By Carly Flumer
I put on a brave smile when the radiologist told me that I had cancer, a diagnosis he reassuringly stated that less than 15% of his patients had a chance of receiving just a week prior when he had done my ultrasound. As he went over my next steps, I held back tears knowing that my life had changed forever. I walked out of the office, tears streaming down my face. I sat in my car wondering who I should call first. It had to be my mom. I asked her if she was sitting down, and her voice immediately changed tone. I said, “I have cancer,” for the first time in my life. I couldn’t believe the words that were escaping my mouth, but my mom, being the strong-willed woman that she is, reassured me that we were going to get through it.
I continued to share my diagnosis with my dad, my brothers, and a few close friends, each time uttering the words, “I have cancer,” bringing my mental state down with it. I hesitated sharing on social media, even though I knew relatives would find out eventually. As a chronic sufferer of depression and anxiety, my main focus had not been on my cancer diagnosis but feeling like a burden on others once they found out. I felt like I already had so many other problems that I consistently “bothered” people with. I didn’t want me having cancer to be the icing on the cake knowing that they now had to feel sorry for me.
I continued living my life as normal, seeing that I had no side effects. I did basic research on thyroid cancer, but questions normally asked when receiving such a serious diagnosis, such as, “What stage do I have?”, “What’s my prognosis?”, and, “How did I even get cancer in the first place with no family history?” never crossed my mind. I was too focused on going through my next steps, including a partial thyroidectomy, to remove the side of my thyroid that had cancer. I was too focused on reaching the finish line where I could declare myself a cancer survivor.
After my first surgery in May of 2017, I knew I seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. That all changed two days after later when I received a phone call from my surgeon. He said that after getting the results back from the pathology lab, it turned out my cancer had spread to approximately 90% of my lymph nodes. The best route, then, would be to remove the other side of my thyroid and undergo radioactive iodine treatment. As he spoke to me on the phone, I quietly cried, my voice quivering. I hung up, knowing that the light was far from being seen. I was in a tunnel that just kept going.
Two months later, I had my second surgery. It almost looked as if I had tried to commit suicide twice without succeeding, which is I sometimes felt. I scheduled the radioactive iodine procedure a few months later, knowing that after the radiation hit my cells, my cancer would be gone and I could finally declare myself a survivor.
It has been a year since I was first diagnosed. My blood work has been showing improvements, and my scar is almost invisible. However, a recent conversation with a physician opened my eyes a little from the rose-colored, or in this case, foggy, glasses I had been wearing. She reminded me that once you are diagnosed with a disease such as cancer, it is forever a part of your life. Of course one can enter the stage of “remission,” which the National Cancer Institute defines as, “A decrease in or disappearance of signs and symptoms of cancer.”1 While I realized this, what I hadn’t realized, or perhaps forgotten, was that the cancer could always come back once I’m cleared.
This changed my recent outlook. As a cancer patient, I often hear stories across the news and social media of how people have survived cancer. However, is one ever truly a “survivor?” I suppose it depends on how you look at it. From my perspective, I was able to take a potentially fatal disease and make it a positive aspect in my life. I think that is the true and pure definition of survivalism. I am a cancer survivor.