“Cancer is not a battle that we win or lose. It is not our fault or a sign of weakness. We are not responsible for our cancer outcomes. The crapshoot of cancer and recurrence can NOT be controlled. Celebrate yourself for each time you, despite all the trauma of cancer, treatment, and the mindfuck of “survivorship”, choose to love, live, lust, laugh… We are not a success story based on our cancer progression or not. We succeed when we are courageous enough to keep walking forward even with missing parts, severe pain, addled brains, and broken hearts.”  ~Dr. Erica D. Bernstein

These profound words by Erica Bernstein really hit home with me.  I’ve been in remission for over three years.  The more time that goes by, the less I think about cancer.  But I will never forget what the journey was like.  Whether it’s a cancer survivor’s story on the news or hearing about a friend newly diagnosed, I seem to be reminded quite often of what it was like.  Yesterday, I was with a friend who just found out that she had cancer.  She was so scared and cried as she talked about her fears.  I got chills as she shared about it.  Her battle is just beginning.  She will know more about it tomorrow.  I have been keeping her in my prayers.

Listening to her took me back to that initial fear and racing thoughts I had when the doctor told me that my tumor was malignant.  I didn’t know how to process the words.  I couldn’t believe it.  But deep down, I had a sense of serenity and I knew that I would survive.  I connected with that power.  I re-discovered my courage and strength.  I kept walking forward.  There were times when I wanted to wave the white flag and give up, but I kept walking forward.  Through the doctors appointments, treatment, medicine, tears, nausea, depression, physical weakness, and more, I got to the other side. 

Cancer changed the direction of my life.  I am grateful for the experience because it led me to where I am today.  It made me aware of how strong of a woman I am.  It gave me a chance to get in touch once again with what matters in life.  And I hope that my friend finds the gifts that I found.  I pray that she connects with her strength and is courageous enough to keep walking forward.

As soon as I read “What Cancer Cannot Do” I felt my inner cancer SURVIVOR come out.  We tend to give cancer a lot of power.  It is part of the process to start blaming changes in our lives, relationships, outlook, attitude and choices on cancer.  The real deal is that each one of us has the power and inner-strength to focus on what we CAN do and what cancer CANNOT do.  It is a powerful exercise. 

I started thinking about what else could be added to the list.  I’m sharing it with all of my blog readers and asking you to add to the list as well.  Here is my version:

Cancer is so limited…

It cannot turn my world to darkness.

It cannot make the beauty of nature disappear.

It cannot take over my being.

It cannot drain my creativity.

It cannot silence my voice.

It cannot prevent me from spreading awareness and hope.

It cannot come between my connection with a Higher Power.

It cannot stop me from laughing and smiling.

It cannot take my will power.

It cannot make me give up.

It cannot take away my joy.

It cannot change my purpose in life.

For years, I have shared my cancer survivor journey on this blog.  In turn, many of you have left comments in response to many of the blog posts.  (Thank you!! You all rock!) I’d like to magnify that by opening the stage for all cancer survivors to use their voice by commenting at the end of this post.

You can voice anything through your comments, as long as it is relates to your cancer survivor journey.  This is your space to connect with others, help others, vent, inspire, and give back.  For many of us, cancer can drain our energy, darker our spirit and quiet our voice.  Fight the Fight!! Speak up and use your voice by sharing your comments!  If it helps, here are some questions to get your minds going:

  • Where are you in your cancer survivor journey?
  • What lessons have you learned from having cancer?
  • What gets you through the fear and difficult times?
  • Are you putting off any kind of medical follow-up like a doctor visit, scan, blood work?
  • How has your outlook on life changed?
  • Has cancer had an impact on your relationships with your spouse/partner, children, family, friends, co-workers, self?
  • What would you tell someone who was just diagnosed with cancer?
  • Did you find an inner-strength and or stronger connection with a higher energy, spirit or source during your cancer survivor journey?
  • What have you done to give back and help others fight the fight?
  • Has your cancer survivor journey inspired you in some way?  If so, what did you do with that inspiration?
  • Do you still feel stuck in a “cancer mindframe” even though you’re in remission?
  • Are you living life beyond cancer?

If you would like to comment on one of the questions or more, then go for it! If not, please voice your own thoughts.

Thank you!!

It’s easy to crunch the numbers on thyroid cancer and assume it is a disease fast on the rise. Incidence has more than doubled since the early 1970s, and for women, it is the cancer with the fastest-growing number of new cases.

But not every statistic tells the obvious tale. Despite the increase, thyroid cancer — a very treatable disease that develops in a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck — is still relatively uncommon.

Many people develop benign lumps, known as nodules, in the neck, but only one in 20, or less than 45,000 cases a year, are malignant. Even fewer patients have an aggressive form of the disease, which has a survival rate of nearly 97 percent after five years and results in an estimated 1,690 deaths each year. Over the last few years, however, studies showing there has been a significant increase in incidence, and even mortality, in certain groups have caused much debate in the scientific community.

