In October 2010, a skilled surgeon at UCLA removed my thyroid and sixty-six lymph nodes in my neck, a post-surgery pathology determining that I had papillary thyroid cancer, diffuse sclerosing variant. This particular variant is a rare form of thyroid cancer, occurring less than 1% of the time with little data about its progressions. Some data suggest that it is a more aggressive variant, and there is an uncertain spot on my lung that is monitored for growth or recurrence.
Only a few months before, as a starry-eyed newlywed, I had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After I got the diagnosis, my Better Half did the only thing one can do in those situations: we went on a hot-air balloon ride. For a moment, I was floating, lifted away from my earthly fears.
After I recovered from surgery and learned to turn my head again, on December 15, 2010, I had radiation treatment.
What I remember most about radiation is being alone in a padded plastic room as the poison worked its way through my system. I remember crying and vomiting a burning sensation, wondering if I could have, should have held it down longer. I remember the broken clock in this sterile room where the second hand was caught on the minute hand in a frenzy of clicks to move forward but going nowhere. I remember not knowing how much time was going by as I waited the hours in mandatory isolation for the radiation to work its way through my body. As a person familiar with loneliness, I remember feeling alone in a way that I never had before.
During the five years since that day my life has been rife with other kinds of surprises from multiple life-threatening emergency hospitalizations for other medical conditions to many kinds of grief and loss. It has not been a rosy five years, far from it. However, on this five-year cancerversary I look back and feel grateful that the cancer has not returned. I choose to look back and remember the day that I triumphed over radiation and not focus on the day I was diagnosed. I choose to put aside all the other curveballs Life has tossed me in the last five years and be grateful I have not had a recurrence. I choose to remember my body dangling above the clouds in a surprising and unexpected calm. I choose gratitude and remind myself to #CelebrateEverything.