Sunday, February 7, 2016

When cancer hits home!



In my previous post I mentioned that I am going through some health issues. Although I normally refrain from speaking so intimately of my personal life, I feel that this time I cannot but speak of what I'm going through. If this blog post helps even just one person, than it was well worth divulging a bit of my personal life here.

I will start from the beginning: back in October I had a very bad case of poison ivy. It was my first experience of this itching horror. It was unbearable! If you haven't had poison ivy, the only way to describe it, is as an intense itching that reaches all the way down to your bones. It's so intolerable that you in fact feel like scratching down to bare bone. It really is awful! I finally couldn't take it anymore. I ended up visiting my general practitioner to ask for some sort of medication to alleviate the terrible itch. 

It turned out that my regular doctor was out on maternity leave so I saw another physician. She examined me and prescribed some medication. However, right before ending the consultation, she began to examine my neck. She immediately advised that I get an ultrasound and gave me a referral to visit my local hospital as soon as possible. She was concerned that I may have thyroid nodules. Because there is family history of thyroid complications, I quickly agreed to follow out her request. 

The ultrasound revealed that I indeed I had multiple nodules. This is actually very common but given my family history and some suspicious looking nodules, they recommend that I get a biopsy in the same hospital. I moved from referral to referral without much worry. I was almost certain that it would all result in nothing. I'm not sure why I felt this way but in hindsight I believe I was so engrossed in the daily happenings of my life, that I just never thought otherwise. 

The biopsy then lead to the waiting game, yet again, without too much worry. In early December I finally went back to my doctor to get the results of a recent physical as well as the results of my biopsy. The first order of business was my physical. Everything looked great; a perfect bill of health. Next was the results of the biopsy. I was ready to move on and check out as I had many things to tend to back home. My doctor began to rummage through a bunch of papers she located in my file. I was not prepared to hear what she would say next.  My doctor turned to me with a fist full of papers and said "Now in regards to your biopsy, you have cancer."


My heart sank. That word! That "c" word. No matter how many relatives, friends or friends of friends you have known who have battled cancer, you just never imagine hearing those words in regards to yourself. Never! I was completely unprepared and wanted nothing more than to go home and be with my husband. 

In an instant my life had changed. The words hung in midair already stale and stagnant; a real hard pill to swallow. I waited for her next words as my eyes filled with tears. My doctor looked at me with sympathy and placed her hand on my shoulder. She proceeded to say a phrase I have now heard over and over again since that moment: "If I had to pick a cancer, this is the one that I would pick. You have papillary thyroid cancer and it is curable." Yet, somehow I only kept hearing the word cancer. All the other words coming from her mouth were muffled and meaningless. I was hung up on that word; the word that for many I had once known, had been a death sentence. 

She began to explain a bit more about my diagnosis. The stage of my cancer was unknown and could not be determined until surgery. She also explained that the manner in which this type of cancer was cured was through a full thyroidectomy (removal of the entire thyroid gland and possibly some lymph nodes) and if necessary, radiation. Fortunately chemotherapy was rarely used. As minutes passed I seemed to come to and realized that my diagnosis was not a death sentence. I have to admit that I still could not get over the fact that I had just been told I had cancer, but I was starting to realize how blessed I was. 

On my drive home one-hundred things zoomed through my mind. How was I going to tell my husband? How was I going to get through all of this? Would I continue to be so confident as before and believe everything would be okay? Why had I not even been concerned up until now? Was it false hope? Was it mere preoccupation? Or was it such a complete self-reliance that I had failed to remember that I am not fully in charge. Had I forgotten that indeed God is the one who gives and takes away? Had I forgotten Him?

The following days were filled with hours upon hours of google research and lots of prayer and tears. However, with the passing of time, I slowly realized that although I had been diagnosed with cancer, I was blessed. I was blessed for two reasons: The first reason, I had been given a wake-up call. I remembered that I was not in charge and had begun to acknowledge God again. The second blessing was the more obvious one: This type of cancer was very curable. In some instances, even 100% curable. 

And now for the reason why am I writing this post in the first place: 

"Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine cancer. Thyroid cancer is a cancerous tumor or growth located within the thyroid gland. Thyroid cancer is one of the few cancers that has increased in incidence rates over recent years. It occurs in all age groups from children through seniors. It is most common in women although it is found in men as well. 

