by Jennifer Mary G.
The butterfly-shaped organ nestled inside of my throat made a death threat, a silent threat that began with a handful of malignant cells and blossomed into something palpable. When I closed my eyes and asked myself, “How did this happen?” I imagined the cells, all clustered together, multiplying, conspiring against me, until—victorious—they formed a marble sized mass that barely protruded from the left side of my neck just above my collarbone.
If motherhood hadn’t already claimed me, perhaps the two ugly words—thyroid cancer—wouldn’t have felt ever present, like a cloud of pollution hanging in the air. Since I was in the habit of counting tiny toes and dozing on a rocking chair by moonlight, the magnitude of the diagnosis felt intense, almost unbearable. Even though the prognosis was good, I didn’t feel like a statistic.
Husbands may have a way of keeping feelings to themselves, yet worry spilled all over mine’s face. His look told me he loved me much more than any wedding vows could pretend to promise. He stayed up late drinking copious amount of Irish tea and I awoke more than once to find him staring at me while I slept. He eagerly devoured vegetarian take-out in the hopes I would do the same.
Friends and family came calling as soon as the dreaded c-word leaked out into the world. I felt their love, their support, their concern. In fact, relationships took on new depths. My inner circle showed dedication in seeing me through the surgery and treatment with companionship, home-cooked meals, and happy distractions for my children. I requested no tears and only positive thoughts. They thankfully obliged.
In the days before the surgeon removed my thyroid, I became a sensory addict, memorizing with the precision of both a research scientist and a Hollywood filmmaker the cooing sound of my new infant, the smell of my husband as he embraced me, my toddler’s laugh, the fine lines on my mother’s face, and a myriad of other tiny details in my life. Was the clarity from anxiety? Adrenaline? I felt connected in ways I never knew possible.
The hours after the surgery were an awful mix of vomiting and pain, due to the incompatibility of estrogen and anesthesia. Being six weeks postpartum apparently fueled my nausea and my out-of-body experience, which made me a witness to the recovery process rather than a participant. This feeling lasted for weeks.
An unwelcome complication caused the temporary paralysis of my parathyroid, an organ needed to regulate calcium levels and maintain proper muscle function. As a result, my hands balled into awkward fists and reminded me of the way my grandmother’s limbs atrophied in the nursing home. The daily intake of chalky tablets, along with the healing process, quickly resolved the problem, although the experience humbled me.
Once I got past the Twilight Zone phase, I slowly felt more whole. My body successfully tolerated the synthetic drug I would rely on for the rest of my life and the doctor titrated the medication to the proper dosage within a matter of months. Nevertheless, bits of anger crept in. I had been robbed of many “firsts” with my growing infant during my recovery fog. My eldest, only two years old at the time, feared the boo-boo bandage on my neck, then later the red scar that looked precisely like someone slit my throat. My mommy plan never included those things.
In time, the scar faded into a thin pale line, and my energy came back. I often found myself anxious, but I tried to savor life’s blessings. Cancer, besides being a malignant growth, became a phenomenon difficult to eradicate. The tumor was gone, but the impact remained.
Strange as it may sound, one haunting thought surmises my emotional baggage from this journey—I can never survive on a deserted tropical island. Well, not unless levothyroxine grows on palm trees.
Jennifer Mary G is a former science teacher turned writer. She is currently working on her first novel, a young adult fantasy, with the support of an online writing program at Stanford University. She lives near the Jersey Shore with her family and, although never far from her laptop, enjoys traveling off the beaten path.