30 Stories in 30 Days
September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. For the next 4 weeks, we will post stories written by thyroid cancer survivors, caregivers and friends for our 30 Stories in 30 Days campaign. We hope their perspectives and insight will help others along their journey.
At first my cancer was overlooked. It was only after a routine visit with a new physician that he asked me about the status of two thyroid nodules seen on my latest ultrasound report. I was never even made aware that these nodules existed let alone that they may be cancerous. I was shocked and angry that information hadn’t been shared with me before, so I sought more answers. I decided to go to my wife’s local endocrinologist who had removed a tumor from my wife that same year to get a second opinion. I remember her calling me the day after Christmas to tell me that my biopsy results were in and that she wanted to see me in the office the next morning. I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer and underwent a total thyroidectomy.
I am a 71-year-old Vietnam veteran. I don’t consider myself afraid of much after what I’ve been through in my life. I’ve been shot, blown up, diagnosed with malaria, typhus, and two different types of cancer, been awarded two bronze stars and a purple heart. Yet I still remember walking through a blizzard to the surgery center one cold February morning in 2015 with a shadow of uncertainty. I didn’t fear the diagnosis, but I was uncertain about what the future would hold.
My experiences have taught me not to live in fear. I try to remember that although dealing with your issues as quickly and directly as possible can be the most intimidating route, it’s also the most effective. Confronting your presenting problems is the quickest way to turn them into distant memories. I tried to keep this mindset throughout my journey.
In my case, I drew from my past experiences to help get me through my experience with thyroid cancer. If my initial diagnosis is any indication, I advise doing as much research as you can before you decide which doctor will have the best chance at helping you.
My last piece of advice would be to try to find something to take your mind off cancer, because I truly believe keeping your mind sharp is the most important medicine you can ever have. Coincidentally right around my diagnosis I became a volunteer with a local organization, Heroes on the Water. Heroes on the Water offers therapeutic programs for veterans, active-duty military, first responders and their families. They can choose to spend time participating in a variety of activities including therapeutic kayak events and fishing expeditions. The diversity of events allows everyone to find something they enjoy doing!
After initially refusing my friend’s suggestion to attend an event two miles from my house, I reluctantly drove down to the lake to check it out. It turned into the most life-changing experience and had a completely transformative effect on me as it brightened my outlook on life. The people in this organization became my coping mechanism. They helped me focus on the bigger picture and realize that I wasn’t the only one who was going through an unfortunate stage in their life. Many of the people around me were going through much harder times. To anyone fighting this battle: Enjoy your life and don’t be afraid of the uncontrollable!