Winston Churchill was right. An attitude, both positive and negative, can make a big difference. Being diagnosed with cancer gave me an attitude, both bad and good. My attitude ranged from outright anger to eventual acceptance and understanding.
I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer (papillary carcinoma) in 2010. A statement a lot of people in their mid 20s don’t usually make. Luckily, I had one of the most common types of thyroid cancers. “Lots of people have it and you shouldn’t worry,” said doctors and family members.
But, it wasn’t common to me and I was going to worry. It was cancer. It was this dirty “thing” that was growing inside me.
I was mad. I was actually pretty darn angry, though I never displayed it to anyone until now. At the time, I was 24-years-old and already hurting pretty badly. I was out in Los Angeles hunting for a job with no luck. I was right in the middle of my life trying to make something of myself, when all of this hit. I didn’t need this nor did I want this. I was already experiencing enough failure.
I had expected the life we write out for ourselves as kids. Go through grade school. Make friends. Learn about being a good person from your parents. Go to college. Get a job. Find that one person to love forever. Be happy. My list had just been updated with a sub-category I wasn’t prepared for.
I decided to go home and handle this with my parents by my side. I took the tests, I answered the questions, I had the surgery to remove the tumor and get rid of most of the thyroid. I accomplished these steps in a few weeks with a lot of repressed fear and resentment.
About six weeks after the surgery, I needed a massive dose of radiation. I’d only have to do it once, but it would be major. So, the doctor gave me a radioactive pill to kill the cancer. Radioactive anything is dangerous, so for one week my insides would literally be considered hazardous. I went home and was locked in a room without contact from the outside world. If anyone got near me (human or animal), the poisonous waves could potentially kill them. It was surreal. It was almost like I was locked in a prison cell, but a prison cell with bad daytime television.
I took these seven days to think about everything. It was the perfect time for a self-evaluation. I determined in that week, my life wasn’t over. It was just starting. I would go back to Los Angeles and try again. I’d become someone new. I knew it would be hard; cancer would follow me around the rest of my life like an anvil tied around my body and soul. But, despite this, I wasn’t going to give up because I wanted more for myself. With a new sense of self-worth, I had completed my self-evaluation. I gave myself an A .
When the week was over, it was time for more tests. This round, I knew things would be different. My radioactive body suddenly felt lighter. That’s when the doctor told me, for all intensive purposes the cancer was gone. The radioactive elements in me would remain for a while, but I was ready to rejoin the world.
Though the cancer is gone, a year later I continue to have constant body scans. I can’t say I’m not worried. I am. I have a large chance the cancer might return. But, I look to my bright future of possible jobs and dreams here in Los Angeles with a list of things I’ve learned.
1. Make you the best support system you can have. Know that you can get through anything.
2. Know your family is the second best support system. They provide the key emotional backup.
3. If you need a moment. Take a moment.
4. Don’t stay angry or hold a grudge. It’s not worth it.
5. It’s not life or death if you want a cookie or a piece of cake. Eat. It’s fun and also quite tasty!
6. Laugh. It really is the best medicine in a bad situation.
7. Try something new. We’re only here once.
8. Always wonder. Your inner 5-year-old is right. Keep an open mind.
9. Appreciate your past, because it’s gotten you to your present.
10. The future is tomorrow, so remember you can always make a change.
You are all you’ve got, so go out and do it with an attitude.
You can read more from Alicia Gray on her Twitter.