Many patients, especially in the early stages of thyroid cancer, do not experience symptoms. (This was my situation and why even my blood work from my physical came back clean). However, as the cancer develops, symptoms can include a lump or nodule in the front of the neck, hoarseness or difficulty speaking, swollen lymph nodes, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and pain in the throat or neck. 

There are several types of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary, anaplastic, and variants." [source]

If thyroid complications run in your family, you should ask that your doctor examine you and you can even request an ultrasound. If you feel in any way that your neck area seems lumpy or even feels a bit "chubbier", see your doctor and inquire about an examination. 

The increase of this type of cancer in recent years has been linked to the exposure of different types of common radiations such as mammograms and dental x-rays. Be informed and know your choices. You can request that x-ray technician cover your neck area at any of these types of exams. For some ungodly reason, many technicians do not use them, even though they have the necessary equipment.   In fact, technicians have special padding and covers for your neck area. You must request it and I highly advise that you do.

There is nothing like a diagnosis like this to serve as a wake-up call. I have realized, in the past few weeks, just how fragile life is; how out of our hands most everything is and how wrapped up I was in my life. I had forgotten how much of a gift life really is. I should acknowledge this daily. 

The fact remains, we do not know if tomorrow will come; we don't even know what tomorrow will bring. Perhaps it is a cancer diagnosis or that of a loved one. Perhaps it's a tragedy or loss so great that we do not know how we will live on. Whatever tomorrow brings, good or bad, it's so easy to get stuck in the daily grind and forget that really, each day that passes, is a gift from God. Tomorrow is never guaranteed! 



Yet, I realize that I'll probably fall back into my old habits. I will probably, months from now, forget the depths of my fear the day I heard that "c" word. I will probably, in many ways, not realize how much God has spared me and how truly merciful He has been. Yes! We are prepared to get through this. We are ready to go back to our everyday lives and put this behind us. I hope that I can keep this in the forefront of my mind so as to not forget the gift that my life is. I hope and pray that whatever lies ahead, I see it all as a blessing. 

But if I do forget. If I should go back to my old ways, may God gently remind me, from time to time and refresh my recollection that life is only given to us one day at a time. The rest, is nothing more and nothing less than gift and grace. 


5 comments:

  1. I am so sorry to hear this, Ale. Thank you for sharing. Having been diagnosed with a brain tumor and having to see my brother go through cancer as well, I know how hard it is to hear these words from a doctor and even more to understand God's will in all of it. I will be praying unceasingly for you and please let me know if you need anything.

    Much love,

    Juan

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  2. Dear Ale,
    I'm so deeply moved by your sharing... Your path is hard... Please don't forget us along the way as you created such a strong link through this blog: excellent method to experiment the Communion of Saints...
    Praying with you,
    Laure

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  3. Oh Ali, I am sorry to hear this news. I am sure that all will be well. This must be a very treatable condition. Art has had so many skin cancers and prostate as well, treated with "cyber knife" a very precise form of radiation. He has had 8 cancer free years. But we do know the anxiety that follows such a diagnosis. You are so young, and with your young family around you, your concerns for your future can be deeply worrying.
    Right now, we are going through a big test. Art fell 3 weeks ago while tidying up our terrace after guests. He was dragging a chair back to its place and he fell and broke his hip. He is on blood thinner and had to lie on his back for a week, waiting for the blood viscosity to be normalized before the surgeon would touch him.
    The surgery was uneventful, he bled little and recovered well for the first 36 hours. Then he developed a clot in his lung and suffered respiratory arrest. He came through it all, but was in dementia for days. This was deeply disturbling to me, but a very common outcome. He is in Rehab now, working well with the "Gym teachers" as he calls them. We are both eager to get home.
    I thought I would lose Art so many times. I put myself in God's arms, but I would suffer. Then one awful night I told him, "I wish we could postpone this to another time, but if Art is to die, your will be done". I have been much more at ease since and Art is still here with me. Since he is 85 years old and I am almost 80, we understand that our days together may not be many, so leaving tomorrow's concerns up to God is the most peaceful course of action.
    Let's remember each other in prayer. Hugs and Kisses, Suzanne Perry

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  4. I will keep all 3 of you in my prayers. I can't imagine how scary it is to deal with such events. May God place his healing hands on Art and Ale.

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  5. Praying for peace in your heart and healing in your body <3

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