Friday, April 30, 2010

“I know that you can do the impossible”

I got approved for life insurance this week!

And April was cancer month. Or so said the National Cancer Society.

What do these two random items have in common? My thyroid. Because it was eleven years ago this week that I had the first of two surgeries for thyroid cancer. And while that's something to celebrate, it's also been eleven years since anyone has agreed to insure me. Every time I've tried for insurance, someone reads my health history form, sees the "cancer" box checked off, and rejects me. I've been told that I can't even donate blood. But this time was different. This time, I got a second letter, with a more detailed questionnaire, wanting to know about the type of cancer I'd had (Thyroid, papillary), size of tumor (2+ cm), stage (II), and treatment (surgery x2 plus radioactive iodine). And then finally after all these years, someone somewhere deemed me insurable. They believed in me.

I wish I could say that I'd always believed in myself, but there aren't a lot of cancer success stories out there. Or, at least, there haven't been in my own experience.

My father died of cancer in his early forties, as did his mother, so yes, I suspected that I'd need to be watchful when I got to that age. What I didn't know was that it would hit me so much earlier - at 28. The writer in me likens it to the final fairy in Sleeping Beauty. You know, the one who says she can't remove the curse of the evil fairy, but she can soften it a bit, by making it 100 years of slumber instead of instant death? I see my cancer kind of like that - as if it was, genetically, perhaps inevitable. But also as if someone (okay - my dad) was watching out for me, and trying to soften it a bit, by making it happen while I was young and otherwise healthy, and by making it one of the least deadly cancers.

My doctors all called it a "good" cancer, because of its excellent long term survival/cure rates when caught early, but I refuse to to describe any cancer as "good". Young or not, treatable or not, cancer is terrifying. And I didn't know, for a long time, whether I had the physical and emotional strength to get through it. But because I had my surgery in late April, and the final pathology report (aka official cancer diagnosis) in early May, the plastic grocery bags they were giving out that year right after I got the news were still left over from "cancer month", and they all said "Cancer Can be Beaten". Up until that time, I hadn't actually known many people who'd proven that. And honestly, today, I still don't. But I tore a bag open, stuck it on my fridge, and I left it there for months, through another surgery, through radioactive iodine treatment, and through the time I just felt awful because I'd lost the gland that controls everything in body, and the replacement hormones just didn't seem to be helping. And every time I looked at that bag, I felt a little bit of hope.

Today that bag is in the front of a scrap book I made during that awful period, along with pictures of all of the flower arrangements that I received, and every single "Get Well" card. Individually, they were all powerful. But together, they were tangible proof that other people believed in me when I couldn't do it myself.

Now that I've been approved for life insurance, I have proof that finally, eleven years later, the statistics believe in me, too.

Terry Fox said "I know that you can do the impossible". Breaking the family curse once felt impossible. But maybe I just did it.