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Posts Tagged ‘Thyroid Cancer’

This year we will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. On Friday I sat across a desk from another man who announced that it was our 15 year anniversary and we both marvelled the length of our relationship. I’m afraid this isn’t a juicy confession – this other man is my Endocrinologist who diagnosed my thyroid cancer 15 years ago and has been faithfully monitoring me ever since.

I still remember that bleak afternoon when the telephone rang whilst I was chopping up vegetables, a baby and a toddler at my feet, listening to the strained voice of my doctor asking if I was alone or if my husband was there with me, before dropping the bomb-shell about the lump in my neck. Strangely I remember hanging up and continuing to chop up the carrots which suddenly affected me like onions.

But now those two little ones are teenagers taller than me – one is learning to drive and has a part-time job and the other plays piano and reads ancient history books I don’t understand. I have watched them grow from little boys into young men and what a privilege this has been.  The day I stood over the chopping board, processing the telephone call, the future wasn’t so certain.

The doctor’s office is currently going ‘soft copy’, scanning and shredding their patients’ files, so on Friday the secretary handed me a crisp white envelope containing my important medical documents. When I came home I checked through them, feeling nervous and a bit sick.  There were the first scan results from St George Hospital – fading black ink heaving under the weight of the medical jargon, describing a suspect nodule clinically and without emotion, masking its meaning and making it sound almost harmless.  But then I flicked through the transparent scans showing the offending black spot in my neck.  My stomach clenched into a knot.  That’s all it had been – a black spot on a scan – it looked like a smudge or blemish that needed a damp cloth to be wiped away – but instead it changed my life.

The report I hated seeing the most was the one indicating the black spot was still there six months after surgery and treatment, and I was to go back into hospital for a further large dose of radioactive iodine. I had been quite positive up to this point, but this setback, and a further period of separation from my babies, pushed me over the edge and life at that time seemed very dark indeed.

Eventually the spot disappeared, the scans were filed away neatly in a dusty folder and life returned to normal. Until Friday those words that dictated life or death for me had been forgotten. But remembering them has made me realise that I was one of the fortunate ones. Since then so many dear family and friends, workmates and acquaintances, have suffered the agony of watching black spots return and grow and win the battle.

Perhaps unpleasant times in our life are best forgotten. But when we are accidentally reminded, there is an opportunity to reflect and be thankful – and I don’t mean the thankfulness we feel when someone buys us a coffee or when we find those new shoes we’ve desired so much are on special. Nor do I mean the smug #gratitude type of thankfulness we post on Facebook to show off to our friends… The thankfulness I mean is the true, deep, gut-wrenching type, the kind that leaps for joy at being alive and breathing, and delights at watching our kids grow up and relishes the thought of seeing our hair turn grey, the wrinkles emerge and our upper arms grow wobbly.  This type of thankfulness leaves me teary-eyed and thanking God for every day I’ve had since the black spot vanished – even the difficult and dull days. Every day of the past 15 years has been a miraculous bonus.

So Happy Anniversary, my dear Endocrinologist  – thanks for tracking through this with me – making that awful telephone call to a young mum at dinner time, listening to all my questions, watching me cry and putting up with me every year since then, taking all those tubes of my blood, explaining what those confusing abbreviations mean (so many times), each year listening patiently to my creative excuses about why I haven’t lost weight and for your unwavering belief that I would beat this. It has been quite a journey and I’m ecstatic to still be here.  Fifteen years of bonus time!

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.         Psalm 28:7

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Faith is the power to stand up to the madness and chaos of the physical world while holding the position that nothing external has any authority over what heaven has in mind for you.   Caroline Myss

We all know the direct link between smoking and lung cancer, and bad eating habits and heart disease, but do we balk at the idea of abuse in childhood leading to emotional instability as an adult, or unresolved anger leading to breast cancer in later life?    Are our bodies, minds and spirits so deeply intertwined that one invariably impacts upon the other?

Tonight I visited my doctor to go over some blood test results.   After suffering thyroid cancer, I no longer have a thyroid gland, and my thyroid levels have to be closely monitored.   Earlier in the year my levels were fine, but in February when my mother passed away I began to feel unwell.   Blood tests tonight revealed that my thyroid levels had dropped considerably, and my iron and vitamin D levels were also quite low.   My doctor agreed that the grief I’ve suffered has affected my blood levels resulting in my feelings of exhaustion and sadness.  I knew that my loss had made me feel depleted and low, but it was interesting to see how this played out physically.

There is no denying that we humans are complex creatures.   There is far more to us than our physical bodies, blood cells and heart rates.    We are emotional beings, with the capacity to experience a myriad of feelings, from the joy of deep love, to the anguish of despair and loss.   We are also spiritual beings, with a soul capable of intuitive thought, insight and wisdom.    Even those who do not pursue any form of organised religion are sometimes surprised by moments of spiritual enlightenment and intriguing ‘coincidences’.

