If you had to get cancer, this is the best one to get.
Don’t worry, it’s just thyroid cancer.
Ok, I’ll keep that in mind.
You really did pick the best cancer to have.
Yeah, that’s what I was going for.
I have thyroid cancer. Papillary thyroid carcinoma. The doctor pushed the slip of paper with the diagnosis towards me as he said, “Unfortunately, you did test positive for cancer.”
Ok. That’s that. Now we know.
I asked, “So what do we do now?” He took charge and put his bedside manner to use. “This is the best cancer to get,” he told me matter-of-factly. “It’s actually not that big a deal, so much so that they let endocrinologists like me manage it.” I did not find this piece of information as reassuring as he might have thought. I was then told that I needed to have surgery as soon as possible, to remove my entire thyroid gland.
I had to ask, “If this isn’t a big deal, why do I need to have surgery right away?”
Why do I need to have surgery at all?
The information seemed to contradict each other. I told the doctor that I wasn’t processing anything that he was saying to me and that he would probably have to repeat himself several times.
But, I’m getting married in a month. I haven’t finished my degree yet. What is going through my mum’s head?
Are they going to cut open my neck?
The doctor then made me sit on the patient table and hooked me up to a blood pressure apparatus. I took my mum’s hand in mine, I’m not sure if it was for her or for me. She hadn’t said a word so far. I vaguely heard the doctor mumble about how surgery would be the best course of action and they could then assess the spread and extent.
I wonder if they’ll let me keep my thyroid after they remove it. Maybe I can keep it in a jar.
The doctor continued to explain that after surgery, only if needed, radiotherapy would probably be the next course of action. Chemotherapy is sometimes an option but not really effective for thyroid cancer. The doctor told me not to worry, it was unlikely I was going to need any further treatment. He had a smile on his face.
Why exactly is he smiling? Has he never told someone they have cancer before? Am I his first patient with cancer? How experienced is this guy anyway?
I spat out, “You said it was highly unlikely that this lump in my throat was cancer, and now it is. So let’s please not assume anything is unlikely anymore.”
I’m sorry. No, I’m not. Why did everyone tell me that this was nothing when this is not nothing. Nope, this is not nothing.
I think I’m angry.
Cancer is a scary word, because cancer is something we don’t completely understand yet and because we hear so many lives being thwarted by cancer. In hindsight, perhaps my doctor was trying to mitigate the damage and the emotional whirlpool that is associated with the word “cancer.” However, I think I just needed to mull over it for a while. I needed my cancer to not be belittled or taken less seriously than the other cancers out there. After all, at that moment, it was happening to me. And if I’m not allowed to be selfish at that point, when am I?
The title of this post is in reference to the blog Just Cancer by Mary Noon, who was also diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2011. Her writing about similar responses from doctors and people was a relief because I had started thinking that maybe I’m a bad person for wanting to call people on this. Apparently, this is a common theme for thyroid cancer. I don’t need or want to feel grateful for thyroid cancer. It doesn’t make sense to diminish the experiences of those with thyroid cancer or to dismiss it as the "good" cancer or "easy" cancer to have. There’s always a spectrum but I don’t think that any good can come of comparing. All cancers are different and everyone’s experiences of those cancers can be different. This is my cancer. Just thyroid cancer.
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