The following is a post written and published on Facing Cancer’s website where I am honoured to be a writer. You can find the original post here.
The ticking of the clock is getting louder as the days pass. This week it will be 10 months since I found out I am in remission from advanced Thyroid Cancer.
I was diagnosed in June of 2009. I sat the doctors office in shock, even though I had already self diagnosed, and knew in my gut it was Cancer. But even though I told myself I was prepared to hear bad news, it was still a devastating blow. It was explained to me that if I had to have cancer, this was a good one since most people are treated and recovered very quickly. What I didn’t know until much later was that My entire thyroid was swallowed up by the disease and that I had lymphatic metastasis. So my journey was much longer than any of us could have expected. I lived in a chronic state of illness for 2.5 years. Until the day I sat in the doctors office, once again expecting bad news. My mom was with me for the first time ever, so I grumbled through obligatory introductions. My doctor looked at my mom and shook her hand politely and said something to the effect of; it’s nice to meet you, but we won’t likely have another opportunity for about a year. I felt immediate panic, thinking she was about to announce she would be taking a leave from her practice, leaving me in the lurch, as my previous doctor had. She asked me to have a seat and then went over the numbers from my recent labs and my whole body scan. I sat there, blinking slowly, trying to understand all the numbers, when my mom, seemingly understanding my confusion, piped up asking what it all meant. “It means we’re finally at a low enough level to consider Coleen to be in remission”. That happened on Jan 3rd 2012 and was the best belated Christmas gift I could have received.
I’m thrilled that I am counting it and remembering every month. I’m not sure that I’ll ever forget how significant the 3rd of each month is. You’d think I would feel more at ease the further I distance myself from that date, but for me it’s quite the opposite. I live with the fear of recurrence in the back of my mind, gnawing at my happiness like a termite. It’s happening one thought at a time, but collectively the thoughts frighten me. The what ifs, and the panic every time a new “symptom” pops up. I can’t be the only one who feels this way, can I? I know it’s not healthy but it’s not a conscious choice I make.
Right now I’m in the countdown to my one year follow up. I have heard variances among fellow thyroid cancer survivors of what one year testing involves. So to be honest, I’m not really sure what to expect. This lack of knowledge adds to my fears. I have just reached out to my doctors to book an appointment to review my last set of blood tests and to discuss what we do now that the one year mark is nearly here. So I guess Until then it is simply a waiting game.
Can you relate?
I have never really spoken much about death on this blog. Odd considering it’s something that was on my mind a great deal while I was ill. Those dark thoughts stuck with me secretly for such a long time. Recently I was in attendance She’s Connected 2012. The sessions had broken for lunch and I joined some dear friends in the boardroom for a quick meal. My friend Ann sat across the table from me chipper and vibrant, despite having lost her husband the past year, she seemed to be really flourishing at the event. Then a woman takes the stage for an impromptu chat. She was representing an author who penned a book about her experience after loosing her husband suddenly. Instantly I felt a bit sick and turned to look at Ann, only to find that the ENTIRE room had just awkwardly done the exact same thing. I worried for her, I felt for her and I saw tears welling up in her eyes. This woman I thought was coping so surprisingly well was right back in that moment, immersed in her pain all over again.
I know the speaker had no idea the weight her words would hold for some of us who have grown to love and admire Ann. Nonetheless, I sat stone faced listening to her speak about how the author was so deeply unprepared. There was much she hadn’t done and much she had no idea how to do. My own situation bubbled up and I was then crying too. No longer out of sympathy for my friend, but out of anger towards myself because I had convinced myself that I was prepared in th event that I lost my fight with cancer.
In my guest post on Anns website I recount how terrible my situation was, and how selfish I was to have had cancer and not have taken care to properly plan for myself and my family.
You can read my post here: Unknowingly Unprepared
Last Christmas I was given a gift by a woman I don’t know terribly well, though I wish that wasn’t the case. Despite that fact she seemed to know just what would easy my troubles at a time I was very low. For no other reason that pure unselfish kindness, she and her familysent my family a gift filled with many comforts. We appreciated them more than I could have expressed. When we opened the items I actually wept. It was if this woman had been living in my brain. For me the stand out item was a beautiful pink embossed journal and a pen with gorgeous smooth pink ink. I still had cancer and was experiencing a great deal of physical pain. While I’ve been blogging for many years I had never really taken pen to paper in that way before. I was certain that I would never journal since I blog, but I quickly came to realize that while suffering insomnia, that journal became my new best friend. Instead of going to bed with a brain full of worries, I was taking some time to disconnect from everything electronic and just write out what was troubling me. The deep stuff. Things most likely to not make it to my blog. I also began using it as a way to record my daily successes and goals for the next day even if they were as small as pushing myself to leave my house.
