How I went from ignoring my cancer diagnosis to creating a community for survivors

By Chloé McElmury

I have had thyroid cancer for nearly half of my life. I can’t remember a time before cancer anymore. I just turned 23, and have had thyroid cancer for more than 10 years now. I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, and have since then had two more procedures, a second surgery, and multiple rounds of radioactive iodine (RAI). Some of my lymph nodes have come back positive for cancer, so I’m considered to have metastatic papillary thyroid cancer. Metastatic is just a big word that means your cancer has spread from outside of the original site.

Being a tween when I was diagnosed, I really wanted nothing to do with cancer. I would actually pretend I wasn’t sick and forget about my diagnosis during the times I wasn’t getting ready for any appointment or at the hospital. Doctors and family members assured me I would be fine, they prayed for me, and told me I had gotten the “good” cancer. That I was lucky. Growing up, I thought this was true. Sure, I was happy that my cancer was so treatable. However, my cancer never seemed to want to leave me. I’ve been through multiple recurrences over the years and that’s been difficult for me.

I looked for ways to consume more media about thyroid cancer, eager to hear real stories from survivors. I wanted advice from someone who had been fighting this longer than me. I wanted to know if it ever got better. I wanted to know if I would ever feel normal. During my college years, I found myself sharing more and more about my diagnosis and treatment. I opened up. I made posts where I explained how scared I was or how uncertain it all seemed.

I started to realize that I wanted to have an impact on the thyroid cancer community, in some way, one day.

In my last year of college, for my Digital Media Arts major from Hamline University, I was finally ready to impact this community I had been apart of for ten years. I decided I wanted to create a thyroid cancer community using my graphic design knowledge and skills I had acquired through my four years at college. I wanted to make a space to share the realities of a thyroid cancer survivor. In the beginning, my goal was mostly to make well-designed graphics and something that looked really nice. I wanted to make something that others would look at and think was cool! It started with a plan of things to make like stickers, posters, social media posts, and a website.

However, it quickly became much more than just some cute colors and butterflies. I realized I wanted to make a safe place for survivors and fighters to work through the good, bad, and ugly of thyroid cancer and thyroid disease. I wanted to see scars AND smiles. A place where even when doctors told them they were fine or family members didn’t understand, they would find a community of warmth and solidarity. I wanted a place where comfort was found in understanding and empathy, not in minimizing our cancer by calling it “good”.

I graduated in May of 2019, and Thycan Survivors has been steadily growing ever since. Every day, I still can’t believe it’s a community I’ve gotten to cultivate. I still don’t believe the kindness of comments and messages I get about my account and how much it’s helped others. 2019 has been the hardest year of my life, but Thycan has been there for me and my soul when the light gets dim in my life.

Less than a month after graduation, I was treated again with RAI for thyroid tissue in my neck. During this time, the community had my back. They allowed me a space to be vulnerable, to share crying-in-the-shower-selfies, and to give me positivity when I had none. While this was helpful for me, the real impact lies with all of our followers and how they help and inspire each other.

During this year, powerful posts and stories emerged from survivors. One day, I shared a photo to our Instagram story of a woman showing her thyroidectomy scar and I put the words “Show your scars” on the photo. I had meant it simply as motivation to those insecure about their scar(s). However, for days after survivors from all over the world sent in selfies with their scars. Some had nicknames, some were old scars, and some still had steri-strips on! This is actually how I’ve met some really amazing survivors, including friends from Athens and Venezuela. It’s boggling to think about how many survivors there are, not just in the United States, but all over the world.

I think it’s so cheesy to say, but I feel truly blessed getting to be the person behind Thycan Survivors. Although I was an introverted teenager, I’ve discovered how much of a people person and extrovert I am. Thycan allows me to get to know so many amazing people I get to cheer on, give advice to, and connect with.

I used to feel so isolated as a survivor. I felt like there was no one else like me. Through Thycan, I’ve actually met a lot of other women my age who are also in creative or entrepreneurial fields. I am so lucky I get to continue growing Thycan until I can make it a non-profit organization and my full-time job. I know that day will come! While my thyroid cancer journey is still uncertain as I try to find health and peace, I know Thycan and all the survivors and fighters who make it up will be my comfort through whatever is thrown my way.

Chloé is on Instagram, Facebook and her website is Thycansurvivors.org . Be sure to check out her Thyroid Cancer/Disease and Survivor sticker shop! 

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Chloé McElmury has been fighting papillary thyroid cancer since 2009. She's been through multiple treatments for metastatic thyroid cancer and is still fighting! In March of 2019, she founded Thycan Survivors, a thyroid cancer community to show all sides of thyroid cancer and disease. With her English and graphic design background, Chloé designs social media content, stickers, and apparel inspired by thyroid cancer survivors and supporters.
Posted in Life Transitions, Thyroid Cancer, Thyroid Stories.

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