I know, I know…. We think of cancer and then ‘chemo’ and ‘remission’ creep into our vocabulary. It’s like we’re on auto-pilot: somehow, we automatically classify everything that doesn’t feel all that comfortable to think or talk about. Dear friends, the sad truth of being human is that cancer is a fact of life. The uncomfortable, scary part of the journey to recovery is all about dealing with what has always seemed a death sentence. I am happy to report that this is no longer the case… If you catch it soon enough, they have a whole bunch of ways to kill them nasty cancer cells. Different kinds of cancer call for different types of treatment– but it can be dealt with!
Me? What’s my story? Well, I noticed a bump on my neck one summer morning. It felt pretty much lick a swollen gland; but the funny thing about was that it wasn’t up under my ear, where it usually lives. My throat was kind of scratchy and my voice had gone all funny. I sounded more like Minnie Mouse than ever before. So, I showed my mom and we figured it was a cold or flu or something. But… I had this feeling. I didn’t know what was going on but I figured it could really be something serious. We went to the local emerg (a.k.a. hospital) and I talked to a doctor about it and they said I needed to let my body heal. It was a ‘virus’ they said. If it didn’t get better in two weeks, I needed to visit a doctor.
12 doctors. 2 ultrasounds. 1 new GP (I tossed my old one because he wasn’t all that helpful). I met my first ‘ear nose and throat’ guru. One needle biopsy.
On the sixteenth of December, I got the news… My GP told me that I had Thyroid Cancer and it was one of the best cancers to have. I don’t remember much about our conversation. I was crying. Once cancer came out of her mouth: my life was over…. or… so I thought. Yes. I know. But that’s just how it felt like for me. The diagnosis meant that they needed to take whatever had been squatting on my neck out!! It was a really weird Christmas holiday that year… I mean, I was happy to be with family but I was going through way too much serious crap on the inside to really fully be jolly or merry or joyful.
I packed and packed and packed everything and anything I could see: preparing to move back up to be with my family during treatment seemed like an obvious choice that life was making for me. They’d referred me to the top ear nose and throat surgeon and I was doing my best to be patient and wait for a surgery date. But that didn’t cut it… This was my life and I wanted the cancer gone today!! So what did I do? I became pesky and determined. I called the surgeon’s receptionist every morning to see if they had a date. The awkward discomfort I felt at first was quickly replaced by my wishing her a nice weekend and asking about her kids. Fighting cancer, you need all the friends you can make!!
My surgery happened just after my thirtieth birthday– yah, I know, I know: another would-be holiday that kinda sorta sucked that year– and I don’t think that I could ever have been ready for the life and body I woke up to. Every part of my chest and neck was on fire and I needed help to lift my head. My throat hurt and my face and neck and mouth were swollen. I had trouble swallowing food. And my voice… she just wasn’t the same. I opened my mouth and all that came out of me was a raspy whisper. Then, the whisper got fainter and fainter until all I could do was write notes on a portable white board my papa had brought for me.
The tumor was wrapped around the nerve that ran my right vocal chord and, though they’d warned me, I never thought it would happen to me. I woke up with half my voice… and for a stage actor, performer, and singer: my life was over. I moved home to be with my family, my follow-up treatment had been slotted in to the local cancer centre and I was as hopeful as a person in that situation can be. I kept telling myself: “It isn’t my time to go” or “I’m not done living yet.” One thing led to another and I drank radioactive iodine