The Other Side…. of the big C

Today I’m taking a break from Thursday Tidbits, just so that there’s a chance to let all that stuff sink in. It’s huge trying to work out your thinking, break it down and challenge it. We need a bit of time. So keep practicing! Because I’ll totes know if you’re not. I’m waaaaatching you (feeling creeped out enough yet? I’m good like that).  I think we often get so scared about bad shit happening to us, trying to picture what it might feel like in the situation, but never really quite gaining the full picture. So this is all about looking from ‘the other side’, seeing what it’s really like to go through some bad shit. And when you’re confronted with it, how the hell you deal.

I ‘met’ the amazing Sam from The Annoyed Thyroid whilst stumbling my way through my feeble attempts to start up blogging (actually still feebly attempting as I type this).  Instantly I was blown away by her warmth, her spark and her enthusiasm. She’s infectious- in a good way. Not like rabies or that bad rash in places you can’t speak of.  Anyways, I think when it comes to thinking and feeling good, Sam’s a total pro. You’d think life has been one effortless breeze for her with the happy-go-lucky nature she exudes. But you know the corker of it all? She’s gone through one of the toughest things we could face in life- that dreaded ‘c’ word. Not Christmas (though that’s pretty rough too- we’ll learn all about that soon enough), but cancer. And not once, but twice. Holy.shitballs. Puts things into perspective, huh? When you’re faced with your own mortality, that shit can have a little bit of a sway on your thinking and feeling. Sam has kindly agreed to share her story, and how she’s managed to bounce back from such a scary time in her life. And by reading it, hopefully you too can resonate with Sam, and know that you’ve got that strength in you too. It’s right there. You just might not know it yet.

sick ecard
Fact

Finding out I had cancer

So in early 2011, I found a small lump at the back of my neck. I was sure it was nothing but got it checked out anyway. It turned out the lump at the back was nothing, but at the front of my neck, I had a tiny malignant nodule on my thyroid. I had cancer. Because the lump was so small, and I was in denial, I called my lump Adam, because Adam is a much nicer name that cancer and it was located in the same place as an Adam’s Apple. After a partial thyroidectomy, Adam came and went and I was cancer free.

Six months later, I’d turned 40, was living life to the full and I planned a big trip to the UK to celebrate my cancer free status. I had a routine “check up” 3 days before I was due to leave on my homecoming tour. It turned out that there was nothing routine about my check up at all. Adam was back and he had brought friends. My thyroid was riddled with cancer which had spread to my lymph nodes. This time it was business,

sam post surgery
Thumbs up for getting rid of cancer! Seriously, I’d be giving the middle finger and be all bitter and bloated. Sam, you’re all class lady. x

The first time, when the doctor said those words over the phone, for a moment, it was as if all the lights and all the volume went out in my world. Then, when they came back on, all I could think was, I’m not even 40 and  I am going to die. Then… how am I going to tell  my husband. I won’t lie, it felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world.

Strangely, the second diagnosis, although a lot more serious was much easier to bear. I remember thinking, oh crap, here we go again. And then, what about my holiday?! It was a road that we had travelled before, and although it’s a road no one wants to travel down once, let alone twice, it was strangely familiar to me and I knew if I could do it once I could do it again.

For me, being faced with two cancer diagnoses in six months was quite the emotional roller coaster ride, experiencing extreme highs (“you’re cancer free!)  and bottomless lows (“the cancer is back and it’s bigger.” ) At nights, I would often be gripped with fear, contemplating my own mortality. Even though my trusty surgeon told me my prognosis was excellent, I would still surf the net through the night and scare myself shitless. According to the inter webs, I only had 3 years to live. The moral of this story is don’t google stuff, just don’t. If you have a question ask your doctor and if they don’t know the answer, find a doctor who does. There was anger too, because having cancer was just so frickin inconvenient. It was really getting in the way of  life. It stopped me from going on holiday, working, running to name but a few of my favourite things. Most of all, it was hurting the people I loved, and that really ruffled my feathers. Talking of people I loved there was a lot of guilt too. I hated to see what my illness was doing to my friends and family. Even though they put a brave face on it, I could see what my illness was doing to them and it broke my heart knowing that I was responsible for their pain and suffering.

