Striving to be The Cancer Free ND
“Well, it looks like there was actually a little cancer in there.”
I was on my couch sleepily trying to enjoy my guilt-free Netflix binge when my phone rang. I was one day post-op from what would come to be known as my ‘first’ surgery. I had the right lobe of my thyroid removed the day before due to a growth that was deemed suspicious after a biopsy (“atypia of unknown significance… carcinoma cannot be excluded.”)
When I answered the phone, I heard my surgeon’s voice, rather than a nurse. That voice, combined with the late evening hour, instantly made my heart pound with suspicion. I was blessed to have a very sweet surgeon, with a very non-stereotypically warm bedside manner. He immediately shared the pathology results with me: Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma.
He highly recommended a second surgery to remove the remaining thyroid tissue as soon as possible. “We could do this next week, but why don’t you enjoy your [July 4th] holiday weekend first.” My second surgery, a completion thyroidectomy, was slated for exactly 2 weeks after my first.
I know I came across as very stoic and level-headed on the phone. That is my instinctual response to any unpleasant, health-related news. I am a scientist and a physician after all!
I knew that Thyroid cancer is “the good cancer” with very high survival rates. I knew I could live without a thyroid (the master gland) with the help of a synthetic thyroid hormone pill every day for the rest of my life. I knew that my surgeon was talented and the scar adorning the front of my throat would one day blend in with the (currently) subtle wrinkles on my neck. I knew how to fine tune my diet and super charge my supplements to speed recovery and strengthen my body’s natural defenses. I knew how to get the most out of my workouts, reduce my toxic exposures and everything else you would expect a naturopathic doc to do after getting a cancer diagnosis.
I knew I was going to be just fine.
But at the same time, I didn’t know anything. Not. One. Thing. Except for the fact that I was scared, and I didn’t want this news.
I didn’t want to know the survival rates. I didn’t want to rely on a synthetic hormone for the rest of my life, constantly tweaking dosages and preparations. Battling fatigue, anxiety, hair loss, weight gain, constipation, low libido, and all of the other fun symptoms that come with poorly regulated thyroid hormone. I especially didn’t want to think about having the tender incision across my throat re-opened in less than 2 weeks. To wince with every bite of food. To go through the same recovery process again. I didn’t want to put my life on hold. To spend an undetermined number of weeks/months dealing with this diagnosis rather than working on my practice, which is still is not quite a year old. To miss the Warrior Dash I was going to run with my inspiring mother at the end of the following month. To pass up invitations to social gatherings and professional conferences. To reschedule many of my clients and ask my (amazing) partner Dr. Pearce to take on the rest. I didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t say “I am a cancer patient.” I didn’t want to tell my parents, friends, loved ones, “I have cancer.”
But this was my challenge, and I had no choice but to accept it.
I started listening to the more positive voices trying to chime in during my whirlwind of anxious thoughts. A few memorable quotes kept edging their way into my mind.
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” (Buddha) “Suck it up, buttercup.” (My amazing mother) “F*ck cancer.” (A fierce, favorite professor)
I was done wallowing. While I knew that staying positive would be easier on some days than others, but it was time to take the wheel again.
I needed to learn how to accept my diagnosis, how to mentally prepare for another surgery while still recovering from the first, how to best support my body while I recovered from both surgeries, how to best relieve my hypothyroid symptoms while I waited 1 month to start synthetic hormone due to a need for a radioactive iodine scan, and, finally, how to fuel my immune system to keep my body cancer free after I heard the most exciting 4 words of my life after that scan, “No Evidence of Disease.”
While I struggled with my diagnosis initially, I made the choice to attack it head on. I would not be a patient suffering from cancer. I would not let it define my life or my identity. I would be a person living with and after cancer. I would be a success story, and I would share my story with others. I know that I am more fortunate than most who receive a cancer diagnosis because of my profession, my background and my early diagnosis.
I have decided to use this challenge in my life as an opportunity to share my journey with our followers.
Botanical medicine research (regarding both cancer fighting herbs and hypothyroid symptom relief)
Anti-cancer dietary approaches (which dietary changes are real and worth the effort plus which purported “miracle cures” are ineffective or dangerous)
How to safely get active again when recovering from serious illness
My struggles and coping strategies. How to come to terms with a cancer diagnosis and how to deal with the anxiety that lingers even after you've come through a successful treatment.