In late 2018, I was working as an investment advisor, and I started feeling abnormally tired throughout the day. By the end of the work day, I was completely exhausted in a way I had never experienced before. One day, I was at the gym, and accidentally overworked myself on the bench press, injuring my collarbone.
I went to a masseuse for collarbone treatment, at which point I felt something small and hard protruding above my collarbone. My ex-wife, a radiologist, suggested I undergo an ultrasound, which confirmed my papillary thyroid cancer. To this day, I firmly believe that the three words you have cancer are the scariest words in the human language.
Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I was asymptomatic. I went to the gym everyday, maintained a healthy body weight, managed a proper diet, and fueled myself with supplements. Although I worked as a R&D chemical engineer in the 1980s, my doctor informed me that any form of radiation I was exposed to at work did not play a significant role in my cancer diagnosis.
Within a couple weeks of my ultrasound results of papillary thyroid cancer, I went to visit an otolaryngologist. I underwent an 8-hour surgery and was discharged later that week. The surgeon removed my thyroid gland and 5 lymph nodes on the left side of my neck. After the surgery, my throat was hurting as my vocal cords were scraped during surgery. The sore throat was one of the toughest parts of my recovery. I visited a physical therapist for several months to re-engage muscles above the left clavicle because significant tissue was intraoperatively removed in that region.
During my surgical recovery, I did not require chemotherapy, despite a couple non-differentiated cells. Instead, I went with radioactive iodine (I-131) treatment. This was a difficult treatment because I was segregated from my family for 48 hours, when I was radioactive from a prescribed pill. I consumed a non-iodine diet for three weeks, another physically demanding task.
During recovery, I learned that cancer does not discriminate. Cancer is something that can impact anyone, at any time. Throughout my journey, I learned that everyone has a unique story. I noticed, however, that the common denominator is that one cannot let their mind succumb to cancer. During the 5-day window in which I did not know what type of cancer I had, I read spiritual books and focused on self-improvement. I can confidently say that I now have far less jealousy and greed. I learned to be forgiving and nobody can hurt me or anger me.
One particular story of recovery stands out to me. During a routine PET scan in early 2019, I was waiting outside a radiology office. The secretary came out and gave me my results, which described how I must immediately see a radiation oncologist for aggressive cancers. I refused to accept this result. I adamantly told the nurse that there must have been a mistake.
Minutes later, the secretary returned and announced that there was in fact a mix-up. I was completely healthy. I left the radiology office in tears. To me, this was a defining moment in my recovery process—a moment that taught me the significance of emotional and psychological resolve in a long-term fight against cancer. Ever since that experience, I convinced myself that I could win this battle.
During my recovery, I also found it helpful to pinpoint certain wishes that gave me hope. For instance, I always wanted to see my son marry and graduate from medical school. In addition, the fear of seeing my ex-wife become a young widow gave me significant resolve that sustained me. I needed to be there for my son and ex-wife and share in their successes.
I feel very fortunate to have recovered from papillary thyroid cancer. To this day, I consume calcium thrice a day and vitamin D twice a day. While I am still a bit nervous to get scans, I feel reborn again every time my scans come back clean. I am taking this recovery process month by month, and as the years pass, the chances of recurrence diminish. My journey battling cancer was a humbling and frightening experience that has wholly transformed my outlook on life. It has also inspired me to get the “Clear Perspective” tattoo that I have on my biceps.