People are not usually thankful for a cancer diagnosis. It’s hard to think of something so disruptive and life-altering as a positive experience. But, as with most things in life, we are never totally in control. And a cancer diagnosis is no exception. So, what can we do?
At 26, I was stunned. Life as I knew it was over. I was lost, alone in my thoughts, and confused when the doctor uttered something about papillary thyroid carcinoma. “He couldn’t possibly be talking about me?” I silently thought. In an instant, life became a blur: I lost control, I crashed, I felt nothing, and I allowed myself to fall apart. But what I did after that was what mattered.
Life lessons don’t just come from the positive things that happen. Often, the most impactful lessons are the ones that leave us thinking, “now what?” It’s when we feel most vulnerable, raw, and defeated that we come back stronger and more resilient. That was certainly the case for me in my mid-twenties.
The emotions that you go through after receiving a cancer diagnosis can feel like a rollercoaster. They range by the day, and much like grieving, the stages all must be felt on some level. I allowed myself to come to terms with all the emotions in my own time. Some came immediately, like the shock I couldn’t shake every time I thought back to the doctor’s appointment. Some came weeks later, like the denial I wrestled with about the accuracy of my diagnosis. Yet others took years. They were the emotions that required a deep-dive that I was never quite prepared to make.
Since September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month, it seems an appropriate time to reflect and appreciate how far I’ve come on my journey. As a nine year survivor, I’m first and foremost grateful to have embraced my new normal and to be able to offer hope to other survivors. But I’m also in awe of how my cancer diagnosis led me to my career direction and how, with each passing year, I feel more called to the world of patient advocacy. It’s not something I ever thought I would do with my life until I found myself a patient. Now, I can use my own experience to give other patients a voice, and that makes me proud.
My diagnosis also did something else. It allowed me to release the notion that I had control, which freed up space for me to try new things and fail, not take life too seriously, and to forge my own path without caring what other people think.
Nine years later, I can’t imagine my life any other way. While I’m not glad I had cancer, the experience profoundly changed me, and hopefully, the people I reach through sharing my story.