Most of all, I felt really helpless, like there was some alien growing inside me and eating my body from the inside out. The thing that freaked me out the most was that this situation was totally out of my control. Being a bit of a control freak who loves to plan, schedule and be fully au fait, with what comes next, this was the worst case scenario. Having cancer is a steep and speedy learning curve, I soon realised that although I couldn’t control my cancer, I could control the way I dealt with it.

sam radiation
We’ve all wanted a radioactive bracelet, right? Maybe not having to go through radiation to get it though

The fear of the unknown was a one of the biggie struggles I faced after being diagnosed. I found that knowledge was power. I had so many questions and I wanted all the answers. I used to carry around a notebook and keep it next to my bed at night so I could write down all the questions. I would attend every doctor’s appointment with a long list. The more answers I had, the better I felt. Questions would range from the mundane as to times and dates of appointments to details of treatments or procedures. The more I knew, the better I felt. But a big part of this was accepting that I couldn’t and wouldn’t know everything and that’s ok.

 

Looking at the world differently

Having cancer changed the way I saw the world immeasurably and irrevocably. For a start, I stopped sweating the small stuff and tried to live more in the moment. It’s really hard to describe without sounding like a cliche, but life before cancer was like a good photograph; in focus and good quality. Life after cancer is the same photograph; but with some kick ass filter and greater definition. I don’t take anything for granted, (or at least I try not to,) and now I really do see the bigger picture, right down to the little details.

I also take great delight in looking for the flip side because even the darkest cloud really does have a silver lining (sometimes you just have to work a little harder to find it.) Looking for a positive in a negative situation was something I had to do a lot when I had cancer, and I still do it now. For example, if I hadn’t had cancer I wouldn’t have blogged, if I hadn’t blogged, I wouldn’t have met Dr Sash!

I used to love making long term plans and would have a diary full of dates for months and even sometimes years to come. Diagnosis and treatment scuppered lots of my dreams and plans for the foreseeable future and the disappointment I felt was more painful than any procedure or treatment I endured. For that reason, these days I prefer to live in the moment, making plans on a day by day or week by week basis. Life moves pretty fast and  living in the now and being more spontaneous allows me to enjoy and savour the present.

 

Pushing Through

I remember telling the hubster that I had two choices, I could stand up and fight or I could crumble like a cookie. And I wasn’t going to be no cookie! In so many ways I felt that cancer took over my life, and that it was defining me. Cancer slowly infiltrated every area of my life, my health, my energy, my relationships, my job, everything seemed touched by cancer.

I learned that in life, there are some things we can’t control, and that’s when I had to learn to let go. I hated not being able to control my cancer, so I took control of my life instead. I was kind to myself. I realised my limitations and did what I could. I spent more time doing things I loved. Doing what I loved made me happy.

People would marvel at my positive attitude. I marvelled at why they were marvelling. Slapping a smile on my dial was the best medicine. My therapist helped me to look for the best in every situation and having a positive outlook was such an important part of both my mental and physical wellness. There was shit going down, but I was sure as hell not going down with it. I smiled, laughed and piss took with wild abandon. I got cancer but I wasn’t going to let it get me.

I surrounded myself with a medical team who I trusted and who supported me. I loved my surgeon, my GP was amazingly supportive and I had a straight talking Endocrinologist too. When you have cancer you spend a lot of time at doctors’ offices. I can’t stress the importance of having doctors on your side. After the second diagnosis, I also visited a psychologist. Best thing I ever did.

I redefined my normal. I tried to stop comparing my life BC (before cancer) with my new life. Comparison is the thief of joy, ain’t that the truth? Instead, I invested my energy into adjusting to my new reality. It wasn’t better or worse, just different.

I was lucky enough to have  a medical team who I trusted and got the help I needed when I needed it. I was lucky to be treated by an amazing group of medical professionals, if I hadn’t been happy with them at any stage, I would have changed them in a heartbeat.

I visited a psychologist. Cancer attacked my body physically but it also impacted my mental health. Taking care of my mental health was a quintessential part of my recovery.

