Look on the Bright Side of Life
Late October 2015, and the year is dying. As I step out along the country lanes and scuff up the dry, withered leaves, I cannot help but focus on my own possible demise. Once again there are two enlarged lymph nodes where enlarged lymph nodes shouldn’t be, despite one thyroidectomy, two neck dissections, and four treatments of radioactive iodine. The possible implications start to play havoc with my mind. I start to think about arranging my funeral and sorting out my affairs. I change my bank accounts to joint ones, and try not to sink into a deep depression.
They say papillary thyroid cancer is a ‘good’ cancer. This had been told to me 10 years previously with just the right amount of bonhomie by a rather fortunate medic who had no idea what it would be like to suffer personally from an advanced stage 4 variety. The disease is slow-growing but relentless in its efforts to take over the body. Silent battles have been valiantly fought over many years with a clever, elusive enemy. However, casualties are now mounting at an alarming pace; the voice is croaky, the neck is stiff and painful, the eyes are dry at night and watery during the day, the thyroxine-induced palpitations are increasing along with bone thinning, and slowly but surely my vitality and joie-de-vivre is dissipating, along with the heat of the summer.
At the age of 47 I had only suffered from the odd cold or sore throat, and had been into hospital just to have my 2 babies. This was to change somewhat drastically with my cancer diagnosis in June 2005, initially mis-diagnosed as a multi-nodular goitre by a radiologist stuffed full of his own self-importance. I suddenly found that many doctors wanted to be in my personal space, although luckily I’ve been unconscious for the more serious intrusions. Their jovial bedside manner and tendency to understate matters is irritating; why not speak the facts as they stand and let the patient be informed of what is going to happen to them? I was never told that radioactive iodine could cause narrowing of the eyes’ tear ducts; I had to look up the information for myself after I was brushed off as having blepharitis and told to wash my eyes with baby shampoo! I eventually needed to be in another surgeon’s personal space as he repaired the tear duct in my left eye in 2009. The same surgeon repaired the right eye seven years later.
However, I am still here after 10 years of fighting. Metastatic thyroid cells invaded my lungs early on with the intention of finishing me off, but as yet I have no symptoms from the secondary lung cancer, which does not seem to grow. I take my daily constitutional walks around my village, inhaling the country air and mentally sticking up a middle finger at my foe. I’ve even purchased a bicycle, and relish the fact that I can still pedal out along the narrow roads and feel the breeze on my face. If villagers pass the time of day with me and ask why my voice is croaky, I tell them I have caught a cold. I must be known locally as ‘Germy’! I avoid pity like the plague; all I’ve ever wanted to be is ‘normal’, the same as everybody else.
What is ‘normal’? Everybody in this life at some time or another has a cross to bear. There is no point in bleating ‘Why me?’ The answer is ‘Well, why not?’ Why should I be singled out for a trouble-free life? Bad luck affects us all in different ways. With me it’s thyroid cancer, but others can be worse off in their misfortune. Life is not a bed of roses, and we have to deal with the lot we have been given. This is where I am fortunate because twice in my life thyroid cancer, strangely enough, has worked in my favour.
The first time my dark cloud had a silver lining was after the initial thyroidectomy operation in 2005. One vocal cord was permanently paralysed during the procedure, and I was left with a whisper of a voice for many months. At the time I was working as a grade 2 clerk in a busy hospital, and could no longer answer the phone or speak to patients and relatives who came up to the desk. I was re-deployed and promoted to a grade 3 assistant medical secretary, typing clinic letters only, rising to a grade 4 secretary when a semblance of a voice had returned and it was proved that I could do the work. Seeing as it was a medical secretary’s post I had been after when I initially joined the hospital’s staff in 2002, my dream had at last come true. I did not possess the qualifications initially to apply for a secretary’s post, and had originally been turned down countless times when I had applied for job vacancies. Thyroid cancer had stepped in and given me what I wanted!
