Cancer can be a teacher
Different from the previous posts, this blog post took me almost 5 weeks to write.
I was listening to the Jim Ferriss podcast one day (#374) and the guest this time is Chip Conley, who is a major disruptor in the hospitality industry. Chip was diagnosed with prostate cancer and is now going through tests to determine the severity.
They mentioned a quote from Shakespeare that I really like, “The meaning of life is to find your gift and the purpose of life is to give it away. “
He also mentioned that Cancer is like a teacher, which forces you to take a step back and determine your purpose in life. I could not agree more.
Cancer has taught me to listen to myself
It's been 6 months since my surgery. Not a single day pass that I don't think about this. Some days, I can make peace with it and feel like I can rise above all of this and enjoy my life, but some other days I just feel like it's stuck in my chest and I have the need to just yell it out to the world that I f*ing had cancer, what else should I be afraid in life anymore?! It sounds like a lot of anger, isn't it? It certainly isn't always like this. Just a few occasions in a week I'd say.
I'd like to think that doing meditation has really helped me on this journey. It quiets the mind and let me recognize my emotions. I've had moments where I can clearly identify my anxiety, like a warm cloud on my head or my chest, not the good kind of warm but the stuffy kind; another time I felt grief, when I thought of my grandpa that also had the same type of cancer, he passed away 3 years ago at the age of 83. And in those moments, I'd sit down and meditate for 10 minutes. The feeling would either go away on its own, or I end up crying and make peace with it after.
Cancer has also taught me to like who I am.
I remember going to this job interview, and thought my Apple watch didn't match with the black dress I was wearing. The 'old me' made me pack my regular watch in case I want to change later. But the 'new me' insisted on wearing it, and kept telling myself, "if they don't like you because of your Apple watch, why work there at all?" I know this is such a first world, high maintenance type example, but for moments like this, I refused to let my thoughts or doubts take over and just be who I am.
Cancer has taught me to be stronger than the little voice in my head
Really, there's no need to feel self-pity about this at all. Everyone has that little voice in your head, what would people think of me? is this shirt showing too much of my scar? What will my new colleagues think once I tell them I had thyroid cancer?
Everyone’s journey is so different. I was told that it took someone else a full year after surgery to go back to the gym. I went back to the gym 6 weeks after surgery. It was first encouraged by my husband, to try to see how I feel. Honestly, I was so scared that my incision would burst and blood would start gushing out on the gym floor and my head end up falling off. In reality, nothing even close happened. That little voice was telling me, you aren’t ready yet, you need more time, you can’t lift anything close to what you used to. I did it any way.
After the the first class my neck muscles were sore. But more importantly, everything else was sore too. I really appreciate the support from my husband and the trainers at the gym (shout out to F45 Training Don Mills). I felt more confident one class after another. 2 weeks later, I was back to where I was fitness wise and lifting the same weight or heavier than I did before surgery.
Our body is so amazing. Mine healed very fast and continues to amaze me everyday.
(Side story, I torn my acl while playing ultimate frisbee a few weeks ago but this is completely not related to my thyroid.)
Cancer has taught me that I'm my biggest advocate
I am lucky in the sense that I didn’t have any health related issues growing up so my interaction with the doctors has been limited to annual checkups until my thyroid journey started.
From the first doctors appointment to every ultrasound visit, I always wrote down questions for the doctors before hand. Because I felt like I am always expecting the doctors to tell me everything I need to know. But they never gave enough details as someone that goes through the surgery would.
I have seen my family doctor, the ENT specialist, the ENT surgeon, the Endocronologist, an naturopathic doctor and a social worker throughout the past 10 months. It’s definitely tiring to repeat my story each time, but I learned that I need to ask the right questions to get the answers. As much as I wished all my doctors would work together as a team to treat me, the reality is that they don’t really talk to each other. So I had to advocate for myself every time.
It’s not just the doctor visits, it’s everything else too. I had a tough time returning to work. I didn’t know my options, I wasn’t presented with options. I went back to work the same day the new HR person was hired, so there was no accommodation or “Return-to-work“ plan. My workload was doubled. My teammate was going back to school so I felt obligated to go back to work even though I wasn’t 100% ready. My boss didn’t care how my recovery was and just loaded me with more work.
So eventually I broke down emotionally. after 2 weeks and 4 days returning to work, I went to see my Endocronologist and cried for help. She said I need more time off work to cope with this change, so I took 2 more months off. In total, I was off for almost 3 months but it’s nothing compared to the amount of time I’m gaining back to be myself again.
Cancer taught me to love the “new normal”
In the beginning I was very anxious to get back to my old normal life.Going to work, going to the gym, pick up the dog, coming home and making a meal with my husband. Occasionally I worried about what to meal prep for the week so I don’t spend money on pizza. Planning for the week to figure out how many gym classes I can fit into the schedule and making plans with friends on where to meet for brunch. Life was pretty good I have to say.
After surgery, not many things have changed except my mindset, my lack of sleep, my nerves about going back to the gym and more.
Talking about thyroid cancer has definitely made it to the new normal. I recently started a new job and started mentioning it once I feel comfortable talking about it. I still feel a little part of me isn’t back 100% but I’ve gotten used to the new normal I have to say.
So there you have it. Today is my 6 months anniversary of being cancer-free. I don’t regret every single bit of it. I am grateful for all the good in the world and I am choosing to look at the bright side. This new life has just started.