I exercised. Inbetween treatments I ran. As much as I could. Running made me happy. I did a lot more of things that made me happy.

sam disney minnie
And as if Sam couldn’t be any more amazing, this year she competed in the Disney half marathon. All the while raising money for Thyroid cancer.

I started a blog. I had so many thinks inside me that I had to get out. Blogging allowed me to connect to the outside world. I still blog and to this day, it’s probably my most favourite “cancer perk.”

hate to sound like an extra from “Frozen” but I learned to “let go.” I let go of what I couldn’t control and enjoyed the things I could.

I set goals, not long term ones, but things that I could achieve on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. I loved the challenge of having something to work towards and having things to look forward to. Everyone needs a purpose, right?

 

Cancer and them feels

Cancer had a huge impact on my mental health. I think it’s naive to think otherwise. It was glaringly obvious that I wasn’t coping so well when I got my second diagnosis and asking for and getting the help I needed, was the best thing I ever did.

My mental health plan and my psychologist saved my bacon. The counselling I received was as important as any of the physical treatment, surgeries or medications. Those counselling sessions helped me along the road to recovery and have led me to the happy place I’m at today

My head was so full of stuff and a lot of it wasn’t pretty. I didn’t want to offload on my friends and family, they were going through enough, and I didn’t want people to give me the answers they thought I wanted to hear. Counselling gave me a safe place to brain dump and a trusted professional who heard me out and helped me to work things out in my own time, in my own mind.

Cancer has left me with physical scars, you can hardly see them now, but there are emotional scars too, and guess what, you can’t see them either. Having cancer has changed my life and the way I live it. I tell people that cancer made my life better, it’s richer, it’s fuller, I’m happier. They look at me like I had part of my brain removed and not my thyroid. But it’s true.

I’ve recently been “discharged” from therapy because I’m too joyous, something, I’m weirdly proud of. However, if my cancer comes back and bites me on the butt, I’ll be back to my therapist in a heartbeat and I know her door will always be open.

sam disney medal
Now THAT’S the shit. You go girl x

One piece of advice

It’s so hard to choose one. Can I choose two?

Get your tribe together! Cancer is not for the solo traveller, it’s a group excursion. Get your family and friends on board and a team of medical professionals on board. Surround yourself with specialists who you trust, GPs who listen and get a mental health professional on your team too. Because you’re worth it!

As Viktor Frankl said “those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Live life with purpose, set goals (size really doesn’t matter) and let yourself achieve them. From getting out of bed to jumping out of an aeroplane, yes, you can!

 

samaboutme

Sam loves to bake, run, eat dumplings and make magic in her thermomix (but not all at the same time.) When she’s not baking, running or eating, she likes to kick cancer’s butt and look on the bright side of life.

You can find here and on facebook

 

 

Have you ever faced a huge health issue in your life? How did you get through it? And is Sam not the most happiest lady on Earth? x

 

 

 

  • Nat Smith

    Great post! Sam is all kinds of wonderful! I share the thyroid cancer diagnosis with her, thankfully I’ve only been through it once though. I went through diagnosis and treatment at the age of 18 (diagnosed December 2009 & treatment Jan/Feb 2010) and so this post completely resonates with me!
    Like Sam, my psychologist was vital in my getting through it, and my close circle of family and friends were the best support I could have ever asked for. I also leaned on my music a lot. I play flute, piano and saxophone and I expressed my feels via music. When I was recovering, I wrote a piece of music which tells the story of that journey. It took months for me to be able to play it without crying!!

    • I know you get it, Nat. I guess you just gotta do what you gotta do to get you through. And look at you now, you’re unstoppable!

      • Nat Smith

        Aww, shucks! Unstoppable?! Thanks Sam, lovely! x

    • Oh gosh, all at the age of 18? That would’ve been huge. My hat is off to you!! And music is just amazing, isn’t it? Really cures all ails. You’re another inspirational, amazing chick getting around. I think you are all kinds of wonderful too! Keep up the good fight! x

      • Nat Smith

        Thank you! Your words are so kind. x

  • ohhh man this was so good! she is amazing!
    i’ve had some bad health and life shit go down but not cancer. it rocks your world and puts shit in perspective. good on her she came out the other side as a positive force. no all do that.