“I don’t think there is any question that there is an increasing incidence of thyroid cancer,” said Dr. Kenneth Burman, chief of the endocrine section in the department of medicine at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “But it is not that simple. The question is whether or not it is related to detection and radiological studies, or if it is related to an authentic rise in thyroid cancer.”

It is a question that still remains largely unanswered. Evidence from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database, a registry of cancer cases that is kept by the National Cancer Institute, leaves little question that there are more cases of thyroid cancer today than three decades ago. But the more important question, as Dr. Burman points out, is whether these statistics indicate a true rise in the disease or are simply a result of better diagnostic tools.

Over the last three decades, ultrasound and fine-needle biopsies have helped diagnose thousands of cases that would never have been found before. In many cases, nodules are discovered by accident during another medical investigation.

A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association first brought this issue to light in 2006. Researchers concluded that the reported 140 percent increase in thyroid cancer from 1973 to 2002 was simply a result of “increased diagnostic scrutiny.”

They argued that a true increase in incidence would be reflected in every stage of the cancer. But the study showed that 87 percent of the increase was from small papillary thyroid cancer tumors — the most common and treatable type of thyroid cancer — that were less than two centimeters in size. Many of these cases, the researchers say, would never have caused any problems. In fact, studies have shown that thyroid cancer is found in nearly 4 percent of all fine-needle aspiration biopsy specimens.

“These cases have been there all along,” said Dr. Louise Davies, assistant professor of surgery in the division of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery at Dartmouth Medical School. “We just didn’t see them until now. Understanding this requires that you think about the word ‘cancer’ in a different way than we usually do. You can have increased rates of incidence without changing the number of people who die.”

But the mortality rate is a little more complicated than that. Survival rates, after five years, increased 4.7 percent in women, who are three times as likely to develop the disease as men, from 1974 to 2001. In men, however, the annual percentage change in thyroid cancer mortality increased significantly, by 2.4 percent, from 1992 to 2000 — the highest jump of any cancer. That is one reason many other experts argue that diagnostic tools are not the only factor.

“I think it is an oversimplification to say the increase in diagnosis is from the overuse of technology and only relates to small tumors that are insignificant,” said Dr. Steven Sherman, medical director of the endocrine center at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. “There is a component that relates to increased technology, but until we can do a better job at predicting the outcomes for individuals who develop cancer we still need to treat each case.”

Physicians are fairly clueless about what else could account for this mysterious rise in incidence. Exposure to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in 1986 and radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s have long been linked to thyroid cancer, but they would not account for all the new cases.

Regardless of the reported increase in small tumors, the standard of care for thyroid cancer remains the same as it was two decades ago. Patients must undergo a thryoidectomy, a surgical procedure that removes all or half of the thyroid gland. Afterward, many patients also require a radioactive iodine treatment, which kills any remaining cancer cells.

Dr. Bryan McIver, a physician in the division of endocrinology, diabetes, metabolism and nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said of the surgical default, “Even though the evidence does not support that it is beneficial, there is an increasing trend in the U.S., and probably worldwide, to treat all thyroid cancers in the most aggressive way.”

As a result, surgeons like Dr. Davies think the increase in diagnosis does patients with small tumors a disservice. “I don’t think it is helpful when patients pick it up by accident,” she said. “It distracts them from the problem they came in with and leads to unnecessary treatment. The mortality rate of papillary thyroid cancer is lower than the surgical complication rates.”

Since thyroid cancer has long been thought of as a disease that requires surgery, experts are starting to rethink how they approach the rapidly increasing number of small tumors.

“Sometimes I think we are doing more harm than good with these small tumors,” Dr. McIver said. “But there is also going to be a subset of these small tumors that are caught early and would have caused a problem. It’s hard to ignore a diagnosis of cancer.”

This article is from the New York Times

Awesome News!!! My blood test results show my Tg level was undetectable after the thyrogen shots! This means I am still cancer -free!! Oh yeah!! That’s right!! Thanks for the prayers and much appreciated support!! (Happy Dance)

What a difference a week makes. Last week was shots, blood work, fear and praying.  Fast forward it a week after I got the results and I’m at ease.  I can go on and live my life with all of this behind me.  Sure there will be another follow-up test in 6 months, but that is a long ways away.  There is no point in thinking about it.  I am focusing on the here and now.  That is where life happens!!

To all cancer survivors (including people newly diagnosed, battling cancer and going through treatment), continue to reach out for help, put one foot in front of the other and fight the fight!! You never know what tomorrow will bring, so be grateful for the blessings you have today!!

At times I wonder if certain cancer treatments are more dangerous or harmful than cancer itself.  A couple of years ago, my cancer treatment made me radioactive for a couple of weeks to kill the remaining cancer cells.  (No, I did not glow.)  But I was isolated from friends and family for over 3 days.  They even gave me a letter to carry in case the radioactivity left in my body set off any alarms in government buildings or airports! That caused me to step back and wonder if that treatment was worth the risk.  It worked, so I guess it was.