The second time it worked in my favour was in October 2014 when after a period of 7 years’ remission, the cancer returned. I needed a right neck dissection, and the procedure caused my voice to disappear again, no doubt because of the trauma of intubation. I was by then 57 years old, suffering more with the effects of the various operations I had had, and I decided to take early retirement on grounds of sickness and disability. I had had enough trying to hold down a job in-between undergoing procedures. My oncologist put up a good case for me, and I was granted my pension. I am now free to do the thing I have always wanted to do all my life – write novels!
To date I have written 8 novels and 4 novellas, and am currently working on a book of short stories. I am having a ball while I suffer the effects of my cancer treatment. I have my own little space in our lounge, where I sit and let my creative instincts take over and banish thoughts of death and disease from my mind. Sometimes I even forget to start cooking dinner, so lost am I in the twists and turns of my plots. My husband is kindness personified, and is only too happy to see me enjoying what life I have left. I sell my stories on Amazon to supplement my pension, and to date have sold over 1000 books.
The waiting is one of the worst things about this disease. First you wait for surgery, and then you wait for a diagnosis. Following treatment you wait to see if it has been successful, if it hasn’t then you must wait for more treatment. If your thyroxine dose is incorrect, then you wait 6 weeks for a blood test after taking an increased or reduced dose, because a new strength of thyroxine takes 6 weeks work properly. I have spent 11 years as a lady-in-waiting.
What length of life do I have left? Who knows? It’s as long as a piece of string. It could be 30 years, or it could be 3. I have exhausted two of the treatments, surgery and radioactive iodine, but still have two more to go before the doctors hang up their white coats and walk out the door. The third treatment is external beam radiotherapy, with its drastic side-effects and possible hospitalisation for an eventual inability to swallow. The fourth and final treatment is a new drug on the market, which also has many side-effects. Apart from surgery and radioactive iodine I have also had four sessions of healing with a world-renowned spiritual healer. God alone knows if it was the surgery or the healing which helped, but my latest scan results at the end of January 2016 showed no evidence of any thyroid cancer cells in my neck, and the two enlarged lymph nodes that could be seen in October 2015 had shrunk. They say I’m doing well, and therefore I hope to be around for many more years to come.
What lies ahead? None of us know, and perhaps it’s better that way. Not a single one of us gets out of this life alive. My own father died of cancer at the age of 49, and without the interventions I’ve had my life would have been similarly shortened. He never knew my two sons, and I would never have met my four grandchildren, which fill my life in a way only grandchildren can, if I had not had the treatment I’ve had. Every day is a bonus for me now, and I’m making the most of life while I can. I’ve just been upgraded from 3-monthly follow ups to 6-monthly, so don’t worry about me, I’m doing very well!
Stevie Turner © 2016
I began my writing career as far back as 1969, when I won an inter-schools’ writing competition after submitting a well-thumbed and hastily scribbled essay entitled ‘My Pet’. A love of words and writing short stories and poems has carried on all throughout my life, but it is only now in middle age that I’ve started writing novels full-time and taking this author business seriously.
I have just published my second short story ‘The Noise Effect’ and a tenth novel ‘The Donor’ will be published on 26th December 2015. My novels are realistic, but tend to shy away from the mainstream somewhat and focus on the darker side of relationships. However, you’ll find I do like to add in a little bit of humour along the way. In January 2015 my third novel ‘A House Without Windows’ won the Goodreads’ eBookMiner Book of the Month Competition, and was chosen as a medal winner in the New Apple Book Awards 2014 Suspense/Thriller category. Also in late 2015 it won a Readers’ Favorite Gold Award.
I have also recently branched out into the world of audio books. Two audio books ‘The Daughter-in-law Syndrome’ and ‘A House Without Windows’ are available for purchase, and the rest are currently in production and will become available in 2016.
So here I am in the late summer of my life, and the words are tumbling out of my head. Living for more than a few years has given me plenty of subject matter to write about, and I look forward to sharing quite a lot of it with you.
Thank you so much for taking part Stevie!
To see the full list of authors taking part in this month-long blog tour, [click here]
To find out what “They Say I’m Doing Well” is all about, [click here]
Stevie is giving away FIVE audible.co.uk codes for her humorous audiobook The Pilates Class. Comment on this blog post to show your interest!!!