Today is a very important day for me, for two reasons. One of them, I will keep to myself. The other, I will shout from the rooftops. My cancer was blasted to bits on this day ten years ago.
The first time I was sick, no big deal. Thyroid cancer is the most curable cancer out there; the younger you are, the more likely you will survive it. My surgeon, Daphne Denham, looked like a supermodel from Bowling Green, Kentucky and yet she was far from someone who liked to garner attention from the paparazzi. She photographed my tumor for me, told me to schedule the surgery around my life, and hung out with both of my parents long enough to answer any questions they had, even though I was 27 at the time.
Then, a year later, I went in for a follow-up, and the piece of tissue left on my vocal chord had grown pretty significantly in size. It was biopsied, and of course because this is science and not advertising, it was presented to me like this: "Well, the cells exactly mimic the cancer cells, and the tissue's growth has us very concerned, and we would like to do more tests to be sure, and..." Basically, they said everything in the world except "Your cancer has come back and we want to blast the crap out of it for you."
But, that they did. If any of you happen to remember when I opened the coffee shop, I was off of my thyroid meds for several weeks while I waited for my body to be primed for treatment. My godfather, Uncle George, shaved my head for me because my hair was coming out in clumps in the shower. I held an auction that day for who could be the lucky one that got to shave my head. The winner was my dad, but he did not want to drive in for the shaving, so he asked his brother to do it. Everyone who bid ended up donating the money anyway, so my hair went to Locks of Love and the money went to the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association. Wins all around.
After a two-day stint in the hospital and a two-week period where I was too much of a biohazard to interact with other humans and domesticated animals, I was clean. As far as I can tell ten years later, anyway.
I thought a tattoo would be a fun way to celebrate, so I sent an email to my friend Jesse's favorite tattoo artist. I told her I wanted a lily of the valley coming out of soil made from my cancer cells, and I sent her photos of what thyroid cancer looks like under a microscope. This is the result:
You have to eventually ponder the why. You have to look around at your chunk of the seven billion humans that fit in your circle, and even the ones on the fringe of it, and compare your life to theirs. It is human nature. What you do not have to do, however, is draw any conclusions from it.
A common mantra is that there are no second chances. Maybe not, but why should we need one? We are not perfect beings, and we cannot control everything in our lives. If we screw up, we all have the capability of apologizing or trying to make amends, and then getting better by learning from our mistake. We do not need second chances. We need to just make every chance we get the best chance we have.
Notice people. Look around your chunk of the seven-billion-human population and see what is out there. You may not realize it, but you get something out of each and every one of them. They will either show you something you want to be, or something you do not want to be. Absorb both lessons with equal significance.
I was not the girl who woke up after treatment and all of a sudden started noticing the beauty in the sunsets. I was already a pretty damn happy person with a backpack full of flaws. But as I get older I realize how grateful I am that I get to age. I can pick and choose who shares my life, and I can gracefully bow out of the lives that are toxic to my well-being. I suggest everyone do the same.
Oh, and one last thing: I did learn one major lesson from my little ten-year benchmark. Stupid, I know, but I have gradually felt less and less like I have the start of a serious illness every time I get the sniffles. After all, if I die tomorrow, some of your lives will be affected, but mine will just end. I may as well just live as though I have something valuable to offer, and hope that people find value in me.
I happen to associate today with a day of importance. You do not need to do that. We all have value in this world; offer what you can, and selfishly take their gifts as life lessons for yourself in return. The balance sheet is even at that point.
Excuse me, as I have to cast on a sweater for my Save the Children Pins 'N' Needles Challenge. The chances of me finishing are a bit slim, but dammit if I don't try.