What’s Next?

I wrote recently about my rediscovered enthusiasm for running. The full truth is that I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years running–just not on a treadmill, a track or a race course.

The last time I got thyroid cancer, I ran as fast as I possibly could away from it. I participated in some online forums and even an in-person support group during my treatment, but my eye was always on what was next. School, work, the next big project. I met a wonderful friend during treatment and stayed close with her, but I remember telling her over lunch, “I’m not going to let this define me. When people ask me to define myself, I don’t even know if I’d list cancer survivor in the top 10, never mind the top five.”

Looking back, I’m a little surprised that I said that. I’ve been around enough cancer to hold survivors in the highest regard. But I was coming off a overly medicalized year–seemingly endless doctor’s appointments, testing, and surgeries for both endometriosis and then thyroid cancer–and I was DONE. I wanted to be anything but a patient.

I still do. Being a patient sucks.

The thing is, though, I will always be a thyroid cancer patient. My doctors don’t talk about being “cured” of thyroid cancer. No evidence of disease? Sure, and I can’t wait to hear that phrase used to describe my case. But I’ll always need to take medication to keep my body functioning as though I had a thyroid, and to keep the cancer at bay, and I’ll always need monitoring to make sure I keep that NED status.

But there’s the acute treatment phase, and then there’s what’s next. I’ve had some time to think over the last few weeks, and I can’t help but wonder whether this bout with thyca might be the universe trying to send me a message. Trying to outrun thyca hasn’t worked. So maybe I should turn the other way and embrace it, and try to fight it in a different way, whether by helping other patients, or using my research and writing skills to uncover why it’s the fastest growing cancer among women, or by talking about my experience to raise awareness.

I’m not sure what form my involvement will take in the future. For now, at least, I know I won’t turn my back on thyca when I come out of isolation at the end of July. First step: signing up for Cancer to 5k. If I’m going to run, I might as well do it with other cancer survivors.

Next year, when I run the Survivor 7 with the group, I’ll be proud to put myself in the survivor category.

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