By Heather Brown

During our YACCtivist training in October 2021, the team was lucky enough to complete a writing workshop with the great Sharon Bray. During this session we did a few “brain dumps” in which Sharon gave the team a topic and everyone had to just write on this topic with little planning and editing, and mostly honesty and heart. Over the next few months, we will be sharing these insights with you. Today’s insights are provided by Heather. Sit back and read her thoughts on fear and her cancer diagnosis.

I ended up having a thyroid ultrasound and then a fine needle aspiration and biopsy at my initial consultation with the endocrinologist. He said that the results would take about two weeks to come back.

Since I was only two weeks into my new job at the time, I requested a phone call with the results instead of having to take time away from work to drive back to Kingston.

About one week into that expected two-week wait, I missed a call from the hospital while in a work meeting. I tried to call back to reach someone for almost a day and a half, not getting the right person or missing their work hours.

Finally, on July 26, I received a call back. I quietly moved from my work desk to the room down the hall, to not disrupt my colleagues. I was expecting that the call would let me know that the biopsy results came back normal. I remember hearing the person on the phone say that I am being sent to an ENT surgeon. I had two thyroid nodules; one was cancerous and the other one was suspected to be cancerous. The fear was building inside me but I managed through the call, desperately trying to mark down the information about my appointment next week in Kingston.

Then, moments after I hung up the phone, the shock and fear of the words I just heard hit me like a ton of bricks. I let out a huge scream that seemed to go on for a while. I heard someone running down the hall at work and knocking at the door. My manager came to see what was wrong; the screamed startled them. Moments after, I just had so many questions amongst the wild tears flowing from my face. How did I have thyroid cancer? I was young and relatively healthy. My thyroid blood work came back fine. This doesn’t make sense!

I don’t know how I even feel. How do I tell this news to my family? How do I explain this to an eight-year-old and six-year-old? In what ways will this affect my children, husband, and family? How can I manage my family life, work life, and my health at the same time?

Will I lose my hair? What treatments will I need? Will I die?

I felt the fear and frustration from what was expected of me vs. how I felt vs. what I was capable to do. I should have been thriving in my life at the age of 32, but I could barely stay awake or focus on anything. I was falling asleep on the couch, barely able to stay awake after dinner to help the kids with their homework and to get ready for bed. I can hardly absorb the information I need to for my new job. I can’t stop work; I am only three weeks into this new job, and I can’t afford to not work. I don’t want to let everyone down. I want to be good at my job and make a difference. How can I be a good employee while trying to sort out this cancer stuff? Will they want to keep me past probation?

Will the cancer come back after whatever treatment I need? How will I know if it does?

I remember my manager, trying to comfort me in this terrible moment. Not having been prepared to walk into this situation on a Thursday afternoon. Not having resources to rely on. But, I was so thankful she was there with me.

I had to call my dad and step-mom to pick me up. I was not calm enough to drive home. I remember sitting on the steps to the building, waiting for them to get there, to bring me home to break this news to my husband.

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