Those were the very first words I heard immediately following my diagnosis. For the next 3 weeks, I clung to this phrase and kept repeating it in my head, almost as my “theme song” as I submerged myself into the next phase of my journey that I can only describe as awkward.
It’s the time from the moment you find out you have cancer until the day you go into the operating room and for me, these past few weeks have been just that – awkward.
For one thing so many decisions had to be made in a VERY short time frame; full or whole removal of my thyroid?, which surgeon? which hospital? insurance coverages? – the list goes on and on. Through all of it, I had to go with what has been my lighthouse in the fog thus far – my gut instinct.
At what became my final consultation, I knew the minute the doctor came into the room that he was the one I wanted to treat me. The way he explained the type of cancer I had and the risk factors sounded as if he knew all of my anxieties that were swirling in my head. I was about to say “Ok, when do we do this?” and just then he proceeded to pull back his shirt collar and necktie to show me his own scar he had from HIS thyroid cancer he had 20 years prior. I knew I had found my surgeon. Everything felt right, maybe I DID have the best kind of cancer to have?
Then came the question of “how do I tell the people closest to me”? – Do I tell my friends? Do I tell my family? After all, I’ve been diagnosed with “the best kind of cancer to have” so no need to worry anyone, right? These words were so comforting for my parents to hear when I shared my news with my them. No parent wants to hear that their child is sick, even if their child is 45-years-old. So, explaining this to them by using my “theme song phrase” helped to put them at ease and for that I’m very grateful.
But where this got difficult for me is when I had to decide if and how to explain this to my two daughters. I had a hard time imagining me saying to them “mommy has cancer but its the best kind to have.” I went back and forth with this for many sleepless nights. I knew within my heart of hearts that they wouldn’t understand that I’m going to be OK. I knew that hearing the word cancer would scare them to death and I just couldn’t imagine putting them through that. Children often refer back to their most recent experience to relate to a current one and I knew they would immediately think of their aunt who died from breast cancer and their cousins who are growing up without their mom. Although they would hear me try and explain that my cancer was different, an “easy one” and I was going to be fine, they wouldn’t be able to understand it and I just couldn’t imagine taking their innocence away from them in that way.
This week is the first week of school for my girls, and that’s exactly what I want it to be. That magical time of seeing who their new teachers are, new clothes, new school supplies, the excitement of a new year and that’s just where I want them to stay. In that wide-eyed world of excitement and things to come for a 3rd grader and 7th grader and not the year that their mom was sick.
I’ve realized that the bottom line is no matter what type of cancer it is or what stage it’s at, the flood of emotions that you experience when you hear the words “you have cancer” is something that you remember forever. No matter how many times the doctor tells you that this is an “easy cancer” or “if they had to pick a cancer to get, this would be the one” it will do do nothing for the fear that lingers inside.
As my surgery day approaches, I’ve decided to let go of my “theme song” a little. Maybe I do have the “best kind of cancer to have” but I realized I was letting it define how I am supposed to be feeling about having cancer. It was a nice cushion for the blow initially but I feel I need to give myself permission to be sad, to be scared, to worry that maybe I wouldn’t be there for my girls and my husband. I need to let myself feel all that comes with a diagnosis of cancer because it’s those emotions of sadness and anger that fuel my fire to fight this and beat it and be better for it – and that’s a story I can’t wait to share with my daughters.