thought that was weird – but I wasn’t like calling up my doctor going, “Hey doc, I clearly have cancer, I broke a nail.” Although, maybe I should have, because it turns out brittle nails and thinning hair can be a sign of thyroid disease.
Also, my face grew fat and puffy and I went from a size 2 to a size 8 in the span of year. I was tempted to go to the doctor for that too, but what would I say, “Hey doc, I’m suddenly gaining weight in my face, my double chin is about to take over the world, help!!!!” Puffy face and weight gain are also symptoms of hypothyroidism. Who knew? I just thought the weight gain was a welcome wagon congratulating me for entering my 30’s.
I went to a variety of doctors in search of answers. I saw an OBGYN because my uterus was trying to kill me by making me menstruate every 10 days – I pictured my poor eggs just flying out of me, like coins from a winning slot machine – good-bye fertility!
I saw a gastroenterologist for my IBS, a psychiatrist for my racing heart, anxiety, and insomnia, an allergist because I thought my malaise was due to seasonal allergies, a nutritionist, a personal trainer, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, a primary care physician…and every specialist gave me a different diagnosis – but nothing was working and I started to think I was dying. I was convinced I would die before anyone figured out what was really wrong with me. It was terrible and it was terrifying!
Now we all know how we think we would react to being told we have cancer – anger, depression, fear, hopelessness, etc. But we don’t always react to things the way we think we should. Below, are some of my reactions to my diagnosis that surprised me!
Example 1: When my Endocrinologist told me I had Thyroid Cancer, I cried at first, but then I was very happy – almost smug – because I was right! And I love to be right! I was really sick! It wasn’t in my head, I have cancer! Ha! I knew something was really wrong, and I’m super smart, and I was right, so there!
Example 2: I shouldn’t have cancer. Cancer is not my field of research or expertise. I study and write about infectious diseases like influenza, tuberculosis, and HIV. I can’t have cancer. It’s just not like me. It’s not my thing. (By the way, of course I know no one is immune to cancer, but feelings aren’t logical.)
Example 3: I thought it was funny! No seriously, I thought it was funny because I work as a Wellness Ambassador, promoting healthy habits to prevent disease in my co-workers, and I ended up getting cancer. But no one else thought it was funny. So I was awkwardly laughing alone every time I would joke about it. I thought that was hilarious and ironic. Come on! It’s kinda funny….but I still get crickets.
Example 4: I was super proud of all my tumors! The majority of thyroid cancer cases see a tumor on the thyroid and maybe 1 or 2 tumors that have spread to nearby lymph nodes. I had 21 tumors in my neck, 5 in my lungs, and a large one hanging out underneath my breastbone. That’s 27 tumors! I’ve always been an over achiever, so I was kinda proud of my high cancer burden! I mean I’ve been living with this for years and I’ve managed to have a pretty awesome life! Yay me! It makes me feel hopeful for the future. Imagine what I’ll be able to do once I’m cured!
I also had the type of emotional reactions you would expect, like fear, sadness, and helplessness. Learning I had a highly aggressive form of metastatic cancer made me scared that I was going to die from this disease. Even when the doctors told me I had a good prognosis – it was still hard for me to believe that I was going to recover. Yup, lots of paranoia and distrust of doctors!
But instead of crawling into bed depressed, I crawled into bed and fantasized about my future cancer free life. All I wanted to do was go have sex on the beach – to be clear, actual sex, not the drink. But alas, I no longer live by a beach so that hasn’t happened yet…although it’s still on my to-do list. Pun intended!
Yes, cancer is terrible, and sometimes you feel too sick to function, sometimes you cry, sometimes you think crazy thoughts, and sometimes you make cancer jokes that no one finds funny…and that’s ok because dealing with cancer makes life vividly real. It breaks through the monotony of daily life and that level of sudden clarity is a lot to process! So forgive yourself for your feelings and just go with it!
For more information about Thyroid Cancer, see ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association.