Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Five years ago today I was diagnosed with cancer. 'Five Years' is supposed to be some sort of milestone. It is one of the first questions my social worker asked me during the home study process," Do you have five years?" Well yes, thank you, today I do.
I am reprinting my post from last year. I am doing this for two reasons. First, I desperately want to feel the way I felt when I wrote this. I was hyper-aware of the sweetness of life. I was bubbling with gratitude for even the smallest things. Today, I don't feel like that. I feel hopeless.
The second reason is, I'd like you to do me a favor. I wouldn't ask unless I thought it was extremely important. Please read the last paragraph that is starred. Thank you.
Four years ago today, I received a phone call that shook me to my core. It went something like this...
"Well, I have to say that most of these reports come back and they are ambiguous. There is nothing ambiguous about your report Julie, you have cancer."
How do I describe what I was feeling at that point? It is difficult. Unless you have heard these words said to you, it is almost impossible to know what it feels like. I guess it felt like a rug was pulled out from under me, and I was falling face first into a cement floor. I immediately called Steven and asked him to come home.
It is scary. It was the scariest thing I have ever gone through. Just writing this has made me start to shake and sweat and cry a little bit. I am lucky. I am so very lucky. I had an easy cancer, thyroid cancer. They basically take out your thyroid, nuke you with some radioactive iodine and send you on your way. It most cases it does not return. You have to have follow up scans and tests, and you are on thyroid replacement medication for the rest of your life, but comparatively, still easy.
Everyone says that when you have cancer you inevitably start appreciating life more. (Once you get through it). It is definitely a cliche, but it is also true. You become very grateful, very quickly for all of the things you have in your life.
You think about the people you love, and how happy you are to know them. You notice the sun. You notice the moon. You look closely to see how big and brown and beautiful your husband's eyes are.
You touch your dog's back and think that you have never in your life touched something so soft. You thank God that you live in America. You thank God that you have health insurance. You feel the love and anxieties of all of your friends, and all of your family members. It makes you very mindful. It stops you in your tracks. It weeds out the fodder. It brings you some clarity.
People may say the wrong things when they find out about your cancer. Like, "No wonder you couldn't stay pregnant," or " That explains why you are so sickly looking," or "What will Steven do without you?" In retrospect, you just have to laugh. People get scared too. People don't really know what to say. It shakes them up too. It makes everyone think about their own mortality.
I am so very lucky. I cannot imagine having to go through that alone. There was a woman who was rolled into the nuclear medicine room I was in. I was waiting for a scan. She too, was waiting for some sort of scan. She was in bad shape. I do not think her cancer was thyroid cancer. I do not think she was about to receive any good news. She couldn't talk, she mumbled a bit. All of the sudden a bad odor took over the room. This woman had soiled herself. A nurse, (one who had obviously been absent on the bedside manner day of nursing school), started berating this woman. "I told you to tell me if you needed to have a bowel movement. You don't even have a diaper on , What are you doing!!??" She continued to yell at her. I said, "Please, please, leave her alone." The nurse rolled this woman out, probably to yell at her in a more private setting. This woman was so helpless, and so sick, and the only one around her was treating her like shit. Truthfully, if the nurse had been more attentive to her, she probably wouldn't have had an accident. Anyway, the point, what was my point? Yes, the point is, I am grateful. I am grateful that I have someone, many someones to help me through the challenges of life.
This is Boyd:
Steven made Boyd the healthy thyroid for me while he was waiting for me to come out of surgery. He thought I might be sad without a thyroid, so he sewed me a new one. Levity, very important when facing cancer. Steven never left my side. Not for one minute.
Have you ever been in the hospital ? Have you ever had surgery? When you finally came home, what was the first thing you wanted to do? I had been very ill from the morphine. I had retched and retched. My hair was matted with blood and sweat and who knows what else. I wanted a shower. Well, since my neck was all bandaged up with gauze and tape, I was told I could take a shallow bath, but no shower.
Steven washed my hair for me.
I will never, ever forget this moment, as long as I live. He gently tilted my head back and washed my dirty hair. I could feel all of his tenderness at that point. I could feel his strength, his love, his fear, his warmth, I could feel everything. It was one of the most intimate moments of our whole relationship. I had never felt anything more comforting. It was so good to be clean. It was so good to be loved. It was so good not to be alone. It was so good to be home.
I am so grateful.
What does this have to do with my Ethiopian adoption? What doesn't it have to do with it. Everything that has happened in our lives has led us to this point. With baited breath we wait for the day when we learn who our children will be. Our experiences, our sickness our health, have brought us to this point. We wait. We reflect. We gather strength for what lies ahead. We take a breath, and are mindful of all that we have, and all that we have lost. We stand tall and embrace a new day. We take joy in a spring breeze. We smile as our pup rolls around on a cool patch of grass. We gaze at each other and are present. We stop and smell the lilies.We are full of emotion and anticipation. We are alive.
I am grateful.
* Please check your neck. Take your hand and put it around your throat. Feel for lumps. The only reason my cancer was found early, was because I had a superstar doctor. At the time, all my thyroid tests (blood work) were completely normal. You can go to a doctor, and have your thyroid tested and still have cancer. I was very lucky. Some people are not. Some people lose their ability to speak, along with a chunk of their face. I am not trying to scare you, just make you aware. If you do feel a nodule, don't panic. As my doctor told me, 98% of the time it is nothing. It is most likley a lymph node that you are feeling anyway. Make sure during physicals that your doctor feels your neck and throat. Okay, that's it. No more public service announcement.
More links about Thyroid Cancer , HERE.