At the age of 41, I was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer. It was completely out-of-the blue, as I had no symptoms, except for a solid mass discovered by my doctor during a routine exam. The diagnosis alone was terrifying, but couple that with being the mother of two young children and it made the entire experience exponentially more so. While the ongoing journey affected my overall life profoundly, the time immediately after surgery turned my life’s perspective on end. In a good way.
In the first coherent moments after surgery, I was in a hospital room with Brian by my side. Everyone had returned home, I was in a ton of pain, thirsty and hungry. It must have been the drugs because I was suddenly concerned about a white gift bag sitting on the counter.
“What’s that?” I grumbled.
“Your dad bought you a few things while you were in surgery.”
I motioned for him to bring me the bag. I lifted my bed up, focused, and watched as Brian showed me what was inside. The bag contained three gifts: a square, a stone, and a scarf.
It was a flat, squared-shaped magnet, colored white and aqua that read, “Cancer Sucks. That is All.” Nothing speaks a greater truth. No matter where in your body or what kind, cancer sucks. It shakes your foundation and unsettles your soul. It is a logistical pain in the ass. It is very expensive. It’s scary. While I have no control over what cancer is or does, I can control the way I react to it or the way I deal with it. Some days I say this to myself and it helps; I mean it and believe it. Other days I laugh and laugh at myself, saying instead, what-the-fuck-ever sista; this shit sucks. Either way, it’s ok.
It was a polished white oval with gold script lettering that read, “Celebrate Life.” I have found there is no better way to do this than to sing at the top of my lungs along with Toto. I have found so much joy signing ‘Africa,’ tears actually ran down my face. I don’t know if it’s because I love the song so much or that I am so incredibly thankful that I didn’t lose my voice after surgery. When faced with the possibility of losing it, having a voice really is something to celebrate. I could have also been just really excited to be alone in my car. I’ve celebrated by saying ‘yes’ to almost everything lately. Yes to staying up late, yes to new shoes, yes to cookies for breakfast, and yes to TV binges both for me and the kids. All of which is okay. Life really is great and so much of it is worth celebrating. As much as cancer does totally suck, it could be so, so much worse.
There were actually two scarves, one hot pink and one aqua. We had planned a beach vacation prior to my diagnosis and were leaving 10 days after surgery. My surgeon gave me the okay to go but only if I made sure the scar was completely covered, protected from sun and water. I cannot think of a better way to accessorize a bathing suit in the middle of the summer than with a scarf.
I wore those scarves every day. There is no doubt people thought I was totally nuts. Picture it: black and white mod one piece, large brim black hat, and a hot pink scarf. If that isn’t the image of a high maintenance weirdo, I don’t know what is. Truthfully, if I had even one shit to spare, I still would not have given it. I wore those scarves with pride and let my flag fly. Be weird. That’s okay, too.
I discovered that days can be very much like the beach waves – some good, some not so great, some perfect. The important thing isn’t so much the quality of the day, but that the water is continually flowing. The best thing I can do is to give myself space to feel however or whatever I feel on any given day. An exercise in peace and patience. Either way, good days or bad, it’s okay.
These three gifts turned out to be a true reflection about life. We are all going to have times that suck. There may be days, weeks, or months that suck, and it may be really, really awful, but no matter what, hold on to the promise that it will get better. It will. Remember that there is always something to celebrate. Even the tiniest, smallest thing can be celebrated. Sing in the car. Laugh with your kids. Buy yourself the shoes. Have a cookie for breakfast. Let your freak flag fly. Be you. Be the best you, you can be no matter what. All of it is so totally and completely okay.