When I was diagnosed with “suspected” thyroid cancer, it threw me for a loop…
I’d received my test results online ahead of my doctor’s visit and saw the words right there. But, my doctor told me more testing was under way and we’d discuss at our visit once we had those results.
I prepared myself for the thyroid cancer diagnosis and resulting thyroidectomy, taking comfort in the fact that it’s a very good prognosis kind of cancer. I had seen a dear friend overcome it and her strength and full recovery gave me courage and resolve. What I wasn’t prepared for was the diagnosis of “suspected” malignancy the same thing the report said prior to the additional testing.
What??? I didn’t know that was possible. I’d never heard of a maybe cancer diagnosis. Moreover, it turns out “suspected” thyroid cancer comes with essentially the same recommended treatment as “definite” thyroid cancer. Apparently, the only way to know for sure is to remove at least part of my thyroid, possibly all of it.
Without the certainty of a clear diagnosis, after feeling all the feels and processing this news, I decided I needed to empower myself. I would become my own self-advocate and really research this situation, ensuring I understood the circumstances in which I found myself and that I was seeing the best doctors for my second (and third) opinion as well as my likely surgery (probably should have had that plan no matter what from the start but I think I’d been compartmentalizing…).
Of course, that’s easier said than done…
One of the hardest things about this has been finding the time to actually deal with it. In some ways, that has felt harder than the issue itself. You get a diagnosis like this and you say, “Of course, I’m going to prioritize my health.” But, your regular day to day life does not magically pause for you to do this.
I got my diagnosis on the Monday of my son’s birthday week. I’d planned to take off Thursday (his actual birthday) and Friday to celebrate and have some much-needed time unplugged (leading a legal team and a business in the retail space through COVID and everything else in the last 18+ months has been full-on). This means Monday through Wednesday were a compressed week packed full of meetings and to do’s I needed to Cinderella before the clock struck midnight ahead of my time away from work. Thursday, we headed down to the beach for a relaxed family day honoring my son. While I was trying to be present and put the thoughts of “What do I do?” and “When will I figure this out?” out of my mind, a friend sent me a note to see how I was doing and sending me a resource they’d found.
Sitting on the shore, watching my son and my partner splash in the waves, I burst into tears. I told myself I’d be fine, but they just kept coming.
When I got quiet, turned inward and explored where the tears were coming from, I realized it was less about the fear and the challenge of the diagnosis itself (though that was certainly present) and much more about feeling constrained and unable to make the space I needed to take charge of the situation and get educated. I hadn’t had time to research almost anything at all at that point and I felt like, yet again in my life, I was being pulled in multiple directions at once. My heart yearned to be present in the moment for my son, but it also broke with the knowledge that I had not yet successfully prioritized focusing on my path forward to defeat this significant health issue and what that could ultimately mean. My default in moments like this is typically an unhealthy combination of denial and compartmentalizing, which I knew I had to resist. So, I converted my Friday vacation day into a Friday health empowerment day and made the space for the research I needed to do.
My progress was short-lived, however. As I embarked on my learning expedition, I was almost instantly met with the challenge of simply not knowing where to even begin. Not knowing up from down. It’s ironic. I’m a trained lawyer who spent three years of law school steeped in mastering online research, in addition to using it in my many years of practice. Case law, statutes, regulations, you name it. So, I took to the internet, knowing I wanted to find the best endocrinology and thyroid cancer programs. In typing that into the search, I was met with an overwhelming abyss of internet ads, Yelp reviews and diet tips. I knew the information was there somewhere but I was overwhelmed to begin with and I didn’t have the first clue as to how I’d find it amidst so much irrelevant and unreliable information. It wasn’t like when I go looking for a scone recipe and anything decent will do.
“What about your village?” came a voice from somewhere deep inside. You should know, I’m very independent and, while I’m getting better at it, I don’t generally like asking for help. I am also not comfortable with much attention directed at me. Especially if it seems like people could feel like I’m seeking or needing pity. Especially when I know my situation is one of privilege compared to so many. For all these reasons, I’d initially thought I’d keep this largely to myself and my family and those at work who needed to know.
But, then, I realized two things. First, that it’s important I let people know what’s going on with me. It’s meaningful context to all of our interactions. And, second, that they may be able to help, whether through simply being there for me or by helping me crowdsource the expertise I need to find the best care and chart my path forward.
What I found, when I allowed myself to be vulnerable, share this information and ask for help, was magic. I was shocked to learn of others navigating similar health challenges and appreciating my opening up and starting the conversation. I also never would have guessed the people who ended up being the ones to connect me with important resources, insights and referrals. Then, of course, there is the support and understanding. Just knowing that energy is out there and feeling it surround you is so powerful. The help you need can come from anywhere. And, you’ll never know unless you ask.
Interestingly, at the time of my diagnosis, I’d been talking to my team a lot about taking care of themselves and prioritizing their needs. As the marathon, now ultra-marathon, of this pandemic stretches out, it’s become increasingly challenging to maintain morale and prevent burnout or languishing. Many indicated it felt impossible to create meaningful boundaries and resisted asking for help. Sounds familiar…
So, I decided to put myself out there and use this challenge to lead by example through my journey. I prioritized my care over everything else, even that big presentation scheduled for the first day the specialist I was referred to was available. I asked for their support, their help, and took it. And, I returned the favor.
Yes, it takes a village. And, that’s okay. That’s what the village is for. Through the good times, through the struggles, leaning on one another in love, care and community. Thank you to my village.