Brush With Cancer

I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer four and a half months ago. My thyroid was removed on Sept. 30th and my cancer was gone. I lived with a cancer diagnosis for about two weeks, and then it was over.

I am a “cancer survivor” but I don’t really feel like one. Cancer is something disruptive. It requires surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, and regular follow-ups. I have known many people with Cancer, including my own family. Some won their battle, and others did not. I didn’t have a battle.

Talking about this with one of the members of my life group he called it “cancer with a little c”.  It’s not that thyroid cancer isn’t serious, it’s just very slow growing. I could have lived for 20 years or more with this cancer living inside me before there was an outward sign. As it is, this cancer was only discovered because of a blood test reading being slightly off. There was a whole series of dominoes that fell before an actual diagnosis, but that blood test was the start of it.

I’m lucky and I’m grateful for it. The only consequences of this brief period are a three-inch scar at the base of my neck which should fade with time, and I have to take a pill every day the rest of my life. That in itself is kinda cool, they took out an organ, and all that my body needs is a tiny purple pill to replace it. How weird is that?

I don’t know what to make of this experience, even after a number of months. It went by in a flash, relatively speaking. The thing I was most worried about at the time was my voice (I like to sing and the thyroid sits on top of the vocal chords). A day or less after the surgery I was speaking normally. Singing’s a little different, the shape of my throat has literally changed, but I’m getting used to it.

I was working on my third novel at the time of the diagnosis (trying to get it done before the surgery which ended up not happening). The last thing I wrote before the surgery was a prayer. My character had been through a great deal of trauma himself and was on the cusp of a final crisis. My character doesn’t really know how to pray, so his conversation is very informal, basically just saying what he’s feeling at the time, and asking what he should do. The specifics require more explanation than I’d care to go into here (this is at a point 90% through the book after all), but a lot of my feelings at that moment came out through my character. I read it back to myself for the first time today. It was a good reminder of how I was feeling, but it didn’t really have any answers, because I didn’t have any then.

I don’t want to obsess about this episode, but from time to time I think about it. Why did it happen at that particular time? How has the experience changed me?

Again, don’t really have an answer right now, but if I find one worth sharing, I will.

Have you had an experience like this one?


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11 responses to “Brush With Cancer

  1. When I was young, I was sick all the time. I’m allergic to dairy so I couldn’t be fed naturally, I have severe allergies and had my ears tubed twice by the time I was 2 and had my tonsils out before I could really keep memories. In my adult life, I’ve been incredibly lucky; any great illness or injury has always been self inflicted and so far nothing permanent (except maybe my dislocated knee).

    My complete lack of major medical issues has left me desperately devoid of empathy in these issues, which has hit me hard in the last months. I heard about your illness just a couple months ago and though we’re not close it was a little like a tonne of bricks. It was a realization that people my age and those close to me are, in fact, vulnerable.

    You asked if anyone had an experience like yours, I haven’t but I had a similar, yet devastating experience from the opposite side. My mother-in-law recently passed of Cancer. I say it was similar because I only knew her for a short time and, while I knew she was ill for a couple years, in the end I never had time to realize what was happening or how bad it was. By the time it was obvious how sick she was, she was already almost gone and I was far from prepared for what was to come. (‘was’ 8 times in 2 sentences… bad form)

    I couldn’t find a life lesson in there if I tried for the rest of my life. I had almost no real emotion until the very end and I still know what to take from it. I know I’m glad that you’re healthy and that my mother-in-law is no longer in pain… that’s about it.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. My mom’s a Breast Cancer survivor and I know what you mean about not always knowing how bad things are. I checked in on her a lot, but when you’re not living with them it’s hard to know the day to day. I know she went through an incredibly tough battle and I’m proud of how well she handled it, and I feel a little bad for how easy things were for me in comparison.

      Empathy, especially sustained empathy for Cancer, is a tricky thing. Most people are willing to help you out in the beginning, but for most people Cancer is a long term thing with needs throughout. My parents are blessed with a great network of friends and a church that could support them. Hopefully your mother-in-law had something similar.

      The only thing I can say in terms of a lesson from this is that helping others is always a good thing. If you’re part of a church community, then there is always someone in need of help, whether it’s meals or driving them to a Doctor’s appointment, or even just mowing their lawn. This is something I want to do more of myself, and the people that do are a blessing and are blessed.

      Good to hear from you Adam and thanks for stopping by!

  2. Chuck Conover

    I had a similar experience – but with prostate cancer. Cancer with a little ‘c’; In that I had surgery, it was all removed, no follow up treatment required. Unlike you I do have some post surgery life changes to deal with, changes I will have to live with the rest of my life. Yet in the shadow of the possible BIG “C”, these changes are smaller. If I live with the knowledge that the ‘c’ is for now gone from my life, then I can easily live with these changes – for I am living. And that I guess may help point to the life lesson – for we each are here today, we are alive, existing in our continuing experience of life with the ones we love and care about. While there was a small bump in the road, in the end we are still here, perhaps changed by the experience, but essentially the same as before.

    And you?

    • I would say that for the most part I am the same as I was before this experience, except for the times when my scar itches (argh … damn!) I do have some life long consequences in terms of having to take a pill every day for the rest of my life, but Red Green always used to say that if all your problems can be solved by a little pill, that’s not a bad thing. The biggest thing for me, and for those around me is the age. 26 seems young for cancer, but children get it, and no matter when you do it’s too early.

  3. No more cancer for you EVER, Ben! I am serious. I will find out, and then you’ll be in real trouble!

    Big c or small, I’m glad you’re okay.

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  7. Although I’m a month late in reading this blog on cancer, it touches our own experience with the Big C. Big or small, cancer changes lives in powerful ways. I’m glad you wrote about your diagnosis and treatment.. Such things are enlightening and encouraging.

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