I’ve had close encounters with two unrelated forms of cancer in my life.   The first time cancer invaded my world, medical intervention didn’t help.  After unsuccessful surgery, I sought emotional and spiritual healing instead.   On a reckless whim as a young single woman, I escaped to a health farm where I fasted for three weeks and then adopted a strict vegetarian diet.   During this time I asked God to heal me, and underwent a very intense period of forgiving others, forgiving myself and rediscovering my relationship with a loving God.   The cancer vanished and hasn’t returned in over twenty years.

My more recent battle was won with medical intervention and emotional and spiritual support.   Having learnt many lessons the first time, I was well aware of the role my emotions and spiritual health played in the roller-coaster journey which is cancer.   I embraced all the spiritual nourishment I could find – devouring book after book, bible verse after verse and inviting everyone with a voice to pray for me.

Self nurture involves much more than good nutrition, exercise and plenty of sleep.  Our inner yearnings reach beyond our physical needs and encompass our emotions and spirituality, aspects of our selves which sometimes get lost in the rush and tumble of everyday life, where only logical thought is considered acceptable.  Words of affirmation, encouragement and hope can bring health to our ailing bodies even when medicine fails.    Hours spent immersing ourselves in nature and the uplifting prayers of our friends can mend our broken hearts, when tranquilizers and wine have lost their effectiveness.

I’m grateful for my visit to the doctor tonight, as it reminded me yet again of the many dimensions to being human.   On one level we are physical beings, made of blood, bone and flesh, but on another we are driven by feelings, insights and desires.   We are also spiritual beings, capable of seeing beyond the physical limits of this world, and of discovering God in his limitless power and love.  I cherish the moments when I dare to look above the dull grey rooftops of my mundane life, to see the wide blue sky and breathtaking mountain ranges beyond.   These are the moments when I know that there is hope for us all, despite the many challenges that surround us.

Psalm 103:3-4
Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.

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When everything seems like an uphill struggle, just think of the view from the top.    (Unknown)

My love affair with good coffee, delicious food and tantalising wine came to an abrupt halt a fortnight ago.   I didn’t even ween myself off gently, but went cold turkey.    Before I embarked on this detox program I had some serious doubts that I would make it through even one day – but here I am two weeks later and I’m yet to stray from my walk of restraint.  

For the first three days my head ached and my body longed for a strong aromatic cappuccino which I turn to longingly at around 10.30 each morning.    Without this morning fix I felt completely lost, empty and lethargic.   The decaffeinated alternatives and herbal teas tasted like poison.   But I held on and as day four dawned the craving vanished and the headache stopped.   It was a shock to realise how my body had learnt to crave this substance and how my days were framed around my love of caffeine.

At the other end of the day, the dark shiny bottles beckoned to me from the wine rack, whispering ‘just one won’t hurt’.  I was pining for my favourite wine glass brimming with something light and fruity to sooth me as I prepared dinner.  My hands felt restless and my throat parched.  The herbal tea I tried to replace it with just didn’t compare.

After a fortnight without alcohol I’m amazed at my increased energy levels and how relaxed I feel.   Not that I was drinking vast quantities of wine, only one glass here and two glasses there, but it was enough to hold me captive to its charms, and to feed a fear that life without it would be far less colourful.    Ironically, with a growing sense of clarity, the past fortnight has been more colourful than ever.

I’ve also resisted the charms of my favourite foods and have rejected all pastas, bread, chips, custard tarts and chocolates.    My meals have been simple and much smaller.   Today I went to a Thai cafe and ordered vegetables and tofu and I could taste every aromatic herb as if I were eating it for the first time.   I’m finding pleasure now in simple foods which I hardly noticed before.   The desire to stuff as much food down my throat to avoid a famine tomorrow has thankfully left me.  Just a little at a time will do.

I love how energetic and alive I feel after only two weeks of changing my habits.   I’ve realised that the very substances I relied on to give me energy, such as caffeine and carbohydrate, were in fact slowing me down.   The alcohol I was using to help me relax, was making me tired and vague.   Like a mouse in a spinning wheel, I was going around in circles, and getting nowhere.

I’m grateful to Naturopath, Hayden Keys, of Miranda who is helping me with this program.    His enthusiasm and encouragement have given me the big push I needed to take my first steps to regain my health and to believe that I can become slim and fit once again.   I had accepted that I was fat and forty and my metabolism would never function well again, but now I can see that there is hope afterall.   It has been refreshing to speak to somebody knowledgable about thyroid issues, as I lost my thyroid gland to cancer several years ago, and now rely on medication to compensate.     There are natural supplements available to assist if you have thyroid problems, but this is the first I’ve heard of this.    If you’d like to read more, please check out Hayden’s website @ www.healthyremedies.com.au.

