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This Is What It's Like to Have Cancer and Still Love Life

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My name is Line. I’m 40 years old, have two wonderful kids and a loving husband whom I just celebrated a 10- year anniversary with. In many ways I have a picture perfect life on the surface. But I have always struggled with depression, self-harm and pain.

When I was 3 years old my Korean mother decided to choose adoption, and 20 days before my 4th birthday I was adopted to Denmark to a wonderful loving family.

Four years ago I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer — “the good cancer” — which everyone told me was fairly easy to be cured and had a low fatality rate. So on the surface, to my friends and family, I seemed somewhat “normal.”

I had my first surgery that removed my thyroids. Doctors found three tumors, but they were a bit vague about exactly what else they found. Still, I was pretty optimistic. After all I thought it was the “good cancer,” and I didn’t want to worry my family and friends too much. When I realized I had to have more treatment I remember sitting in the car for about a hour, listening to Johnny Cash and reflecting on my life.

Even when someone says you are sick, it is still very surreal to believe. I ran my first half marathon the day after. I was not a strong runner, but I’m exceptionally stubborn. And I somehow convinced myself if I could run a half marathon my body could do what ever I told it to!

I had my first radioactive iodine treatment, after which I had to stay in isolation for quite some time because my kids at that time were only 8 months and 2 years old. I stayed away from my family for four weeks, only seeing my husband one hour a day. It was a very depressing time, but I kept active by running and working to keep my mind busy.

After some time my oncologist concluded the treatment had not worked, so he wanted to do it again but on a higher dose. During this time I had also ruptured a ligament in my ankle. So I decided to prepare for the second treatment and have double ankle surgery. This time I was even more limited on crutches and had six weeks of isolation from my family, plus I had four weeks without my hormones (the ones which compensate for my missing thyroids).

This was the worst and hardest thing I have ever tried — constant pain, isolation from people and constantly depressed. Unfortunately, in the middle of my isolation period, I found out the second treatment didn’t work either.

About two years ago one of my good friends convinced me to get a second opinion in London. I found out I have the rare version of thyroid cancer, where I’m immune to radioactive iodine (making it almost impossible to trace or get rid of). They also instantly found four more tumors, so I got yet another surgery in the neck where they removed 21 lymph nodes. Nine of these were cancerogenic. One of these was very close to the chest area so they scheduled me for a split sternum surgery.

I have now had in total six surgeries related to cancer, two ankle surgeries, two radioactive iodine treatments, two-and-a-half months of isolation from my family, 28 radiation beams to my neck, I have been flying back and forward between Malta and other countries 30 times, and I’ve spent more than 130 days in hotels.

Despite all of this I am OK.

Yes it sucks to have cancer. But I have made the best out of this situation. I keep active and busy, even on the days I lie on the floor throwing up blood. I have co-founded companies. I walk or bike a minimum of one hour a day. I do my best not to look or feel sick. I want to look back at a person in the mirror who can kick cancer’s ass.

I don’t get better or live longer staying in my bed feeling sorry for myself. I know I will never be 100% cured, but if I’m lucky I will have breaks from surgery and treatment. A lot of people write to me and tell me how sorry they feel for me. Don’t! Don’t pity me! Because I can promise you — very few people enjoy and love life more than I do.

Last year I decided to stop making excuses for myself and start pursuing some of my biggest dreams, one being finding my Korean mother. Then the strangest thing happened —  three months into the search I was contacted by an American-Korean girl who was the daughter my mother had 10 years after me (and whom I, for obvious reasons, never knew about). I flew to the U.S. to meet her, her family and our little brother. And for my 40th birthday my sister and Korean mother came to Malta, Europe, where I live.

I think I will always be sick, and I will probably always have my periods with my depression, but I have decided to get the most out of the good days and to pursue life. So I signed up for university, I plan to make myself a herb garden and found (I think) a way to help a lot of people.

Line Peter Patient Photo

The only advice I can give: don’t wait to get sick to fully live your life. Don’t fill your life with things that slowly eat you up. You have one life so make the most of it. Live, love, make mistakes and learn from them. But mostly, learn and develop and be the person you want to be — instead of just talking or dreaming about it.

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Originally published: August 15, 2017
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