I will never forget the day I first found the lump. It was January, I was on my way to meet my mom for lunch and as I went to push my hair back, I felt a lump the size of a gumball protruding from the right side of my neck. When I got to the restaurant where I met my mom I showed her the lump and her face instantly went flushed and told me I needed to get it checked out ASAP. I was 23 years old. Being so young I had no clue what to expect, but Cancer was the last thing on my mind.
The following week I had my appointment to try and figure out what exactly was going on. My primary doctor immediately sent me to a throat and neck specialist the same day and off I went. When I walked into the specialists office, he sat me down and started to do a head and neck exam. Within 5 mins he told me, it could be a throat infection and prescribed me for penicillin for 3 weeks. I asked him what other possibilities it could be and he told me I was too young to be anything other than an infection and sent me on my way.
After the 3 weeks on penicillin I went back to the specialist and he noticed that the lump had changed form and doubled in size. He ordered a CT scan and found abnormalities that were suspicious but couldn’t be sure. Once again, I was told I was too young for it to be anything major and to not worry. After that, he referred me to Interventional Radiology to take a closer look. I had no clue what to expect, but when I arrived for my appointment I was laid down on a table and draped in coverings then stared down at like I was a lab rat. They numbed me up and told me I was awake for the entire procedure but shouldn’t feel a thing. They basically were taking this long needle and sticking it into the lump to drain the matter, then through my throat to my thyroid to take a tissue sample. I felt everything. And once again, they sent me on my way with no answers and that they would be in touch when they got the results.
It was March 4, 2015…3 months since finding the lump, when I got the call that changed my life. My primary doctor called and I thought it was weird as she was making small talk then asked if I was sitting down. The next words will forever be burned in my mind… You have Cancer. I felt numb. The thing they kept saying I was “too young for” was apparently now my reality. She kept trying to assure me this was the “Best Cancer to have” but it really didn’t feel like that.
They told me I would need a complete Thyroidectomy followed by a Radioactive Iodine Treatment to kill any remaining Cancer Cells. I was determined to be a “difficult case” and was referred to the best head and neck surgeon in the state for my surgery. My surgery was 12 hours long where they ended up taking my entire Thyroid, 2 Parathyroid Glands, 80+ lymph nodes and 3 tumors. I stayed in the hospital for 4 days after surgery…when I was released I still had 3 draining tubes hanging from my neck which would be removed about a week later. It was crazy that this was my reality now. During surgery they hit a nerve that affected movement in my right arm, as well as irritation on my voicebox which left me without a voice for about a week following. I was also left with a scar stretching from ear to ear…
About 3 weeks after surgery, I started my prep for my first round of RAI treatment. I was put on a low Iodine diet for 2 weeks and unable to take my thyroid supplements which was basically keeping my body functioning. Imagine getting a vital organ removed that regulates your weight, energy, metabolism and many more things then telling you the pills they told you to take for the rest of your life you need to quit cold turkey. It pretty much drained every ounce of energy from my body. I just wanted to feel like myself again. I returned to the hospital to start my treatment. I was sitting in the room when the tech came in with a big lead box, which she then pulled out a container containing the radioactive dose. I took the pill then was told to leave the hospital immediately, not to come in contact with anyone, not to use the elevators and not be within 20 feet of anyone. I was literally “glowing” with radiation. I kept thinking to myself, “If it isn’t safe to be in contact with anyone as a risk to expose them, how is it safe for me to be ingesting it?” As soon as I got home I was put on quarantine, which basically meant I was confined to my room with no human contact for 7 days. I would only be able to use my own bathroom, utensils and anything I came in contact with during that quarantine would have to be disposed of properly as they were also “radioactive.” The side effects from treatment were horrible. I couldn’t keep anything down for almost the 7 days on quarantine, the body aches, the nausea and the dark thoughts that flood your mind when you are left alone asking “why me?” I felt like I would never get to the end. But I remembered what my dad would always tell me when things were tough “Un Dia A La Vez” which means One day at a time in Spanish. Those words are what got me through my darkest days.
I wish I could tell you that was the end of my cancer journey. The following year I went for my yearly scan and once again there was “suspicious” activity and this time they spotted abnormalities on other organs. Which means it metastasized (or spread to other parts of the body). I immediately started to prep for my 2nd round of Radiation/RAI treatment the following week. I was given paperwork on the dangers RAI treatment such as putting me at a higher risk for Leukemia and the fact it would basically be impossible for me to conceive a child. I would pretty much do anything I could to have a chance at a normal life again, so I signed the papers not knowing how much I was really signing away.
The following year, the same thing happened on my yearly scan and I found myself going for my THIRD round of treatments. They had sat me down and explained to me this would be my last round of treatments as I was “capped out” on Radiation in my body and if this didn’t work that I would have to find a different course of treatment. So I prepped for another round of treatments and hoped and prayed this would be the end of it.
It had been almost 4 years since I was first diagnosed when I found out the impossible was actually possible. Almost a year to the day of my last treatment, I found out I was pregnant. After being told I would never be able to conceive, and coming to terms with the fact that I would never be a mother. This was my miracle baby. But then all these thoughts flooded my mind on if this was even safe for me or my child. I had just had a radioactive treatment a year prior, and my cancer cells still remained in my body. Once again, I was back at the doctor’s office weekly and was told I was a “high risk” because of my Cancer history. It was almost a challenge for me, I had come this far and I wasn’t going to stop fighting for not only me his time but my child’s health as well. My doctor looked at me and said “My goal for you is a healthy baby, happy life and to be Cancer Free by the end of the year.”
Sure enough, 3 months after my doctor told me that goal we had accomplished it. My baby was healthy as could be despite all the factors we were up against…I am building a warrior. I won’t ever forget when my doctor brought me in the room and told me the words I had been waiting for for 4 years….Your Cancer is gone. Nobody can ever prepare you for that feeling. I think I was in shock…it all felt like a dream. Without this blessing in my life, I feel I would have never heard those words.
There were so many times I just wanted to throw in the towel and give up. But I was surrounded by an endless amount of support that kept picking me up when I was down. Yes, there were many dark days in this journey but if I have learned anything from this its that the storm always passes. The truth is, us as Cancer fighters are expected to be super heroes. But even superheroes fall down now and then…we can’t always hold the world in our hand. If anything, I am almost grateful for my Cancer Journey. It has showed me to value the life you are given, appreciate the small things, and live each day as if its a gift. Everything happens for a reason and as crappy as a situation may be it is sometimes there to make you stronger. Sometimes, the armour gets heavy but you just have to keep fighting or as Dory says…just keep swimming. #LoveBeatsCancer