The news came the day after my daughter turned 3. The test results were in, and they left no room for doubt. At some point in the recent past, a part of my body that has kept me alive for the past 35 years turned traitor, and started growing in ways it shouldn't have.
I have cancer.
When I talk about it with friends and family, I'm cool as a cucumber. It's only thyroid cancer, I tell them. All it takes is an operation and some radioactive iodine, and I'm done. There's no chemo, no nausea, no hair loss, and no more cancer. With a lifetime on medication, I won't even miss my thyroid. I crack jokes about the emotional capital this gives me in arguments and get-togethers, and I leave them in hysterics. Who knew that having one of the great medical scourges of mankind could be so much fun?
Away from others, my emotional guard lowers. I watch as my daughter plays happily with her new toys, and I find myself looking white-knuckled into the future and wondering if she will grow up without a father, or, what may be worse, with a father other than me. Without warning, a veil of silent tears falls and I sink again once more into self-pity.
Unspeakable fears assail me. How long has my thyroid potentially been pouring cancerous cells into the rest of my body? What if the cancer has spread? What if it's not just in my thyroid now, but is growing somewhere else, unnoticed and biding its time? That could mean chemotherapy, radiation treatment, debilitating sickness and annual bioscans, wondering how long it will be until my body turns me again.
Cancer. The word itself is a disease. It spreads from one thought to another, mushrooming into every corner of my mind, growing larger all the time and infecting every area of my present and my future.
Every ache, every pain and every cough comes with sinister overtones. I've always had a bad cough, but hasn't it been worse the last few months? Didn't I feel that hard lump in my throat before and just assume it was my larynx? Did we catch this early enough, or did we lose precious time because I was too ignorant to notice the telltale signs that my body was starting to turn on me? How long has this thing been there anyway?
Endocrine Web, one of many places on the Internet with enough information to scare the layman senseless, noted that the most treatable thyroid nodules are 1 centimeter across, or smaller. Mine is twice that. Has it grown to the point that it's no longer easily treatable, or am I reading too much into it?
I realize I'm being ridiculous. I've lost track of how many people who have told me about their friends and loved ones who have survived thyroid cancer, and I know many others who have survived far worse cancers than this. My former pastor had cancer and survived; and a friend of mine was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkins lymphoma, but he's been in remission for fifteen years. My wife's aunt has had skin cancer and oral cancer, and she's fine. Next year at this time, I'll be looking back at myself and thinking "Putz" for being so rattled over something that in retrospect will appear minor and not worth fretting over.
Right now, though, I unconsciously touch the solid mass in my throat every hour as if I hope it miraculously will have disappeared on its own. I feel the extra hardness there whenever I cough, and sometimes I just stop what I'm doing, and out of the blue I put my arms around my children and tell them how much I love them.
I'm scared, but I'm going to win.