Today is my five-year cancer-free anniversary. Most cancer survival statistics are given in five year increments. My cancer was low risk enough that I never had to think about five years as an “if.” Yet my life has changed drastically since the day I lost my thyroid. I miss it every single day. I’ve grieved for my pre-cancer body. I’ve denied the inevitable and felt really, really sorry for myself.
Over the last five years, I have:
- Gained 28 pounds twice – once with a pregnancy, once without
- Lost 15-20 pounds three times, only to gain it back
- Lost handfuls of hair only for it to grow back gray
- Entered perimenopause…in my 30s
- Had anxiety and heart palpitations
- Been exhausted and depressed
- Pushed my doctor to listen and change my treatment
- Been passive and let my doctor direct my treatment based on TSH
- Had my blood drawn 42 times
- Changed my thyroid medication 12 times
Did I survive five years? Yes. Did I do it with grace? Absolutely not. Every time I gained weight or developed a new health problem I completely melted down and scrambled to restore to “normal.” I have been to the ER twice in the past four months due to side effects of what were supposed to be remedies. I have avoided mirrors and photos and outings. I am missing out on being happy because I can’t imagine a real life at this size.
I have wonderful, wonderful things in my life. I have a beautiful, amazing family. My daughters are healthy, happy and well-adjusted. Both my husband and I have good jobs. I haven’t had even a glimpse of a cancer recurrence. But my focus has been on the aspects of my life that aren’t what they used to be. I don’t feel good, I don’t look good and I don’t like it. I am writing this blog post as a vision statement for the next five years post-thyroid cancer. The next five years can’t be just about surviving. It’s time for me to start living again. I want to focus on my health. I want to put my energy toward things that energize me, not drain me. I want to eat to fuel my body and exercise to be stronger. I want to live longer and feel better, not just look better.
Like the rest of the internet, I am inspired by this photo of Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos. But for me it’s not about winning. In fact, it’s about taking myself out of the competition. I am not going to compare myself to other women or other thyroid cancer survivors anymore. I am not going to miss out on happiness and health because I keep looking over my shoulder at pre-cancer Sarah. I am looking straight ahead at the rest of my life. I’m moving on.