One of the more insidious effects of cancer in my life, was the slow degradation of my ability to be what I had firmly placed in the column “Things I Just Am.” I thought those qualities were an integral and unchanging part of me, but from the moment I was told I likely had cancer, they began to slip away.
For instance, when they shuffled me from one room to the next after giving me the news, scheduled me for a surgery I knew nothing about with a surgeon I had never met, and then sent me out the door: the me I was so sure I was would have never smiled, signed paperwork I didn’t read, and then left.
The me I thought I was would have asked ten thousand questions and insisted on coming back later to discuss surgery with the actual surgeon before agreeing on a date and a plan to move forward. The me I thought I was would have advocated for myself, refused to sign papers until I was sure I understood them fully, and made sure I had researched all of my options on my own before just accepting what I was told. Not only did I not do any of that, I didn’t even notice or care that I wasn’t doing any of that.
When I got home and handed Carl the blue folder with my surgery information inside, he was furious. If you know him at all, you know that fury is an uncommon emotion in his life and it certainly wasn’t what I expected. I’m not sure I knew what to expect, but I remember being surprised when right before my eyes, my happy go lucky man, grew three feet taller, put on about fifty pounds of muscle, and developed the ability to fly.
Within a few hours, he knew everything the internet knew about thyroid cancer and the surgeon I was scheduled with, he had developed a list of 23 questions for said surgeon, and scheduled us for an appointment prior to my surgery date to ask them. He was incredible and would maintain his role as my fierce and shameless advocate throughout my treatment and recovery and, well, our married life, as it would happen. : )
When all was said and done, we cancelled that surgery, found another ear, nose, and throat specialist in the valley who we were much more comfortable with and I went forward with a biopsy (that the original office recommended we skip) to see if any of my thyroid could be saved. And when I say “we,” I mean my superhero husband who swooped in and saved the day, while I wandered around bemused and generally useless to myself. I don’t like talking about my time as a damsel in distress (so much so that I never even brought it up in my original Cancer Files).
I wouldn’t realize until much later, after years of wrestling with the question, “Who are you if not what you can do?” that those feelings of helplessness and uselessness and the knowledge that I could not take care of myself (much less be there in the lives of my family, friends, and animals as I was used to being) had devastated me more than the illness itself.