35 years…and Counting

Thyrold survivor 35 years 2

35 years ago today I opened my eyes from a hospital bed and saw my dad sitting stiffly in a plastic looking, avocado green chair with round wooden arms. His eyes were red and full of tears. I knew without asking but still had to hear it, so I asked, “Was it bad?”

“It wasn’t good, but you will be alright.” Immediately, images of my 5 and 7 year old boys flashed through my head and I began to cry. And that’s when I became a thyroid cancer survivor.

Cancer took something from me that day, but, unbelievably, gave to me as well.

It gave me the strength to leave a one-sided marriage, despite my love of our farm and the desire to keep our so-called family intact. Cancer made me realize that, if I was going to have a short life, those years, and those of my children, should be happy ones. I was eroding from the inside – and not just from hungry, malevolent cancer cells. Of course, divorce is never easy and the aftermath and emotional turmoil for my kids was worse than I could have known. Hindsight is 20-20. Looking back, I would have done things differently, but I would have still left. Otherwise, I would have lost myself, with or without cancer. Cancer gave me the power, the ability, to see what was happening to me. I just wish that somehow, the children could have been unscathed. That is my biggest regret.

Cancer reinforces my optimism for life and gives me the ability to face whatever life brings. It helps put everything into perspective, too. After all, does it really matter if someone doesn’t put their dishes in the dishwasher? Yes, it’s annoying day after day — but, in the giant picture, it’s a pretty small annoyance and not worth getting my panties in a knot.

I became a great-grandmother Feb. 19th. Me. I never thought I’d live to see my children grow up, let alone dance at their weddings…or my granddaughter’s wedding. And now, a great-grandson.

Our family picture from Jan:
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And our newest family member:
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I have been given enormous joy. Countless blessings. More love than I deserve.

I am a cancer survivor. Every moment is a gift.

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Big Day Today

custom-ribbon-magnet-sticker-Cancer+Survivor

Big Day Today.

Big Day. Not as life changing as it was 34 years ago, but each year, the anniversary is memorable nonetheless.

The reason behind that is, I became a cancer survivor 34 years ago today. Today, I shout out: Happy Anniversary to me!

I was 24 years old with two small children when I had a cold that just wouldn’t go away. After battling it for two weeks without any improvement, I finally gave in and went to the doctor, hoping to get some antibiotics to knock it out of my system. Looking back, I firmly believe that cold saved my life, because when my doctor checked the glands on my neck, he found a lump. It had been growing there, silently and innocuously, and I had no idea it was even there. Oh, I regularly checked my breasts for lumps; I checked moles for bad signs. All the things the doctors suggested for cancer prevention. No one had ever told me to check my neck and until he found it, I didn’t notice anything. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t do drugs. I lived a hard working, day to day life on our farm and didn’t think about the possibility that cancer would be part of my life. That lump could have grown, unimpeded, for a long time, if he hadn’t found it. But, gratefully, he did. A few short days later, they wheeled me into an operating room, and my life changed forever.

I remember waking up after surgery that day. My dad was sitting in a chair near the end of my bed, crying. When he saw that I had opened my eyes he quickly wiped his eyes and tried to smile. “Hi, Gob,” he said to me, using a shortened form of my nickname. He tried to say more but his voice broke. He stopped talking and bent his head so I wouldn’t see him cry.

At that point, I already knew the answer to my question but I had to ask anyway. “Was it ok?” I asked. “It wasn’t ok, but you will be ok,” was the answer to my question. I will never forget those words. They stuck with me through the days and years that followed –

The words repeated themselves over and over again in my mind through the next few years as I went through a separation and (later) divorce. You’ll be ok, I told myself. Life is too short to live it being miserable. I was right. But being right doesn’t make it easy. Without a doubt, it was hell at times for everyone involved. We all had some very rough days and in the end, we all ended up with scars, but we survived. We are stronger; we are okay.

The words became my mantra throughout many years that followed when I couldn’t get affordable health or life insurance. I repeated it to myself over and over again. “You’ll be okay. You’ll be OKAY.” After all, I HAD to be okay. I didn’t have any other choice. I refused to consider any other outcome. If I had allowed myself to think about it, it would have driven me crazy. So, I dealt with it only when I had to and spent the rest of my time being busy and living my life. I prayed every morning and every night, thanking God for giving me another day and then begging Him to continue His graciousness. My constant prayer was for Him to let me live long enough to see my kids grow up.

I have repeated those words to myself during many rough patches that have happened over the years. Each time, it’s helped carry me through because I know there’s nothing that God and I together can’t handle. No matter what happens, I will be okay. I’m never alone.

I’m reflecting on years gone by today – not for opportunities lost, but for the great gifts I’ve been given, including the ability to be here for my children as they grew up. Now, there are grandchildren to share time with. Our oldest granddaughter will marry this June, as will one of our daughters, and I look forward to dancing at their weddings.

I look forward to many events and many years to come. I don’t waste time thinking about dying or the quantity of days or hours left in my life’s basket. My task, if you want to call it that, is to treasure each day – even the not-so-great ones – and to spend them being the best person I can be. No matter what else happens, whether or not it’s okay, I’ll be okay.