    • Health hurdles and those bumps in the road certainly makes you realise what’s important… and what’s not. don’t they Tracie?! I’m really rather ordinary, I just learned to redefine my impossible!

      • totally! except you are actually amazing. there’s nothing ‘ordinary’ about you. i can tell.
        i’m one of those redefiners too. i take the impossible and kick it’s ass! rock on girl!

    • She really IS amazing! Bad shit gives you that kick up the butt and that reality perspective, doesn’t it? And you’re so right- not everyone does come out the other side and use it as a positive. You’re a bit of awesome right there for being able to come through your own stuff! x

  • This is such a great post, Sam is such an inspiration. Like Sam, I’ve survived cancer twice and everything she says resonates with me! I also got comments on my positive attitude but my thought was “sitting around whinging won’t make it go any quicker, so I’m going with positive and I’m going to beat this!”. Which I did!! I also agree with the new perspective on life, it’s amazing how a brush with death can make you focus on the present and enjoying every minute. Family and friends were the best support and helped when the days were bad.
    Love reading Sam’s posts, she is amazing, so positive and uplifting. From one survivor to another, you go girl, you are an inspiration to so many x

    • I find a positive attitude can make the darkest of days bearable, and when I got my diagnoses I knew I wasn’t going to drown in my own self pity, I wanted to stand up and fight and triumph over adversity. My therapist said that it’s very common for us survivors to have this new outlook on life. These days, I try not to get bogged down in the journey I’ve travelled and enjoy this destination because it feels good. Really good. High fives to you too – here’s to loving life! xx

      • I agree Sam, a positive attitude goes a long way and you do it so well!

    • Wowsers Susan, you’re another amazing inspiration!! I had no idea lovely lady, I’d love to hear your story. Gosh talk about reality check, huh? You took that crappy diagnosis and hit it out of the ballpark by the sounds of it! Go you! x

      • Thanks Sash. I don’t talk about it much but happy to share my story with you sometime. I chose not to let it get me down or define me and I’m trying to live life to the full, like Sam. Mind you, I couldn’t run for a bus, never mind a half marathon!

  • Great post Sam and Sasha. Inspiring to read your story Sam. Here is to good health all round and supporting the amazing medical professionals who work tirelessly to help heal, restore and conquer.

  • Awesome post girls. Sam you are such an inspiration! We have had a lot of cancer in our lives so know all too well what it is like from the other side…but it was interesting to hear it from your perspective (especially the part about hating you were hurting others, so thoughtful). x

    • So sorry to hear that you’ve had a lot of cancer in your lives. It’s a nasty business, You know, Kristy, the guilt such a massive thing for me, and it still is. One of my friends recently commented that when I was ill, my husband actually looked worse than me! That’s the really horrible thing about cancer, it’s so much more than the patient, it affects their friends, their family and even the wider community. It’s like an evil kind of ripple affect.

      • Well my dad and mother and father in law who have all had some form of cancer are still with us – so I realise I am very lucky :) you are right, it really takes over so many peoples lives x

    • It’s hard from the ‘outsider’ side of cancer, isn’t it? My Father in Law had larynx cancer and as a family we’ve had to really struggle watching him struggle. But to hear from Sam’s perspective, I get a lot of what my FIL must be feeling too. Powerful stuff. xx

  • Sam and Sasha – you both rock! I love you guys – you put words down with little tiny keys and all of a sudden there’s a world of inspiration out there for the rest of us getting bogged down in mediocrity. I mostly love that happiness is such a driving factor – the joy in all your disneyland photos just sparkles Sam!

    • Awww, thanks Kate. I got cancer. That’s how I learned to be happy. Strange but true! You know life can bog you down in so many ways, from big kicks in the butt to the everyday grind. It’s hard, it really is. But I’ve found that happiness is my weapon of choice when there’s stuff going down, and if it all goes to s**t, well, at least I’ll have the last laugh (literally.) Because when I’m given the choice, I’d much rather laugh than cry (mainly because I have a really ugly crying face) and my happy face “just sparkles!” see pic above :) xx

    • Kate- you rock lady! I love your stuff- bloody write more often please! 😛 Sam is just amazing! She brings the happy out in us all! x

  • What an inspirational read ladies. I have a family member who went through a major health crisis but didn’t seek counselling until a long time after the event. I’m no doctor but I’m feel it’s contributed to the hard road they’ve had to travel coming to terms with what happened. You’re positivity is amazing Sam.

