As I write this, I am waiting for my doctor to call. I had an ultrasound yesterday, and the results are in. I missed his call earlier, so now we’re playing phone tag. In the forefront of my mind, despite my decision to not to allow it to carry me away, the thought of cancer intrudes. It’s an unwelcome guest but no stranger. All of us are acquainted with it. In 2009, over a half million people in America succumbed to cancer. That’s half a million sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, friends, and neighbors. We are all familiar with cancer in one way or another. In my case, cancer and I are old “friends.”
I use the term “friend” very loosely here, like brother who’s always borrowing something and never returning phone calls. Yeah, cancer and I go way back. In September 2001, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Within days, I had a thyroidectomy, leaving me unable to produce the regulating chemicals my body needs in order to live. Without my daily Synthroid, I would survive for about a month.
While I recovered from surgery in October 2001, a man named Rhio O’Connor was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of cancer correlated with asbestos exposure. Rhio’s wasn’t operable. The initial recommendation he received was to get his affairs in order and go on a cruise with his wife. Surgery is possible for some cancer patients, but not all.
My treatment after the thyroidectomy was difficult. I spent two or three weeks fasting from iodine. I had difficulty thinking things through and finding energy to function. My restrictive diet required me to make many things from scratch. After the fast was over, I ingested a single dose of radioactive iodine. This one dose made me one hot mama. I was so hot, I was isolated to a hospital room that the staff had layered in plastic sheeting and decorated with radioactive warning signs.
Rhio’s treatments were not so straightforward. He had to become his own advocate and find alternative treatments. The radiation and chemotherapy he needed as a cure would have made him sicker, killing him in an effort to save him. I can only hope I would be brave enough to think outside the cancer treatment paradigm, given the same circumstances.
I’m still waiting for the phone to ring. The message the doctor left earlier sounded promising, but there’s more to it, I can tell. It started out as iron deficient anemia, but now that’s only a symptom. Dr. Jim’s message said it looked good, but they found a polyp. He’s calling back to “make a plan.” What does that mean? I’m sure it will need to come out. What if they get it out and find it’s cancerous? It would be a different cancer than thyroid cancer. What then? Then again, what if I’m borrowing trouble? It might be benign. I don’t know.
I don’t have the brain cells to worry about the next step today; let the doctor talk to me about things first. All I have now is that impending phone call.
I don’t have time to wrestle with worry or consider that I’m still too young. My kids aren’t completely grown. Cancer, that deviant, cares nothing for age or position. See, thyroid cancer, false friend that it is, has taught me something very valuable—something I guarantee you Rhio learned by heart as well. You make the very most of the time God gives you.
Today, I can look at my youngest and thank God that she knows me. She had not yet celebrated her second birthday when I received my diagnosis. And today I’ll write. I’ll continue to edit the novels I wrote as I raised my children, after I learned that I must make the most of every moment. Tomorrow, I’ll get out of bed, take my medications, eat the breakfast my husband makes for me every day, and go to my classes in hope of many more tomorrows—in light of the goals I refuse to put off.
But for right now, I’m waiting for that call, that next step. I’ll anticipate the worst, but hope for the best. I’ll rest in God’s peace, knowing that He has a plan for me. And, with every day I’m given, I’ll work—and rest—in that plan.