It was just after I finished my junior year of college, I started to notice something was off about me. My whole life I had been a healthy athlete, who was always leading the way when it came to fitness. I was a complete sports junkie. That wasn’t the case anymore. I could barely wake up at 12pm and even if I got an insane amount of sleep…I still wanted to sleep more. I didn’t understand. So after things didn’t change and I was becoming more noticeably moody and tired, I went to get my yearly physical to see what was up. My blood work came back with my thyroid levels all out of wack, which is where the rollercoaster began. After being sent to many specialists and enduring many tests, I was initially diagnosed with hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid) and Graves’ disease. My thyroid was working so hard to the point where I was exhausted on the couch and I was sweating in a perfectly air conditioned room…it was miserable.
I’ll never forget the last conversation with my endocrinologist before I left for school. It was the first time the word cancer was brought up. He said that they were unsure if cancer was the culprit, but it was very likely. My mom was in the room and I could tell her heart immediately sank, but me being me, I just brushed off those words. In my mind, there was no way I could have cancer and there was no way this was happening to me. All I cared about was that I got the thumbs up to still play sports. I guess in that moment I just wanted to be numb to those words.
Though my whole body was being attacked, I still had a senior year of athletics and education to enjoy. All I can remember from my final year of competitive sports was that I was not the same athlete I knew all those years. I could barely run a mile without wanting to keel over and collapse. I couldn’t keep up with my teammates, I couldn’t finish drills, hell we had a new coach that year and I barely made the team due to my lack of fitness. I was in complete denial and truly thought that I was just “out of shape.” I had no idea the toll that my illness was taking on me. Despite the struggle, I managed to fight a silent battle and stuck it out. That was my identity, so no matter how much pain I was in, I could never walk away.
Fast forward to the summer after I graduated – after so many ultra sounds, biopsies, blood work and other tests, I was finally cleared to get surgery. I could tell there was a sense of urgency to get my thyroid out of my body. And really the only way the suspicious lymph-nodes could truly be tested for cancer was by physically being taken out of my body and sent to pathology. All the painful biopsies could never give me a clear answer. Let me tell you…having a needle stuck into your neck is not fun. I passed out basically every single time.
August 28, 2014 was the day. I was just ready to get it over with. Over 6 hours of surgery later and my life was forever changed. I woke up and any movement of my upper body put me in excruciating pain. The first time I got up to use the bathroom, I threw up immediately. I didn’t want to cry or show how much pain I was in because I was surrounded by my mom and dad. I just wanted to stay strong for them no matter what. The next morning, my surgeon and his nurses came in to confirm that it was worse than they thought and it was indeed cancer. Thankfully though they believed they had removed it all. A lot could have gone wrong during surgery, so I am indebted to my amazing surgeon Dr. Alexander Shifrin for executing it flawlessly.
A couple months later I went through radioactive iodine treatment and had to be isolated for 72 hours. Not fun. No amount of Netflix or video games could keep me sane in those hours stuck in my bedroom. Not to mention being on week 3 of a low iodine diet was brutal. The full body scan afterwards showed that everything was all clear and that I would have to do the same a year later, minus the isolation. This past fall I received a second round of radiation and again, my scans came back clean. I walked out of the hospital with a huge smile on my face and rewarded myself with lots and lots of pizza.
To this day, though I am cancer free, my body still isn’t the same. I have to take medication every day for the rest of my life to make up for not having a thyroid. Monthly blood work is the new norm too and I hate needles. I had to get three eye surgeries due to Graves’ eye disease, which pushed my eyes outward. I hated the way I looked, so I took it plastic surgery to help. There are days where I just want to sit around and do nothing. There are so many days of mood swings and emotional rollercoasters. Things that came so easily to me now take major motivation to do. It’s all a part of my new life after cancer, but every day I remember that going through this gives me a bigger platform.
I am the current Content Manager for Orlando City SC and Orlando Pride. Every day I wake up and I’m surrounded by insanely inspiring athletes. Many who have stories of overcoming battles. I love being able to connect with the people I am surrounded by and inspiring them through what I’ve endured. I love inspiring, but really I am given so much joy and motivation by hearing other’s stories of triumph. I have a passion for telling stories that make these athletes who they are. Everyone has a beautiful struggle and everyone has a beautiful story. I’m just here to make sure they know it’s worth telling and that they know that nothing should ever deter you from your wildest dreams.
I’m living the dream right now and cancer will not stop me. I say that my life is forever changed because it is. No, my body will never feel “normal,” but I sure as hell will never stop fighting a good fight. I sure as hell will never ever change who I am. I just want to make people smile. I want to make people better and I fully intend on doing that day in and day out. Love and courage beats cancer.