A little bit about you
Name: Heather Brown
City: Smiths Falls, Ontario
What was/is your diagnosis?
Papillary carcinoma with tall cell variant (thyroid cancer)
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
2017 at the age of 32.
What is something you’ve done that you’re really proud of?
I have learned to speak up when I have a concern and advocate for my health as well as the health of my family. I am also understanding that it is okay to say no and how important self-care is.
What is a top item on your life to do list?
To find balance in my life between family, work, health, and life.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy volunteering as a Girl Guide leader and as a Catholic School Council member. It is important to me to give back. I also love to spend time with my family, love music (Backstreet Boys, Keith Urban, Josh Groban, One Direction, and Westlife to name a few of my favs), enjoy dancing, watching Netflix, baking, crafting, organizing, and shopping.
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
Life was busy trying to balance family life with two kids under the age of seven and working full time. I had a tendency to over commit to many activities. I was very dedicated to work as well.
How did you find out you were sick? What led to your diagnosis?
While trying to figure out why I was not feeling well, I thought it may be stress from work. I quit my full-time job thinking that stress was a large part of my health issue and had started a new full-time job in the meantime when waiting for results and follow up tests.
My family doctor and I were not anticipating a thyroid cancer diagnosis. I mentioned that I had lost my voice with no other symptoms for a week and my doctor decided to refer me to an ENT due to another medical condition that I have. I had blood work to check my thyroid levels which had come back fine. The ENT referred me for an MRI and we found two thyroid nodules.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
I was taken by surprise. I received my diagnosis while at work and was shocked. My husband, work place, and family were caught off guard. I recall when I told my children, my son who was six at the time asked if cancer was contagious. My daughter didn’t really understand what was happening.
In which hospital were you treated?
I was treated at the Kingston General Hospital in Kingston, Ontario.
What did your treatment consist of?
My treatment consisted of a total thyroidectomy surgery and then followed by Radioactive Iodine treatment (RAI) a few months later. I will also take medication for the remainder of my life.
In terms of non-medical effects, I struggled with sleep, exhaustion, bowel issues, and anxiety throughout my treatment and post-treatment.
What is your current medical status?
I am NED (no evidence of disease), continue to take medication and supplements, and receive follow up from my medical team.
Life after cancer
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually)?
Life is different now in some ways but I continue to work full time and volunteer. I am fortunate to have a string support network around me.
Physically, I am not as energetic and can get tired much easier. I also struggle with the effects of thyroid issues.
Emotionally, I do struggle with fear and anxiety for which I am exploring some strategies to help me manage this. I try to remind myself that I am grateful for many things in my life and to find the beauty in each day.
Socially, I find that connecting with others now after cancer is different than it used to be. However, I am really amazing group of friends who know me well and are always there for me.
What is the toughest part about having cancer as a young adult?
The toughest part has been dealing with fear and anxiety of a recurrence. I deal with this almost every day.
What really helped/helps you to keep going while you were/are sick?
My family, friends, and co-workers were my support and continue to be. Also, my team of doctors were and still are wonderful and that was helpful for me.
What kept you/keeps you busy during treatment?
All of the other parts of life kept me busy. I only took a week off from work for my surgery and a week off for isolation during my Radioactive Iodine treatment. Full time work (adjusting to my new work place) as well home life took a lot of my attention and energy.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer Canada? How did it happen?
I am connected to YACC via the private Facebook group, Localife Ottawa, and registered to attend a Survivor Conference. My first event was the Big Cancer Hook-up in January 2018 in Ottawa.
I found YACC while I searched for ways to connect with other young adult cancer survivors. I live in a small town and travel about 75 minutes to get to the hospital. I didn’t know of any other young adult cancer survivors in my area. I knew of older adults and family members that were survivors, but really craved to speak with other survivors with a similar diagnosis and age range. Typically, while at the cancer centre, I see older patients. When I found YACC listed on a list of supporting organizations for young adults, it was exactly what I needed!
Did you feel isolated from your peers since your diagnosis? If so, how did/does that affect you?
Yes, I did experience this. No one else within my friend group has had cancer. It challenges me to maintain connections with my friends as well as establish connections with YACCers and other young adult cancer thrivers to help with the isolation.
Did anyone talk to you about fertility options before treatment?
Not really before surgery, but I was told that I was not able to get pregnant within six months or so after Radioactive Iodine treatment. At the time of my diagnosis, I already had my two sweet children. I had previously discussed fertility and pregnancy related to genetics when going through genetic testing for another condition with another medical team.
Has your cancer diagnosis affected any of the relationships in your life?
Yes, it impacted my husband, children, and family. They have been alongside me throughout the journey and have seen me at my worst. I know that it hasn’t been easy for my family and friends.
I have also supported people close to me in their cancer journeys (and other medical issues) so have been in the role of a supporter.
If you have children, how has your diagnosis affected the way you parent? Do you have any tips for other parents on talking to their children?
I think that my children have been open and understanding of my cancer journey. It has changed me and so has changed me as a parent. I try to find ways to explain my experiences or feelings in a way that they can understand. Books and stories were helpful with this.
My children have shown resiliency and strength!
How has your cancer experience affected your body image, and your relationship to your body?
It has greatly impacted it. With my thyroid, I struggle with my weight. This has influenced my self-confidence. I am fortunate though that through my volunteering in Girl Guides, I work with young girls and teenagers to develop their confidence and body image. That reminds me that these lessons and strategies are just as applicable to myself. I also remind myself to be kind to myself.
What are some lifestyle changes you’ve made since your diagnosis?
I have working to eat more of a balanced diet, be more mindful (meditation, gratitude, reading some self-help books), accessing massage therapy, using essential oils, and being more aware of when my anxiety takes a hold.
Resources and recommendations
Which books/movies/podcasts/TV shows/etc. would you recommend?
The Soar Above Cancer podcast has been so inspiring.
Have you participated in any other retreats, conferences, programs, or support groups you’d like your cancer peers to know about?
May Cause Radiance, InspireHealth, Compassion That Compels, and Stupid Cancer are other great organizations that can offer support.
Stay in touch
What would you like to say to other young adults dealing with cancer who are reading this profile?
YACC can bring you strength and connection. Reach out, it makes the journey more manageable. There are wonderful staff at YACC that are always there for you. There are great YACCers always there even when things are tough.
Are you interested in helping others facing cancer challenges? If so please let us know how you can be contacted.
Yes! I am always happy to chat with anyone that is looking to connect, especially with anyone is overwhelmed about genetic testing.
[Email [email protected] and we’ll forward your message to Heather!]
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