The next day was chock full of breakout sessions and meeting the exhibitors. I attended two of the breakout sessions, but the one that stood out the most was What Cancer Stole From Me: Grieving the Losses Associated With Cancer. During this session, the speakers had us write on two sides of an index card. The front was about what cancer has taken from you. The back was for something that people don't understand that affects our cancer journey. On the front, I wrote about my grandfather (d. 2005 of non-Hodgkins lymphoma), and my family suffering from familial papillary thyroid cancer (there's more about this in previous blog entries, if you are new to this blog). This was not the difficult part. The difficult part was the back. I wrote about how I am about to "celebrate" my 9th cancerversary, and yet the stigma that "thyroid cancer is the good cancer" still exists. It hurts to feel like my journey is easier than others, when really everyone's journey with cancer is different and cannot be compared. Of course, I didn't write ALL of that, but it pretty much stated that. After we wrote on our cards, one of the speakers read our cards out loud. When my card was read, I started to cry. I didn't understand why, at first. I've thought about this so many times, repeated it out loud to so many people. Why did it get to me so deeply? Why was this even still something that COULD reach my heart in such a way?
That evening was Stupid Cancer Pub Trivia. Team Badass plus my new thysister and her husband joined us. We did pretty well, and it was so much fun! Italia Ricci (lovely lead actress in "Chasing Life" on ABC Family, and awesome Stupid Cancer advocate) joined the fun and was watching at a table behind us. She came in so quietly I didn't even realize she was there! She looked like she was enjoying herself, and was such a sweetheart when people talked to her. The night was full of laughs, love, and badassery. ;-)
The next day was the last day of CancerCon, with breakout sessions in the morning and the last few speeches before the end of the conference. I attended two sessions: When Did Cancer Turn Me Into A Control Freak? and Your Next Chapter - Making Your Survivorship COUNT! The first one was pretty powerful because I was in a room full of people who felt like they had no control over their lives, and that cancer and its side effects were taking the pieces of control that we thought we had left. We talked about our feelings and about how we can take back control and rely on those who understand and give us comfort. We all were given a little fabric bag and little cut out pieces of index cards. We were told to write down things/people/places that make us happy and bring us peace. We were also told to write down various things that stress us out or make us lose our sense of control. At the end, we put our "happy cards" into our bag, and the "stress cards" into a bin to later be burned. It sounds crazy, but I felt like a weight was lifted from me. I knew I had let go, and I had a better grasp on what was important to me. It felt nice to throw those little cards made of nightmares into that bin. Good riddance.
During the second session, I got to watch two lovely and beautiful ladies, Tamika Felder and Helaine Bader speak to us about telling our story. I spoke up at one point to respond to them about a question, and I talked about what I wrote on that card the day before. Again, my throat closed and cried. I had a harder time saying it than I did writing it. I kept contemplating afterward why this kept catching me. It dawned on me later on, and that epiphany was hard to swallow:
I had cancer.
You're probably thinking, "Well, DUH..." But, honestly, that never did sink in before. Not as much as it did during the conference. People in the cancer world used to get so frustrated with me when I told them that my cancer was "no big deal," and that I "didn't go through as much as they did." I used to shrug it off, and say how I felt bad that I didn't suffer as much. I was told over and over again, "Dori. Cancer is cancer. There is nothing 'good' or 'easy' about it, no matter which type you have." That finally got through. After 9 years of that stigma of "good cancer" being thrown in my face, it finally hit me. I have had two surgeries, two RAI treatments, countless biopsies, scans, and blood work tests. This cancer is still not gone. It is still in my body. In fact, my blood work numbers are going up every 6 months. It's only a matter of time, really, before they need to go cherry picking in my neck once more.
I want to end these false ideas about thyroid cancer. I want to bring my knowledge, my story, and my family to as many people as possible. I want to inform and move people into being more aware of this disease and what it can do. I want to get to know and help those who already fight this every single day and feel so alone because they feel like no one understands. I want to be a person who really makes waves in the thyroid cancer world and in the outside world.
So, to close this long, long entry, I will say this: I will be more involved in the young adult cancer community, and I am going to do everything in my power to accomplish the goals I have set upon myself. You will see me again, and this blog will continue.
Until then, friends, I wish you love, happiness, and -- most importantly -- good health.