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Penny Aicardi

Posted on: September 15, 2018

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.

I went to work on a cold December day. As I was walking into the office, I planted my foot on a concrete stair that had a patch of black ice. My foot slipped, and my entire body fell backward. I wrenched my neck to the side to avoid hitting my head. I came down on my hip before the pain of the fall hit me.

That fall, it turns out, saved my life. When I wrenched my neck to avoid hitting the stair, I thought I pulled a muscle. The pain grew increasingly uncomfortable in the following days, and I made an appointment to see the doctor. I asked for a muscle relaxer, but the doctor recommended an ultrasound. One day later I was referred to an endocrinologist. The endocrinologist told me he wanted me to have an FNA, a fine needle aspiration, to check for cancer. I was shocked. How do I get from a pulled muscle in my neck to cancer? Admittedly, I started freaking out. As a lifelong hypochondriac, cancer was my worst fear!

I was diagnosed with a suspicion for papillary thyroid cancer on World Cancer Day, 2014. I kid you not: It was World Cancer Day!

Thyroid cancer has been a reality for me every day for the last four years. Some days are good, and some days are not. Scans bring me a ton of anxiety, and mood swings are a reality in my world. Thyroid cancer is a chronic condition that can sink you like a ship or make you grateful and appreciative of every single day. Sometimes it can do both all at the same time! It is okay to feel confused, scared, and uncertain. But then you sit up, educate yourself, and realize that cancer does not have to control you.

I have two pieces of advice that I would like to offer for two different groups of people:

1) If you have been recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer: don’t let people’s attitude about this being the “good cancer” dictate your mood. You are going through something that most people have not been through. It’s okay to be scared! Read everything you can about it, but don’t take it all as certainty. The people who post are the ones with the most problems (and I have been in that group). The people who have surgery and RAI and do well: they move on with their life. They don’t go on message boards. You may gain weight, you may not. But if you do, it is possible to lose that weight. You have to find what works for you and that can be a challenge. Just keep plugging away at it.

2) If you are a family member of someone recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer: give them a break. Everyone treats thyroidectomies like a tonsillectomy. But the truth is, your loved one has cancer. They are going to get scared, have mood swings, and not know how to navigate this road. Don’t think you have to give them the answers! That’s what the doctors are for! You can hug them and tell them you understand how they are feeling. You can let them get angry and let them go on and on about it to you without acting like they are being overdramatic. The emotions we feel as a cancer patient are very real. I wish more people had done that when I was going through it.

This is a picture of me back at the racetrack! I finally have the energy to be at the place I love most!

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