Reflections on My 2-year Cancer-versary

I poured myself a glass of vino tonight and retreated to the Research Cave not to do Research, but to relax and reflect on the coming week. 

As you may know, Monday is Martin Luther King Day.   Martin Luther King Day is my two-year Cancerversary.    It was this day two years ago when my endocrinologist called me and told me the cells from my thyroid biopsy were papillary carcinoma.  My total thyroidectomy in March 2010 confirmed the diagnosis of thyroid cancer and my radioactive iodine treatment took place in April.  On July 27, 2011, I received the news that I was on my way to remission, but I celebrate MLK Day 2010, because this is really the day cancer changed my life.

I look back often and remember how I felt that day.  I have said countless times that I truly believed my life would end at that moment.  I was already sick, tired, and overweight, and I was terrified that the removal of my thyroid would only exacerbate these conditions and virtually erase the miserable modicum of fitness I'd spent 4 years achieving.

Instead, the opposite happened.

It hasn't been all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows shooting from a unicorn's ass.  I've had some really difficult moments.  In fact, I minimized this detail, but I was so ill on the drive to the Savannah Marathon in November that I had to nap several times that day and feared for my ability to even begin the race the next day. . . let alone finish (with a 43ish minute PR).

But that's another one of the countless things cancer has taught me: never underestimate yourself.  You can push so much harder and farther than you expect.  Perhaps even more importantly than that: nothing heals like perspective, because the way you feel during one small moment of your life is never indicative of how you will feel forever.  (I try to remember this whenever I have any kind of big decision to make about how something affects me.)  And, maybe even more importantly than that, MLK Day 2010 taught me that the most wonderful and amazing of circumstances can arise from the most frightening and terrible.  Up until that moment in my life, I had been through just about every other terrible thing I could have imagined.

Even though my particular variety of cancer is not life-threatening (now that I have been treated), the last 2 years of my life have taught me that it is never too late, and life is far too short to live without the things you really, truly love.  For me, those things were chasing my dreams of training, racing, education - and making time to live, love, and laugh (and eat!) with my family and family of friends. 

It is important to note that this also included a dose of moderation.  While I was never a party girl (a "late night" for me was anything past midnight), I realized that I would never be as healthy, or feel as healthy, as I could if I indulged in even the moderate level of late nights and alcohol consumption in which I had occasionally indulged before.  So I set myself a new collection of goals, the most important of which was to treat myself well.  That included some time to let loose and drink a glass of vino from time to time. . .  to the extent that I was otherwise healthy and well-rested.

Cancer didn't change anything. It changed everything

2 years ago Monday, I set out on a journey that saved my life in every sense of the expression.

This week, more than ever, I am grateful for life, love, and yes, even cancer. Remember, life is too short, so treat yourself well, take every chance to be happy, and chase down your dreams with relentless passion.

That's my plan, anyway.

The Week in Song Lyrics

I will leave you with an early edition of The Week in Song Lyrics.  This week comes to you from the Sixx:A.M. song Life is Beautiful.  They're a bit morbid if you take them literally, but bear with me, because the message is vital.

The song is about how having a brush with death can make you aware of your mortality.  The line with which I identify the most says: "I was waiting for my hearse/what came next was so much worse/it took a funeral to make me feel alive . . ."

When I learned I had cancer, I instantly felt it was like a death sentence.  I was waiting for my hearse; what came next - the prospect of not dying, but instead, living a life crippled by illness and fatigue - was so much worse.  But it took that experience to make me feel alive.

Yes, I feel better because my thyroid never really worked, so being on a regulated dose of thyroid hormone makes a huge difference in how I feel.  And yes, my body works better at fighting off illnesses because it's no longer battling 7 years' worth of cancer cells.  But a lot of it was mental.  A lot of my improvement came from realizing how beautiful life really is; that sometimes you just don't grasp how amazing things are until you've had a brush with how bad they can be.

And that's why I celebrate this coming Monday instead of mourning it.

You can't quit until you try
You can't live until you die
You can't learn to tell the truth until you learn to lie
You can't breathe until you choke
You gotta laugh when you're the joke
There's nothing like a funeral to make you feel
Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes and see that life is beautiful . . .

I know some things that you don't
And I've don't things that you won't
There's nothing like a trail of blood to find your way back home
I was waiting for my hearse
What came next was so much worse
It took a funeral to make me feel alive
Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes and see that life is beautiful . . .

2 tidbits of wizdom:

Karen said...

Happy Cancerversary? (that seems odd to say...) I love that you can focus on the positive things that came out of that experience. I guess I didn't realize it had been so recently.

Molly said...

I'm so happy that life is on the upswing and that's it's LIFE!!! :)