How I Turned Cancer Into The Best Catalyst Of My Life

This month marks nine years since I was diagnosed with the ‘c’ word – cancer. I have been contemplating whether I should blog about this. In the end, I decided to give it a go because my cancer story is a good one and is one that could bring hope to others. In fact, I would go as far to say that cancer was the best possible catalyst in my life. So, here is my story…

My diary entry on 7 April 2004
My diary entry on 7 April 2004

From the very beginning of my journey with cancer, I had luck on my side. In March 2004, I played my first game of netball for my primary school team. During the game, due to my utter lack of coordination and inability to catch, I was struck in the neck quite hard with the netball. Little did I know that this would potentially save my life. The following morning, I woke up with a very large lump protruding out of my neck. This was obviously quite worrying and I was taken to see a doctor that day. I was sent for a number of tests and had to go and see a thyroid specialist, who conducted further tests on me. In the end, it was discovered that the impact of the netball on my neck had caused an unidentified nodule on my thyroid to haemorrhage. Straight away, I was booked into surgery.

On 20 April 2004, I underwent a semi-thyroidectomy, where one half of the thyroid is completely removed. Despite my bad reaction to the anaesthetic that caused me to vomit profusely, the recovery from the operation was very easy. It only felt like I had a sore throat. Naturally, I thought that everything was all well and good. However, that feeling quickly changed when my surgeon called my hospital room the next day to advise my parents of the pathology results from the part of my thyroid that was removed. The nodules were malignant – I had thyroid cancer. I was only eleven years old.

That day is clearly etched in my mind. It was incredibly overwhelming and emotional. Being so young, I had a lot of difficulty understanding everything that was happening. However, I instinctively knew that I had to remain positive. Immediately after my discharge from hospital, I went home and wrote a poem about positivity. Looking back on this now, this was a defining moment in my life. It changed my outlook on life and I continue to live by the sentiments I wrote in that poem about staying positive. The weeks and months that followed were quite intense, both emotionally and physically – filled with specialist consultations, more tests and a lot of crying. But I never lost sight of my ‘glass half full’ attitude. And I had an amazing support system to help me along the way, to whom I will be forever grateful.

In hospital after my second operation... Cancer-free!
After my second operation… Cancer-free!

Despite the fact that thyroid cancer was incredibly rare in someone my age, I was extremely fortunate that the treatment was quite easy. I had to undergo another semi-thyroidectomy to remove the remaining half of my thyroid. My surgeon was confident enough that he had removed everything that I did not need radiation therapy. I was cancer-free! From then on, all I had to do is take a tablet everyday for the rest of my life, get regular blood tests and get a colonoscopy every five years. To this day, I am still cancer-free and am living an absolutely awesome life.

I know that my cancer experience was easy. There are so, so many people who have immeasurably worse struggles than I did. That is why I used my cancer as a catalyst to make the most of my life. I learnt so many invaluable lessons from it at a very young age – including the fact that you are never guaranteed tomorrow. It established a great conviction in me not to jeopardise my own life, which served me well during my teenage years, when I had absolutely no interest in getting involved in drugs or smoking. It has pushed me to seize opportunities to learn and grow as a person, which I may have otherwise been to scared to take. It made me realise how worthless materialistic things are in the grand scheme of things. And, of course, it encourages me to take every chance I can to travel overseas, because I want to explore and embrace as much of this beautiful world as possible. Overall, it taught me that life is not always easy, but it is always worth it… It is just about attitude.

Sure, I could be bitter about having to experience cancer at all, but I am not. In many ways, I am grateful for it, as I have truly turned it into a positive outcome for me. While I completely understand that some people simply do not have a choice, as cancer is often a vicious and fatal disease, I hope that my story can bring hope to some people in continuing to remain positive and strive for the light at the end of the tunnel.

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