Getting the Family Up to Speed

All this time, I hadn’t really talked to Rusty about what a cancer diagnosis would mean in terms of what would happen next. I had avoided talking about my situation too much, because I knew it would stress him out. But I was starting to feel the need to let him know what we could be looking at over the next few months.

So Wednesday afternoon, while the boys were playing down the street with a friend, I sat in the grass while he worked in the flower beds, and I filled him in a little—surgery, radioactive iodine, quarantine. He took it all in, a little incredulous about the radioactive mommy part. But I think he was also relieved that chemo would not be on the agenda.

I told him what I had already been saying—I wasn’t that scared of cancer. But I was not looking forward to the upheaval it would cause for the family.

“Oh, we’ll be fine,” was his response to that. He was in his rock-solid-supporter role just then. I knew it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to always be so confident and to never need reassurance himself, but it was nice to hear at that moment.

After Bible study that night, T, a friend who I hadn’t caught up with lately asked, “So how’s everything in your family?” I just looked at him a minute. I could not say, “Oh, it’s fine,” knowing it was possible I would be announcing a cancer diagnosis the following week.

“I had a biopsy on my thyroid yesterday,” I finally answered. He nodded. I knew that there was a lot of health-related drama going on in his family, too. He told me he would be praying for me. M, his wife walked up. I told her about it, too. “Oh, I knew you had had a test of some kind,” she said, nodding. So I knew that at least some people outside the circle I had told knew I had something going on. She, too, offered to pray for me.

Thursday I went back to ladies’ Bible study. Afterward, I talked with Y a little more about my situation, telling her what Dr. B had said about probably having a thyroidectomy sometime. I asked her about her experience. She said that it had mostly been no big deal, except that her voice was slightly damaged afterwards and had required a few months to recover. I knew that vocal cord damage was a possibility, as was injury to the parathyroid glands that controlled the body’s calcium levels. But that seemed too far out of my control to dwell on.

Yvette had offered me the loan of a couple of thyroid books. They were sitting on the console between me and Silas as we drove home.

“Why do you have these thyroid books?” he asked.

“Mrs. Y loaned them to me,” I said, trying to sound casual. Rusty and I had not discussed the situation with our kids. We seemed to have an unspoken agreement that it was better not to worry them needlessly, especially since they had learned all too well the past few years about the transience of life. Within a three year span, he had lost two grandparents and three great-grandparents.

“Does your doctor think you might have cancer?” he asked.

Doesn’t miss anything, I thought. Should have been more careful. “Did you hear me talking to Mrs. Y?” I asked.

“Yeah, I have ears like a fox,” he said. The boys had been playing video games, and I had honestly forgotten that they were within earshot while I was talking with Y. I replayed the conversation in my head, assessing what he had most likely heard. The good news was that I had reiterated my “I am not scared of it being cancer” mantra, as well as quoting that there was about a 90% survival rate for 30 years, joking that I didn’t even think the general population had odds that good.

“Well, It’s nothing to be very worried about,” I said.

“Yeah, I heard you talking about that. It doesn’t sound too bad.”

I filled him in a little on what would happen if I did get a cancer diagnosis, answering his questions about what a thyroid did and how I could live if it was taken out. He seemed to think that having a radioactive mom would be really cool. Something to brag to his friends about for sure. I was relieved. I could tell he wasn’t scared.

Obsessed as I was, I perused Y’s books that afternoon. Both were more generally about thyroid disorders, but they each had a chapter on thyroid nodules and cancer. One of them was particularly interesting to me, because it had been written in the late 90’s. It mentioned that about 15,000 people were diagnosed with thyroid cancer each year. I had recently read somewhere else that the number was now more like 35,000, and that thyroid cancer was the fastest growing variety, in terms of new cases each year.

I went on the Thyca (Thyroid Cancer Survivors) website to check the actual figure. I was floored. In 2013, the projection was that there would be over 60,000 new cases reported, a 6% increase from 2012. I told myself that even if I don’t have cancer, I am going to start promoting thyroid cancer awareness, putting a ribbon on my car, wearing a “check your neck” t-shirt, posting on social media. Thyroid cancer might be the rarest kind, but at this rate, it won’t be for long. This is something people needed to hear about! I am going to wait until I have an answer one way or another, however.

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