Do you remember how you felt after you were diagnosed with thyroid cancer/disease? I do. I had a mixture of feelings course through my body, all of which I remember vividly. One of those feelings was a sense of being alone. I did have friends and family supporting me, but I remember feeling like no one understood what I was going through. Nobody knew what I was dealing with but me. A few months after my cancer diagnosis, I was put in touch with another young adult who had been diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer several years prior. Though she was cancer-free when I contacted her, I was excited to talk to someone who could relate to what I was dealing with. I was no longer going to have that feeling of being alone…so I thought. Let me share with you the abridged version of our phone conversation:
Me: Cancer is really hard to deal with mentally and emotionally.
Girl I am hoping to relate to: Yeah, I know. You need to talk to your doctor about it. I did and my doctor really helped me.
Me: Okay, great! Thanks so much for the advice! So I’ve had several people tell me that if I had to get cancer, thyroid cancer is the one to get.
Girl I am starting to relate to: Yeah, that’s true!
Me: (complete silence)
Girl I no longer relate to: Thyroid cancer is usually pretty easy to treat.
Me: (More silence. I don’t know how to respond, so I just move on.)…It scares me to think about how long it’s been in my body.
Girl whose face I want to punch in: Oh, it’s been in your body for a REALLY long time.
Me: (Sobbing on the inside) You’ve been helpful. Thank you so much.
Girl who must not know what cancer is: Call me anytime.
Me: You’ve been a real treat. Thanks for making me feel worse than I already did.
Needless to say, the phone call was a complete failure. I contacted her looking for community, someone I could relate to, and I didn’t get it. After that phone conversation, I felt like I was the one who was abnormal for thinking thyroid cancer wasn’t easy. I thought I was being irrational for fearing the cancer would take over my body. I needed that girl to validate my feelings, but she didn’t. I never called her again.
Eventually, I looked elsewhere for support. Now I’m involved in online and offline support groups. Though very different, I gain valuable support and insight from both types of community. Not only do I enjoy community, I need it. I need it for multiple reasons:
- To not be alone. No crap, Sherlock! Seriously, though, I have learned that I am emotionally and mentally healthier when I know I am not alone in what I’m going through. I need community for my health.
- To have someone understand me and validate what I’m going through. I need community to tell me my feelings are normal. I need community to tell me I’m not insane!
- To be encouraged when going through a tough time. It’s comforting to know that when I’m having a hard time, I don’t have to deal with it alone. I need community to lift me up with words of encouragement when living with cancer has me down.
- To be encouraged when things are going well. I need community on the days when I’m not flipping out about what’s going on inside my body because I need others to appreciate the good days with me.
- To tell my story and bend an ear to someone else. For me, sharing my experience with cancer is cathartic, and participating in a community gives me the opportunity to share what I’m going through. And if my experience helps someone else, well that’s just icing on the cake.
I hope you know this is a great community. Thymmunity, you are welcoming and open. You are non-judgmental. You’re supportive and informative. You’re willing to reach out and carry those who are too tired to keep walking. I really could go on and on, but because you’re so great, I’m leaving you with a call to action. One of our youngest community members (“B”) has thyroid cancer and is facing a hard journey. With external beam radiation and quite possibly chemotherapy in her near future, she needs this community to rally around her and cheer her on as she courageously moves forward with treatment. Let’s bombard her with love and encouragement. Here’s what we at Dear Thyroid want you to do: send “B” a card showing your support and your love. Let her know we’re all in this together. Remind her why she’s fighting. Remind her she’s not alone.
Send your cards to the following address by July 31, 2010 to:
Attn: Katie Schwartz
1925 Century Park East, suite 2300
Los Angeles, CA 90067
We’ll package all the cards together and ship them off to our young thyrella. I know this community will step up in a big way. Let’s show her the power of a unified front. Cancer can do a lot of things, but it cannot destroy this community.
What do you look for in a community? How has a good community helped you deal with your cancer/disease?