Shedding kilos and increasing my energy levels are really attractive goals, but I’ve discovered another benefit.    There’s nothing wrong with enjoying coffee, wine and good food,  but I had fallen into a rut where I felt I couldn’t get by without them.    In a sense they were controlling me, rather than me controlling them.    They had become sweet addictions to get me through the difficult and mundane aspects of life.   No matter how delicious or enjoyable something may be, if it starts to take control, then the pleasure sours.    Any addiction unchecked can lead to ugliness and lack of balance.    I’ve heard drug addiction described as a slow suicide, but food addiction leading to obesity could be described in the same way.    Sometimes you need to grab back the reins and show your addictions who is boss.   If you can’t do that, then perhaps it’s time to ask for help.   That’s what I did.   The key is to recognise what you are being mastered by.    Then you can unlock the doors of that invisible cage holding you captive and start to run free.

So what is your sweet addiction?

‘Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial.  ‘Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything.      1 Corinthians 6:11-13

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An estimated 114,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Australia in 2010.                (Cancer Council Australia website)

Friends like to make us happy, and say what we want to hear.  Occasionally you meet a friend who rebels against this stereotype. They stretch you beyond your limits and annoy you by speaking the truth.  Such a friend is rare and you never forget them.

I met my annoying friend seven years ago, while chopping carrots for my evening meal, as my two baby boys, aged 6 months and 19 months, relaxed on a rug nearby, wearing matching blue bonds suits and watching me with bright trusting eyes. For many years I had longed for this cosy family life, and I was basking in the warmth.

The telephone rang and I put my knife to one side. I listened to the voice of my doctor, tight with concern, explaining that the lump he’d discovered in my neck was a cancerous tumour.  My eyes shot straight to my little boys, their chubby legs kicking in the air.  I couldn’t take the words in. How could I have cancer?

My life changed forever that night. Everything I’d taken for granted was no longer assured. My mortality and future were in question. I raged and cried out in anguish. Yet the challenge stood before me, unmoving like a towering mountain.  No level of denial would shift the truth.  So I embarked on a journey which I didn’t want to take.  Surgery and treatment followed and I realised that I did have the strength to get through it.  Step by painful step, with the love of my family and friends sustaining me, I made it.

I thought it was over, but persistent friends are not so easy to shake. Sitting in a cafe a couple of years later, I hastily opened a CT brain scan for my mother. The word ‘tumour’ jumped out from the maze of medical terminology, and I recognised the shadowy visitor again in my life, standing beside me, tormenting and immovable. Mum’s experience was so much worse than mine – the tumour aggressive and the battle intense. She remains alive now four years after surgery by the grace of God and her incredible strength of character and determination, but she cannot walk, and has trouble speaking.

During the weeks of attending hospital daily for Mum’s radiotherapy, I began to notice something unexpected and profound. The cancer care centre was filled with patients who were frail, pale and struggling, with brightly coloured scarves covering red bald scalps, and walking sticks steadying weak wobbly knees. Yet there was something absent in these brave individuals. It was the grating sound of complaining, aggression and negativity. When I looked into the eyes of those patients I saw only peace, love and hope. These people were acquainted with my annoying friend, but they had accepted him, listened to him, and had benefited from his counsel.

Returning to mainstream life, I would notice the impatient faces of drivers on the highways, pushing and shoving for position, their eyes black and vacant. In the supermarket I’d see the sad, hopeless expressions of those healthy and free.

Before my friend visited I could barely breathe in a hospital, and couldn’t cope with the oppression of a nursing home. Now my heart has stretched and I’m able to be there with those who are suffering, without needing to fix their problems. A whole garden of compassion and empathy has grown in places that were barren within me. My understanding of God is now tangible, and I feel connected to him, and faith has replaced doubt.

I hate to admit it, but my annoying friend taught me about what is important in life, cherishing my loved ones and spending time on worthwhile pursuits, rather than chasing money, possessions and ‘success’. To help others is now of supreme importance to me, and one of the things that really matters. My friend also enlightened me about how to be present in each moment, rather than always looking forward to the moment that may never arrive. I no longer put off saying what I feel, or doing what is important. I laugh and have fun, and I don’t regret wasting time when I’m spending it with my family and friends.  Even when looking death in the face, I have an illogical sense of knowing that this isn’t the end.    I see with new eyes.

I didn’t ask him to seek me out, but I am grateful to my friend, cancer. Without his presence, I would have missed some fundamental truths of this life and I would never have experienced love in all its fullness. If you have been touched by cancer, I know I’d see this light in your eyes too – the intensity of colour in your soul, and the generosity of your spirit.

My cancer scare changed my life. I’m grateful for every new, healthy day I have. It has helped me prioritize my life.
Olivia Newton-John

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