FROM CLOVELLY IS A SURVIVOR OF THYROID CANCER AND A MEMBER OF CANCER COUNCIL ONLINE COMMUNITY
Emma Grant-Williams, Actor, TV Presenter and author of the blog The Red Shoes is a survivor of Thyroid Cancer. Having supported her mother through a breast cancer journey, she knew listening to her intuition was not negotiable when she kept hearing “Endocrinologist. Endocrinologist. Endocrinologist!” over and over again as she fell asleep at night.
Emma’s initial tests came back with slightly raised hormone levels which resulted in a recommendation to repeat the tests in 6 months.
Two years later with a few seemingly unrelated symptoms Emma recalls her intuitive feeling and seeks out a holistic endocrinologist who recommends a biopsy and then refers her to a surgeon.
What is this chapter of my life to be called? Is it the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?
“It is unfortunately cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer. It’s also present in the lymph node we removed.”
I nod, keeping my eyes focused on his face. I daren’t even glance at any other face in this room lest my entire body and mind rip apart at their very seams and all my stuffing spills out like an abandoned rag doll. He’s saying he’d like to schedule surgery to remove the remaining part of the thyroid, followed by radiation treatment 4-6 weeks later.
“Let’s do it as soon as possible.”
I wake up in hospital 8 days later, only this time the Endone has had the opposite effect and it’s all I can do to breathe without sobbing, and I eventually fall back into a deep sleep. Two hours later, I reawaken to notice two very neat matching scars, looking like a little smile across my sore and stiff neck. They start me on daily Thyroxine – the first day of the rest of my life.
That’s me now, that’s my box? I’m the cancer girl? How do I process this?
Curiously, I feel a strength surging through me, like a warrior woman filled with fire. When I close my eyes, I am flooded with images of me scaling mountains. By the second morning, my suitcase is packed and I’m sitting upright on my bed, washed and dressed, asking to be discharged. Luckily they let me go that morning, turning out to be the best Valentine’s Day present ever!
In the days and weeks that follow, I spend most of my time in parks, churches and meditation. I receive support, cards and flowers from friends and family, but I spend the majority of my time alone, my phone on silent, my emails screened. I stare at oceans and trees, sit in my little hanging chair, and wonder where to put all of this? What is this chapter of my life to be called? Is it the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning?
Most of the time, I detachedly observe what goes on, as if I were watching a midday telemovie. The only time it feels real is when I’m asked on a form about previous illnesses and I realise I have to tick the box “cancer”. That’s me now, that’s my box? I’m the cancer girl? How do I process this?
And a realisation begins to emerge…
This “voice” set me on a new path, re-starting my heart, mind and soul. It’s demanded that I speak my truth
Before the diagnosis, my life had ground to a halt. This “voice” set me on a new path, re-starting my heart, mind and soul. It’s demanded that I speak my truth, even in the face of doctors who are only concerned with “normal” (and not what a patient’s subjective experience is). It’s asked me to make difficult life changes, and to become a staunch advocate for myself and my needs. Even when I’ve tried to ignore it, swallow it, or second-guess my choices – God knows I’ve done all I can to be “normal” – this “voice” has persisted to get me answers and care.
I don’t know what happens next, there are scans to be done and bloods to be taken, and boxes to tick, probably for the rest of my life. But it isn’t my measure of living life successfully any more.
I’m more interested in how fully I can live my life.
I’m more interested in how fully I can live my life, what I can create, how I can bring integrity and authenticity to what I do, and how much I can love, myself and others. It’s not without its scary moments: as a self-admitted perfectionist – reluctant to even take a painkiller – being dependent on thyroid medication for the rest of my life is deeply confronting. But this is about “accepting Life on Life’s terms”… so patience is the soup du jour.
And thus, a new-born trust in myself and a strength are born. A deep gratitude for my intuition, and for my body’s ability to heal. Realising the incredible power of what it is to be human.
Emma reached out online for support during her cancer journey. “I wish I’d come across the online community sooner”
People across NSW have been supported through their cancer journey by services and programs provided by Cancer Council NSW. Hear their stories.
The impact of cancer is far more wide ranging than simply physical health. People affected by cancer face a wide range of both practical and emotional challenges. Here we share the stories of people who have experienced the support available through Cancer Council NSW from the rural West to the coastal edge.
The information, support services and accommodation provided helped to make their journeys easier.