Once upon a time there was a young woman going off to her freshman year of college. She had taken a year off to work before going and get her head together but was still 18. She met all sorts of great people at her new college and was enjoying life. Pesky strep throat kept occurring so she went to the much maligned nurses office for some antibiotics. Three times this happened. Finally, about a month before the end of the school year, the nurse told her she needed to go see her doctor over the summer for a check up. The doctor? She used to have a pediatrician but hadn't been in a few years... Sure, she would get around to it.
The school year ended and she went off to visit relatives for a few weeks (and go to a Chili Cook Off and Jalapeno Pepper Eating Contest). By the time she had returned home, the school nurse had already called her parents to make sure she went to the doctor so she had an appointment. The first doctor said 'hmmmm' and sent her to another doctor who said 'hmmmm, I think you need a surgeon'. 'A surgeon? What for? I just had strep?' she replied. The reply came 'well there's something there and we think its a goiter that needs to come out'. Sure, goiter surgery. What a way to ruin a summer vacation.
So the surgery was scheduled for August a few weeks before school resumed. Lots of doctors appointments before then. Chest x-rays, blood work, EKG, etc. Surgery happened and when she woke up in post-op the surgeon said 'It wasn't a goiter, it was cancer. But we think we got it all. You should be fine.' 'She replied 'What? I'm tired, I'm going back to sleep.' Then when she woke up again, she started thinking, 'Cancer? It can't be. I'm too young for this.' Then she saw the giant STAPLES they had used in her neck to close up the surgery. And she found out they compromised her vocal cords and she couldn't talk correctly for a few weeks.
More doctor visits ensued. Staples out - good. Radioactive iodine to remove the balance of the thyroid (in case they had missed any surgically). On to a life time of synthetic thyroid hormone. She got her medical staging, 8 of 11 nodes positive but it was encapsulated (contained) for the most part and because she was under 45, it was called stage I.
Finally back at college a week late, she couldn't talk. Some friends stood by her. But others vanished - you see she had cancer and might be contagious. Follow up appointments with the doctors and they told her 'eat right, take care of yourself, and you should be fine.' How did you get cancer so young was the unasked question. This wasn't a common cancer and not often seen in teenagers.
A life time of follow ups. Regular checkups with the doctor but she didn't have a primary care physician, she had an endocrinologist. Annual chest x-rays to be sure the surprise found in her lungs hadn't changed. And a life time of 'with your medical background we need to be sure'.
That was me. 28 years ago. I don't often tell this story. In fact I didn't tell this story for many years in an effort to pretend it didn't happen. You may know me and not know this story because I was trying to have a life with out cancer.
I made it 26 years until my second diagnosis. So I don't have that life without cancer. But its been 2 years since my second diagnosis now. I am not a survivor. I am a person living with cancer.