October 19, 2006.
I woke up and went for a jog, as I would any other normal day. Got to work, through emails, started on projects... around 11:00 the call came. "Ms. New, I have the results of your biopsy. It's positive for cancer." In that moment, my world collapsed to the size of a pin head. I said, "I have to call you back..." and hung up. I sat there stunned for a moment and then dialed my mom's cell. As soon as she answered, my throat closed up and all I could choke out was "Mom..." She knew. I didn't have to tell her. She said, "Oh my god, it's cancer. I'm coming to get you." I could tell she had started to cry too before she hung up the phone.
The rest of the day was a blur of helplessness. We all wanted to do something, anything, but there was nothing to do, really. Adam left work early and came over and my mom and aunt were at my apartment too. We started researching and making phone calls to family. I knew I would have surgery and radiation, but no details were certain - even the extent of the cancer could not be known until they opened me up and took some lymph nodes for biopsies.
The weeks between my diagnosis and my surgery were some of the hardest of my life. The uncertainty, the fear of the unknown, the feeling of helplessness. The grief. Though I had assurances from doctors and surgeons that I would almost positively NOT die from thyroid cancer, I still grieved the loss of my health, a vital organ, the enormous change in my life, my innocence. Even now, I have my moments: occasionally when I set my medicine out for the night, or when I have to go back for yet another doctor's appointment -- a lifetime of appointments!
I found the tumor myself. I walked into the bathroom with a glass of water, about to get in the shower. I took a drink and caught sight of myself in the mirror - a small lump on my neck as I swallowed. I had an ultrasound, which came back showing some calcification around the lump - a worrysome sign. So I had a needle biopsy, which I was completely unprepared for. They are sometimes done without any anesthetic, which mine was, by my endocrinologist. He did three passes with three different needles - basically (for lack of a better description) stabbing each needle in a number of times and then using this special suction that collects samples from the nodule. I got a hematoma and had a huge bruise on my neck. I rode the metro home in shock.
That biopsy came back inconclusive and I had to go have ANOTHER - this time with local anesthesia and guided by ultrasound. It was, in many ways, more unsettling than the first. For one thing, I had to go to Washington Hospital - to the Cancer Center. Walking in there felt unreal... I don't belong here! I'm only 26, I'm too young for this! I would be back there many times for surgery, scans, radiation and follow-up appointments.
It's been two years since that fateful day of my diagnosis. I can honestly say, fully knowing how glib and trite it sounds, that cancer was a blessing in disguise. The reasons why are posts in and of themselves. Suffice to say that anything serious and difficult rewards you with comprehension, depth and gratitude... as well as in other quiet and unspeakable ways.
I won't go so far as to say that cancer was a gift. Rather, to borrow from the lovely Kris Carr, cancer is my guru. A google search tells me that a Guru teaches how to find the way home to God. Indeed.