I couldn't have known that "cancer" would become this year's theme. After Ann's death, I took a break from writing here while life swept me up in it's living: I moved in with my girlfriend over the summer, got a new Catholic community up and running with friends , and this last month, discovered that I too had cancer.
Mysteriously, I was compelled to reach for a book on my bookshelf a couple of months ago — one that had been in my family for many years and was written in the 1900s about natural healing. The book fell open to page about thyroid disorders. I mockingly said to my girlfriend across the room, "what the heck is a goiter anyway? Who even gets those anymore," not knowing a thing about them. Days later, I would find myself in the hospital for an unrelated mysterious pain (that just as mysteriously vanished completely) and at the beginning of a journey that would eventually lead me to a biopsy, surgery, and eventually a diagnosis of papillary carcinoma of the thyroid.
Only after my first surgery to remove half of my thyroid, did I learn that my grandmother had her thyroid removed as well, though it's unclear whether or not she had thyroid cancer. She was somewhat private about her medical history, and took this information with her to the grave. I'm hoping I can learn something from her journals which were left behind. Was she sending me a message from beyond?
This is a highly treatable form of cancer, and it highly likely that I'm going to make a full recovery. But this is not a "good" cancer, as some have said to me. No cancer is good. I realize that people need to made some sort of sense of things and come to an understanding that I will eventually be ok, that I'm not going to die from this. At the same time, it's important not to minimize my suffering and dismiss it as "no big deal," because it will not result in my death!
I'm trying hard to be generous and understanding, because I know that people struggle with the right thing to say. I've had to laugh about a lot of it. Many times I've been told how wise, strong, or "more awesome" I'll be after beating cancer. Frankly, I'm perfectly happy with the level of "wisdom" I've achieved pre-cancer! As if only more suffering can make us truly "wise."
What I've struggled with more are the friends who've backed away completely. The friends I've heard nothing at all from and the friendships I've misjudged. It's true, that you find out who your friends really are when you're going through something difficult. My best friend flew in from California to be with me during surgery, and nursed me for several days afterward. Other people that I thought would be there for me have all but vanished from my life. I am trying to be generous with those friends too, and let them go without any anger. I certainly can't afford emotions like that now.
While I'm off work recovering from surgery, I'm already gearing up for my next surgery — to remove the rest of my thyroid tissue. After that, there will be cancer treatment and hormone replacements. One day at a time, with grace and patience.