It’s September! What does that mean? For me, it signals the end of summer and the pleasant change of weather from hot to cool and crisp. It means the start of another school year, organizing lessons and experimenting with fourteen different ways to arrange the desks in my classroom. It’s waking up early on the weekend to barbecue and enjoy friendly banter with fellow football fans. It’s a great month, one of my favorites. So I was caught a little by surprise after walking into this brief exchange with my husband.
Him: Hey, you should write a blog this month about thyroid cancer.
Him: Because it’s Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month.
Me: It is?
Him: How do you not know that?
Why would I know that? Oh yeah. Because I’ve had thyroid cancer a bunch of times. You’d think I’d be someone who knows when Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month is. That makes sense.
But why is that even a thing? Why is there a month? Who decided on that? When I think about the month I personally became aware of thyroid cancer, it’s not September, it’s April. It’s April 2007 and, believe me, I’ve been aware of it every day since.
I think I was most aware of it when I went in for my second operation. My diagnosis was still very fresh, and I was heading into the nine-hour marathon surgery that produced the obnoxious scar that starts just under my left ear and travels down to my collarbone and across to the other side of my neck. I had a few meltdown moments in the days leading up to it, mostly because “am I going to die?” was all I could think about.
During the months of post-op physical therapy, it was more of the same. Those days were tough because I could barely move. My first weeks were spent sitting on a training table trying to turn my head, frustrated because I could only move it about a centimeter on either side. I cried a lot during those months when my focus was “will I ever be the same?”
I was aware of it when the cancer came back again. And again. And again. For my most recent is-this-really-happening-again moment, I had to travel to the Mayo Clinic. It was February in exotic and tropical Rochester, Minnesota. I’m joking. My mom traveled with me, the only other person I know on this planet who might actually punch cold weather in the face if it were a real person. During that trip, the freezing temperatures took my awareness to a whole new level.
The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.
Here’s the thing about awareness: after a while, it gets annoying. I have cancer. Okay, God, you have my attention. Now what? Who am I now? Is this what life is going to be like from now on? What exactly am I supposed to do with this information? To know something about yourself is a waste unless you come to terms with the why behind it. Just knowing isn’t enough. The knowledge, the awareness has to graduate and become something bigger. Something more meaningful. It has to change from knowledge to acceptance to, dare I say it, appreciation. That is the journey to peace, going from being aware to discovering a way to move forward.
The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.
In the early days, when I knew about my disease, I was lost. I was sad. I was scared. But once I began to understand what God was doing in my life through this disease, I started to feel different. I started to change. I began to feel a purpose, that there was more to me and for me than simply the sickness. He began to reveal the “why,” through people who crossed my path, ideas that suddenly came into my brain, and extraordinary things that began to happen. Then it stopped being about what I knew, and it started being about why. It started being about what I was supposed to do.
Is it scary to think that doctors removed the part of my body that is responsible for things like metabolism, regulating heart rate, and making sure my vital organs are functioning properly? Yep. Sometimes that is scary, but I’m not going to dwell on it. What’s the point of simply sitting with that knowledge? Even though my brain sometimes wants to go there, I don’t stay there for very long. I’m not thinking about that now. I’m aware that God’s got me. I’ve accepted that He’s got a plan and purpose for my life. Otherwise, what am I still doing here?
I appreciate whatever time I have left and the opportunities that He puts in front of me. And every day, I rest peacefully in His grace and mercy. And then I take that why, the meaning amidst the suffering, and I remember that it’s in the why that God will show us the way.