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Cancer-Free… But Maybe Not

I’ve been planning this post for several weeks now: a celebratory post and a kick-off to a new blog series. The celebration? I’ve now officially been cancer-free for 15 years. I don’t have an exact date to mark because I didn’t know at the time that it would be the beginning of my remission, but my first “clean” scan was in January 1999, and I’ve never had to return to the thyroid cancer-time since.

But I should have remembered the lesson I learned in July last year: “It’s never over when they say it’s over.” (Not that doctors generally say this.) Sometime this week, I will be having a biopsy of a suspicious lymph node that turned up on an ultrasound I got as a 6-month follow-up to the July cancer scare. I wasn’t worried about this ultrasound at all; it was just a follow-up, no big deal. I actually forgot to expect the results until my doctor called late on Tuesday evening and gave me the news. When I hung up the phone, I cried for about five minutes, called my husband, and then summoned “ACCEPT” to get me through. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, so there’s no sense in worrying. I hope I’m still cancer-free. If I’m not, I’ll deal with it when it happens.

It’s incredibly ironic that this happened the very week I was celebrating 15 clean years. But if in the midst of tragedy we can find moments of joy, so then in the midst of joy, there must be some tragedy.

And so, the celebration goes on.

This month, I’m going to be writing about living with cancer, surviving cancer, and feeling grateful for cancer. I’m going to share my story, but I’m also going to share stories of others who have taken the cancer-journey more recently than I. The overall message will be of gratitude and celebration. I’m honest-to-God thankful that I had cancer, and even if it comes around again, even if life gets tough and messy and painful, I have faith that I’ll still be able to find the gratitude. Cancer made me who I am. I can’t not be thankful for that.

Here are some post titles you might see over the next month:

Let Cancer Define You (In The Best Way)

Why I’m Grateful For Cancer

Life As A Survivor

If Someone You Love Has Cancer, How Can You Help?

My Cancer Story

Their Cancer Story (interviews with other inspiring cancer survivors)

To My Support System, Now and Then: Thank You

I’ll posting this series every Monday and Wednesday in February (and possibly into March); Fridays will still be book-review days. (And I might take out a weekend post or two to show you my latest Stitch Fix. I’m so, so obsessed with this clothing service.)

Are you or someone you love in the “cancer club,” and feel that in some ways, cancer has changed your life for the better? If so, I’d love to hear your story. If you’d like to share, either just privately with me or as an interview for the blog, please email me at leannesowul@gmail.com

thank you cancer

2 Responses to “Cancer-Free… But Maybe Not”

  1. Janet Skinner says:

    Ah geez Leanne! I was celebrating 17 years remission from breast cancer when a lump appeared under my arm. I had an ultrasound that was reported as a solid mass and my oncologist called to say my cancer had returned, ordered an MRI and told me to contact my surgeon. I sat down, ate lunch and contemplated. I had just finished 6 months of Chemo for the Hep C that I contracted during my surgery for breast cancer 17 years before! All I could think about was whether I was strong enough for another round! I hadn’t even had the 6 months to see if the Chemo worked on the Hep C yet so wasn’t sure that it had eliminated THAT virus.

    After lunch I started the process and steps needed to be taken. Scheduled the MRI and called my insurance company to see if my surgeon was in my network. NO! Now onto the internet to search for a surgeon that I would feel comfortable with. I found one in NYC and scheduled that appointment.

    The MRI suggested cancer but there was also something odd going on. My visit to the surgeon was equally puzzling because he had never seen anything like it. Biopsy detected no cancer cells??? Two days later I was in for surgery.

    When I woke up, my doctor was standing there to give me the news. 17 years prior there was a pocket from my reconstructive surgery that has not fused. For 17 years I had an infection that my body kept building cells to contain. The interferon from the recent treatment created this to burst and therefore the lump. He drained the pocket (a full liter) of what he said was the strangest milky substance he had ever seen.

    Not cancer! 3 months later my blood work showed the Hep C virus undetected! For the first time in 17 years I am actually completely healthy, aside from the 30 pounds I am struggling to get off 🙂

    I am thinking of you! Stay strong!

  2. Leanne Sowul says:

    Janet, what an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing! I’m so glad to hear that your scare ended in relief, and especially that you’re healthy and clean now. You project such strength and warmth, it’s hard to imagine cancer ever taking you down. Best of luck for continued health!

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