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The 3 Gifts My Father Gave Me After My Thyroidectomy

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At the age of 41, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and faced a complete thyroidectomy followed by radioactive iodine treatment. It’s a well-known cliché that cancer changes you, but during the time immediately after surgery, coupled with a few well-selected gifts, my life’s perspective was turned completely on end. In a good way.

While I was in surgery, my father purchased a few gifts for me. I’m sure the wait alone is brutal and the thought of milling around the hospital gift shop is a welcomed alternative. When I woke from surgery there was a white gift bag at my bedside. The bag contained three items: a square, a stone and a scarf.

A Square

It was a flat, squared-shaped magnet, colored white and aqua that read, “Cancer Sucks. That Is All.” Nothing speaks a greater truth. No matter where in your body or what kind, cancer completely sucks. It shakes your foundation and unsettles your soul. It can be a logistical nightmare. Whether it’s insurance and co-pays or it’s child care and
household help. Managing the changes that occur when faced with cancer can be overwhelming.

It is expensive. It’s scary. While I have no control over what cancer is or does, I can control the way I react to it or the way I deal with it. Sometimes, anyway. Some days I say this to myself and it helps; I mean it and believe it. Other days I laugh and laugh at myself, saying instead, what-the-fuck-ever; this shit sucks. Either way, it’s OK.

A Stone

It was a polished white oval with gold script lettering that read, “Celebrate Life.” I have found there is no better way to do this than to sing at the top of my lungs while alone in my car. I found so much joy singing recently that tears actually ran down my face. I don’t know if it’s because I loved the song so much or if I was so incredibly thankful I didn’t lose my voice after surgery. When faced with the possibility of losing it, having a voice really is something to celebrate. I could have also been just really excited to have some alone time in my car!

To celebrate life, I’ve started saying “yes” to a lot more, especially to the things that bring me joy, and “no” to things that don’t. Yes to staying up late, yes to new shoes, yes to cookies for breakfast, and yes to TV binges, both for me and the kids. All of which is OK.

Life really is beautiful, and so much of it is worth celebrating. As much as cancer does totally suck, it could be always be so much worse.

A Scarf

There were actually two scarves, one hot pink and one aqua. We had planned a beach vacation prior to my diagnosis and were leaving 10 days after surgery. My surgeon gave me the OK to go but only if I made sure the incision was always completely covered,
protected from sun and water. I cannot think of a better way to accessorize a bathing suit in the middle of the summer than with a scarf.

I was nervous about the trip for a multitude of reasons, but despite my worries, I found burying your feet in the sand really does have therapeutic properties. Walking along the surf is often exactly what the doctor ordered. Laughing with your family is incredibly good for the soul. Watching your daughter conquer a skim board is the icing on the cake! Or in this case, the cream on the pie. I had a slice of key lime pie twice a day, every day, which I do believe had a positive effect on my overall healing. (Our Lady of Emotional Eating, pray for us.) 

I wore those scarves every day. There is no doubt people thought I was strange. Picture it: black and white mod one piece, large brim black hat, and a hot pink scarf. If that isn’t the image of a high maintenance weirdo, I don’t know what is. But truthfully, even
if I had one single shit to spare, I still would not have given it. I wore those scarves with pride and let my flag fly. If people want to judge me, they may go right ahead and do so. Besides, on any given day of my life I’d rather be weird than judgmental. So be weird. That’s OK, too.

I discovered  days can be very much like the beach waves – some good, some not so great, some perfect. The important thing isn’t so much the quality of the day but that the water is continually flowing. The best thing I can do is to give myself space to feel however or whatever I feel on any given day. An exercise in peace and patience. Either way, good days or bad, it’s OK.

These three gifts turned out to be a true reflection about life. We are all going to have times that suck. There may be days, weeks or months that suck, and it may be really awful, but no matter what, hold on to the promise that it can get better. Remember there is always something to celebrate. Even the tiniest, smallest thing can be celebrated. Sing in the car. Laugh with your kids. Buy yourself the shoes. Have a cookie for breakfast. Let your freak flag fly. Be you. Be the best you, you can be no matter what. All of it is so totally and completely OK.

Follow this journey on Entering Motherhood.

Getty image by mangpor_2004

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Originally published: February 20, 2018
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