Sunday, October 28, 2012

Survivor Guilt...It's A Real Thing

Before I write about anything else, let me first say thank you to every single one of you who prayed for me and my family during my thyroid surgery. We received the news a few days ago that the mass was BENIGN!!! Now we move forward, wait for healing to complete and get the thyroid medication, Synthroid at the correct dose. This is done through lab draws and watching for symptoms of hypo/hyperthyroidism.
I will continue to update on these things but for today, I have a heaviness on my heart that I can't shake.  It happens every year like clock work...in October and again in March. It has a name and I thought for sure that it wouldn't happen this year. But alas, it has struck again...or maybe it was never gone to begin with but suppressed instead. SURVIVOR GUILT.
I suffer from this especially in October which has been deemed Breast Cancer Awareness month and in March because it is the month that my chemo buddy Kate passed away. This past weekend, my family went to Nashville for the Susan G Komen Race for The Cure as we have every year since diagnosis. The first year was fun and exciting because I had just finished up chemo and radiation and was celebrating the news that Kate was also "cancer free." She had chemo first and then her surgery so her results had just come back and she was recovering from surgery and couldn't make the walk. We promised we would do it together the next year...but it never happened. She died 5 months later. She literally was only "cancer free" for 3 months.
So the second year at the race, I was determined to do it for Kate. I prayed and asked God to give me a visible sign of Kate being there with me and He did...in a huge way. At the 1 mile marker, a bird flew literally right in front of me...like a foot in front of my face at eye level. Kate LOVED birds! This was such a blessing to me. By the end of the race though, I was in a funk and just not feeling much like celebrating. I felt guilty. Guilty for living. Guilty that Kate died and I was here, healthy, and able to walk in a 5K. And each year since that the guilt and depression has heightened to a point of high anxiety as soon as we enter the Race Village and it doesn't fade for a few days.
Many people don't understand this and have said things like:
"Kate wouldn't want you to feel guilty."
"Celebrate you."
"Don't feel guilty...it just wasn't your time to go."
And many many other things that I know are super well intentioned and meant to be encouraging, but what I want to scream (and I do on the inside) is "HOW CAN I CELEBRATE MY LIFE WHEN MY BEST FRIEND AND CHEMO PARTNER DIED?" It just doesn't seem right nor fair. I know this is my problem and maybe most people can celebrate and move on easily, but I would venture to guess that there are just as many who are having a hard time like I am. The "medical" term for this is Survivor Guilt Syndrome and is suffered just as deeply by our military men and women when they lose a friend in war and they wonder why it was the friend and not them. It's a real problem that I wish there was a great solution to.
I have started reading articles on this topic and have considered going back to counseling to just have someone to talk to because I feel like no one else really understands. I don't know anyone else who has lost a close friend to the very same disease so close to after you have both been deemed cancer free. I just feel alone at times and not a week goes by when I don't think of Kate, her husband Tim, and something that we used to do together. I have managed to avoid the restaurant PF Changs for 3 years with the exception of going once with my family in Seattle. You see, PF Changs was the last dinner that Kate and I shared together and the waiter gave us free dessert to contribute to our cancer free states. I can hardly think about it without getting teary eyed right now. I need to deal with this, I know. But I don't know how. I'm stuck. Part of me wants to get over it and move on and the other part of me says to take this time and grieve because it's a part of healing, but is it really? This many years later (almost 3)? I'm not grieving daily...just mostly in March and October like I said earlier, but is that even okay?

Thankfully today our pastor and great friend, Michael Bayne, spoke about loneliness and it went straight to my heart. I'm going back to listen to the podcast and really take it in again because I NEED this. I'm lonely. I'm all alone in this...or at least I feel that way. I know lots of people who are breast cancer survivors, but the bond just isn't the same as mine and Kate's since we did EVERY SINGLE treatment together, were the same age, and at the same stage in life. And honestly I have only befriended one other lady with breast cancer in my city and I find myself sometimes praying to the point of tears for her miracle healing. She is so incredibly special to me, I know that God ordained my friendship with her, and I am terrified of losing her at times.

So wrapping this up, let me share some advice: Please don't look at people like they are crazy when they say they feel bad for not being the one who died. Chances are, they just wonder why they were spared and not their friend. Don't judge those who hate every product that turns pink in October because they could just be sad that breast cancer has been wrapped up in a pretty little pink ribbon while the real issue of a cure and prevention has been pushed aside. The statistics lie. 98% of women do NOT survive breast cancer. As a matter of fact, for my stage my survival rate at 5 years is only 67% and at 10 years only 47%.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Thyroid Is Gone

A few days ago, David and I took off once again for St Thomas Hospital in Nashville for my 7th surgery in the past 3 years. This time it was nothing to do with breast cancer, but was my thyroid instead. I've written about the problem with my thyroid in an earlier post (back in August I believe), but to make a long story short, I had a nodule that was as large as the actual thyroid and it needed to be taken out and tested for cancer. The biopsy that had been done had been shown to be negative, but with the thyroid, it's best to take the whole thing out when it keeps growing and when you have a history of cancer anyways.
So, that was what I did Friday. I was so nervous this time around for no real reason. I tried to figure out why I was so scared about anesthesia this time but there was nothing to explain it. I have been down this road a million times before (or at least 7) but this time I was just plain scared. As I sat in the pre-op holding area alone and waiting for the surgeon to come in I began praying and just asking God to help calm the storm in my soul. And then I kid you not when I tell you that the next person in my room was my anesthesia doctor and get this...I KNEW HIM!!!! I worked with him when I was a recovery room nurse at Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio. What the what?!? I was immediately relaxed and gave thanks to God for this very visible sign of comfort. My friend, Wes, was assigned to my case and was with me through the entire surgery.
As for the surgery, everything went great. Of course Friday night was rough but I was in the hospital with some of the best nurses ever and they took great care of me. I could not have asked for better care. My doctor came around and told me that the mass ended up being huge - the size of a golf ball and that he got the entire thing out (mass and thyroid) while sparing the parathyroid glands and not damaging my vocal cords (yay!). We will get pathology results on Wednesday to determine if any part of the thyroid was cancerous. If it is, we will go on to the plan to treat it, and if not, I will keep right on trucking on my new medicine, Synthroid. Synthroid is a medicine that mimics the thyroid and regulates lots of body functions - think cardiac, temperature, etc.... It's imperative that I take it and is dangerous if I ever don't. I believe that for the first 6 months or so I will have thyroid levels drawn frequently to make sure the medicine is at the correct dose and then I will be managed yearly.

As of now, day 3 post-op, I feel pretty good. My pain meds are helping and I am beginning to rest a little better. The incision is what hurts if I don't stay on top of the pain along with some neck and shoulder pain from just how they had to position me on the OR table. I think I will be 100% by the weekend but will have to remember that I am not supposed to do full activity until 11/3.

I will update with pathology results on Wednesday or Thursday but I wanted to go ahead and fill you all in with how things are going so far. Sorry if this was randomly written or cut short, but the pain medicine I took a little while ago is hitting me hard so I need to hit the sack. Goodnight friends!