I have friends that have gone through chemotherapy and take all kinds of medications with terrible side effects to treat cancer.  The goal is to kill the cancer, not the person.  At times, I wonder if the doctors remember that part.  It seems like the side effects from the treatments drain what little energy is left in our bodies at the time.

I’ve moved on from cancer treatment to cancer follow-up procedures.  My doctor recommended that I get Thyrogen shots and blood work to see if my levels change.  The Thyrogen stimulates the cancer producing cells.  The shots are administered two days in a row.  One shot is the left buttocks and the other shot in the right.  It is literally a pain in the @ss!  I got the first shot this morning.  Ouch!! It hurt and burned.  Now I have a headache and feel a little nauseous from the Thyrogen.  I don’t want to go back tomorrow for the second shot.  I’ve learned that part of surviving cancer is staying positive and doing things that I don’t necessarily want to do.  I will continue to fight the fight!!!

The results should be back next week.  I will do my best NOT to think about it and live my life. (Although every time I sit, my sore butt will remind me of the shots!) There is no point in worrying about it today.  I will need to remind myself of this several times a day.  If the blood work results are high enough to detect cancer, then they will move forward with treatment.  If not, then I will continue going back every six months for follow-up visits and testing.  Either way, I guess this pain in the @ss it worth it.  I am praying that the results are good.  Regardless, I will get through it and continue sharing my journey.

xoxo,

Thyro-Jenn

Part of my mission is to provide useful information to others about the cancer survivor experience.  It hit me today that I have not posted anything about the cancer basics.  Knowledge is power, so let’s take a moment to learn about cancer.  What is cancer?  I am not in the medical field.  So I turned to the experts at the American Cancer Society to answer this question.  Below are the details from the American Cancer Society’s What is Cancer page:

What is cancer?

Cancer is the general name for a group of more than 100 diseases in which cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of control. Although there are many kinds of cancer, they all start because abnormal cells grow out of control. Untreated cancers can cause serious illness and even death.

Normal cells in the body

The body is made up of hundreds of millions of living cells. Normal body cells grow, divide, and die in an orderly fashion. During the early years of a person’s life, normal cells divide faster to allow the person to grow. After the person becomes an adult, most cells divide only to replace worn-out or dying cells or to repair injuries.

How cancer starts

Cancer starts when cells in a part of the body start to grow out of control. There are many kinds of cancer, but they all start because of out-of-control growth of abnormal cells.

Cancer cell growth is different from normal cell growth. Instead of dying, cancer cells continue to grow and form new, abnormal cells. Cancer cells can also invade (grow into) other tissues, something that normal cells cannot do. Growing out of control and invading other tissues are what makes a cell a cancer cell.

Cells become cancer cells because of damage to DNA. DNA is in every cell and directs all its actions. In a normal cell, when DNA gets damaged the cell either repairs the damage or the cell dies. In cancer cells, the damaged DNA is not repaired, but the cell doesn’t die like it should. Instead, this cell goes on making new cells that the body does not need. These new cells will all have the same damaged DNA as the first cell does.

People can inherit damaged DNA, but most DNA damage is caused by mistakes that happen while the normal cell is reproducing or by something in our environment. Sometimes the cause of the DNA damage is something obvious, like cigarette smoking. But often no clear cause is found.

In most cases the cancer cells form a tumor. Some cancers, like leukemia, rarely form tumors. Instead, these cancer cells involve the blood and blood-forming organs and circulate through other tissues where they grow.

How cancer spreads

Cancer cells often travel to other parts of the body, where they begin to grow and form new tumors that replace normal tissue. This process is called metastasis. It happens when the cancer cells get into the bloodstream or lymph vessels of our body.

How cancers differ

No matter where a cancer may spread, it is always named for the place where it started. For example, breast cancer that has spread to the liver is still called breast cancer, not liver cancer. Likewise, prostate cancer that has spread to the bone is metastatic prostate cancer, not bone cancer.

Different types of cancer can behave very differently. For example, lung cancer and breast cancer are very different diseases. They grow at different rates and respond to different treatments. That is why people with cancer need treatment that is aimed at their particular kind of cancer.

Tumors that are not cancer

Not all tumors are cancerous. Tumors that aren’t cancer are called benign. Benign tumors can cause problems – they can grow very large and press on healthy organs and tissues. But they cannot grow into (invade) other tissues. Because they can’t invade, they also can’t spread to other parts of the body (metastasize). These tumors are almost never life threatening.

How common is cancer?

Half of all men and one-third of all women in the US will develop cancer during their lifetimes.

Today, millions of people are living with cancer or have had cancer. The risk of developing most types of cancer can be reduced by changes in a person’s lifestyle, for example, by quitting smoking, limiting time in the sun, being physically active, and eating a better diet. The sooner a cancer is found and treated, the better the chances are for living for many years.

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