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Moving forward

By Jennifer Ryan

I have been thyroid-less and cancer-free for a little over three years now. While I am grateful for the clean scans and repeated positive bloodwork results, life is very different. The “normal” I have been chasing for the past three years is long gone and I’m only recently at peace with that reality.

Cancer has wreaked havoc on my 35-year-old body. After my second surgery to complete my thyroidectomy, my body completely crashed. Unfortunately, my parathyroid glands were compromised during surgery as they were attached to my cancerous thyroid and this added to my overall recovery. As my medical team worked with me to find the right dosages of thyroid replacement and calcium supplement to help me function, I was a zombie with severe fatigue, dizziness, and crippling joint pain. It felt like there was a new ailment to battle every day. It was a very mentally draining period of my life as I tried to navigate the joy and gratitude of being cancer-free while also combating what felt like my brand-new broken body.

I felt an overwhelming sense of urgency to get back to work following my treatments. In hindsight, I wasn’t ready. I thought if I jumped back into the classroom and into my routines, it would help put this whole experience behind me and that my body would magically start to cooperate again. I was very wrong. While I love my job as a teacher, it isn’t easy. The fast-paced environment of juggling a dozen things at once and tending to the academic, physical, emotional, and mental needs of a group of children is tough enough while you’re healthy. Throwing an illness on top of that has presented a few challenges for me to sort through and I continue to try and find my way.

I take several medications throughout the day, and remembering to do that while in the midst of the hustle and bustle of an elementary classroom is a challenge. While I set alarms to help remind myself, I will often stop my alarm and continue teaching and then forget to take them. This results in my body reacting in need of the medication and that becomes my reminder to stop and take it.

I feel like before my illness, the busyness of the classroom did not affect me the same way as it does now. It is difficult to put into words but I just find myself in a tizzy more often with all the movement and different things occurring at once.

I’ve also struggled with kidney stones over this past year. I have to consume two litres of water daily to deal with this reoccurring issue. This does not jive with the structure of a school day. I cannot run back and forth to the washroom when I am responsible for 26 tiny humans. While this is a minor problem in the grand scheme of life, it is another thing on the list.

While it is easy to become consumed with the challenges cancer has placed on my life, I try to put more of my energy into what cancer has given me as I move forward. I am a better mom, teacher, friend and wife because of cancer.

Cancer has changed my perspective on so many aspects of my life that seemed to cause stress to me before. I feel I have more patience as a mom. I work hard on not sweating over small things like a messy toy room or house. Instead, I enjoy making the mess with them.

As a teacher, I have slowed down considerably. I don’t feel the pressure to fly through curriculum with my students, but to engage in more meaningful conversations about their social-emotional growth as human beings.

Throughout my cancer diagnosis and treatment, I had a handful of close friends who were extremely supportive to myself and my family and I will never forget how that support has impacted my life at such a challenging time. I am forever grateful for those people and am a better friend to them as a result.

It’s difficult to express how incredibly supportive my husband has been through it all. I was able to rest when needed and not worry about a thing while he juggled the duties of parenting three kids solo, household chores, working full time to support our family, and so much more. His endless love and support has enabled me to engage in many self-care activities such as YACC events and exercise classes, which have helped me immensely on an individual level so that I am better equipped to be a supporting, loving wife to him.

While life looks very different for me post-cancer, I have chosen to embrace the positive along with the negative. I am grateful to be alive and have this beautiful rollercoaster of a life to live. My new normal is pretty great and I’m happy to be here.

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