    • It’s so important to take care of our mental health at times when we’re facing (physical) health crises, Nancy. I don’t think I’d be in my happy place today, if it wasn’t for those hours of brain dumping and soul searching in therapy. I know it’s a cliche, but I have made a choice to be happy and positive because it’s good for my health. xx

    • Oh yeah, it makes the mountain just *that* much harder to climb if we don’t get that support, doesn’t it? I think we feel so much stigma in putting it out there and asking for help- but we wouldn’t think twice about asking for help if we had a broken limb! Hopefully this is something that will change in time! xx

  • Fantastic post ladies. Sam you are one amazing and inspiring woman this post gives such great perspective about what’s important in life. xx

  • I think Sam is freaking awesome and inspiring and you nailed it when you mention her warmth and spark and enthusiasm. I would love to one day meet both of you gorgeous women and share a G&T and a laugh and a good old gasbag.

    • Well, just quietly I think we have a 3 way mutual admiration society going on here, for each other and G and T’s. Having 3 G’s (gasbag, giggles and gin and tonics) with you two lovely ladies is right up there on my bucket list!

    • Oh lady, right back at ya!! xx Sam’s right- we’ve got a 3 way mutual lovefest going on here! I’m all for threesomes… of the G&T and gasbag kind! 😉 xx

  • Such an inspiring story and you are such an inspirational and positive person Sammy. I have been reading a blog written by a woman who has breast cancer. She was also so positive and her posts filled with positive energy and humour. This year has been a year of real ups and downs and her husband posted the other day that there is no more they can do for her other than make her comfortable. The really sad part is that she has a little girl and this morning I read her very first posts, when she was diagnosed in 2008, just before she turned 37 and her little girl was 2 years old. It is really sad, she has always been so positive, sometimes it just isn’t enough

    • That’s so sad Dianne, and you’re right, positivity isn’t always enough to keep you alive, but it’s (more than) enough to make your life worth living and make it count. I totally think I’ve dodged a bullet (at least for now,) and I’ll run with it. That old saying is so true, “he (or she!) who has health has everything.”

      • you are right Sammy and although all her little girl has known is a mom with cancer, you can just tell by her blog posts, her daughter had a happy positive mom and not someone miserable and that counts for everything, because the rest is out of her control. I am certain you have dodged the bullet for good and I really admire you and how you thought of your loved ones before yourself

    • Oh gosh Dianne :( Sometimes you have to wonder why these things happen, huh? Sometimes we can’t always beat the odds, but we can make our time here as fulfilling as possible. And it sounds like this wonderful woman has indeed done that. And left an amazing legacy for her little girl- that gorgeous child will grow up reading about her Mum’s strength and positivity and THAT is such a gift. Thanks so much for sharing that story. xx

  • This is so amazing! I’m in awe… total awe!

  • Hey ladies. You did a perfect job. Thanks for talking about the c disease. Because it frightens a lot of people. We lost so many friends and even family when our baby daughter was diagnosed with the c fucked up illness. They were all to frighten to come to support us in that very moment when we needed them. But we cope and met a lot of new friends. I find a lot in.common with you Sam even if i was not the one to be sick. Thank for sharing. I hope it will help people to keep talking. Because what you wrote would have helped me and still helps me now. I am more ready to talk about my experience as a mother of a sick child now. And i have to say that you are the one who helps me about that.

    • Catherine, you’re right, cancer is so scary, but somehow, it becomes less scary the more we talk about it. I have to be honest,I would much rather be the patient than the loved one, every time. I am sure my loved ones suffered much more than me, if not physically, then certainly emotionally. I can’t begin to imagine what you guys went through with your daughter. It’s heartbreaking – big hugs for you! If there’s only one tip I want to share with you, it’s this, the more you talk, the better you’ll feel. xx