This gift has become my lifeline. As I draw near the end of the blank pages, their predecessors having been filled by my nightly unloads, I know I can’t let this end. I’m begining to feel a sense of loss knowing that this one is coming to an end. So I will be out looking for a journal for when this one is finally finished. This one gift has given me something no other gift has. Release. Release from stress, and release from a life of insomnia. I can’t claim that I don’t experience those things on occassion still, but the first week after I began journalling, I could see an immediate shift.
To you, the giver of this gift, I hope you realize your kindness changed me. I thank you for that.
Has technology made journalling a dying art?
Have you even given or received a gift that made a difference?
The beginning of 2012 began with finding out I am in remission. I struggled a bit after that news. Not quite sure what to do with it and how to move past it all.
One of the ways I began, once I was ready, was to set some goals. They were essentially items from my bucket list that I really wanted to see myself achieve. In no particular order here are the ones I’ve put my focus into for now.
- Allow myself to begin to get past having cancer: I am doing much better with this now. It’s still on my mind a lot but mostly because I’ve adopted a much louder voice as an advocate. I don’t believe I can ever go a day without thinking about it so this allows me to put a more healthy spin on it.
- Speak about relevant aspects of my life at an event where the audience is filled with people I appreciate and admire: I think about this often and while the opportunity has not presented itself yet I will actively pursue it if/when it does. I will not allow my fear of public speaking to hinder this goal. I know I have much to be said should I find the right avenue. If you are looking for speakers, hit me up, I’m interested!
- Find a way to prove to myself that I worthy of being called a writer: I’ve been blogging a very long time but for some reason it doesn’t feel like I can say I am a writer until I write something outside of my own blogs. I’m proud to say that I applied for something that was perfectly fitting for me. I heard back recently that I got the position. Soon enough I can proudly announce to the world that I am in fact a full-fledged writer!
- Be a better mother to my children: I don’t feel like I was a bad parent before. More like my focus was spread out and they suffered for it. I have dedicated more time to them and their needs, I’ve seen a huge difference in them, and in how I feel about myself as a mother. This one is a definite win!
Sometime just sitting down and thinking about the things you want to achieve is enough to light the fire needed to make it all happen. I encourage you to do the same thing!
I committed to dying my hair pink in honor of Brooke, a fellow thyca warrior. She wasn’t as lucky as many of us are. She lost her life to Thyroid Cancer. I had never met her, but I am well aware that despite her diagnosis, she was a fun spirited girl with lots of life in her. She could often be seen with pink hair or fun pink highlights. So Team Thyroid decided to go pink as a tribute to her.
At first I mulled it over, then I shot my mouth off, jumping in quickly with very little thought. I tend to act based on my heart quite often. More often than not, my heart beats my brain to the punch. It was too late, despite nerves I had already told CancerGirl I was in. Then my brain kicked in with: “Oh no, what did I do? I can’t go pink, I’m too old! What will people think.” Then I slowed down and really thought it through. The people who have been there with me understand my passion for social good, cancer awareness and fundraising. They will not judge me based on nonsense, like so many might. I can use it to spark a conversation. My pink hair can generate real awareness if I just take the time to look people in the eye and tell them why my hair is pink. I realized Thyroid Cancer is bigger than me, and people need us to raise awareness for a seldom spoken about cancer. So I now had it all rationalized in my head.
Next I did some research about what kind of pink I wanted to do? Temp/semi/perm? As many people on thyroid medication can attest to, my hair can’t hold colouring anymore. I’ve been told it’s a Synthroid thing. At any rate, I chose a demi perm and I bought ‘N Rage Demi Perm in Bubble Gum Pink.
I was warned it would turn anything it touched bright pink, so I took precautions. I can safely say it smelled great! Just like bubble gum! It was messy but as I mentioned I was careful so I had nothing go wrong. I did not strip my hair first I did it on freshly washed, oil free hair and here are the results:
It is a cause that is very close to my heart because I was diagnosed in June 2009. I spent nearly 3 years of my life fighting it and I’m repairing the damages it did to my body and my family. But rather than tell you about my cancer (you can read it here) I want to dedicate this post to awareness. I want YOU to know what you need to do to be proactive.
I know what you’re saying… “But I’m already busy buying daffodils, planning a ‘stache for Movember, Hosting a Girls Night In, Running for the Cure, and feeling my boobies, and the list goes on.”
I completely agree! With so many people being diagnosed with so many kinds of Cancer it’s really hard to keep on top of all the initiatives to keep us safe. Cancer awareness can be a full time job, but I promise you this; as someone who has had it for over two years, spending time on awareness and self checks is NOTHING compared to how much of your life you can lose if you yourself are diagnosed. Sadly if you ignore your health and choose not to play a proactive role in your well being the only alternative is playing a reactive role, and dealing with it when it might be too late.
Beause my story is one of Thyroid Cancer I am urging you to please do this for me:
The third is to help me bring awareness by sponsoring me! $10 will buy you one day with my hair pink! The money will go to the Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association. You can read more about this fundraising effort here at Team Thyroid. To make a donation contact me and I’ll tell you how!