It was 2011 and the year started off pretty normal.  April came and I had my annual physical exam (yay).  My doctor felt my neck as part of the exam and quickly moved on to the next thing on her list of to-dos.  As she was talking to me, something inside reminded me to ask her what the lump was on the left side of my neck.  I wasn’t going to say anything because after all, if she had just felt my neck, she would have felt the lump right?  Nope.  I asked her about the lump and she said, “what lump?”  I pointed it out,  she felt it, and asked, “how long has it been there?”  I told her about a year.  She felt it again and decided to order an ultrasound and referred me to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist for a fine needle biopsy of the lump. 

A couple of weeks later I went in for my ultrasound and what I thought would be a quick appointment, turned into never-ending one with picture after picture of almost every part of my neck.  At one point the sonographer asked, “Who referred you?"  The tone of her voice made my stomach sink.  A few days later I had my biopsy done by the ENT specialist.  The very next morning I got a call from his office asking me to come in that afternoon.  They said that he had made room on his calendar for me and recommended I bring my parents.  We met at his office and sat down.  He handed me a paper and said, “Here’s the results of your biopsy and this is what you have.”  The paper said “Papillary Carcinoma.”  He explained to me that this was a form of cancer but not one he knew much about.  He said, “These tests come back as false positives all the time so before you jump to any conclusions I’m going to refer you to an ENT surgeon.  They should be able to tell you more.”  I remember leaving his office feeling numb but hopeful, because these could just be false positives, right?

Nope.  A few weeks passed and we met with the ENT surgeon.  She was a cold woman.  She was running really behind for my appointment and was in a rush to move on to her next patient.  Without getting to know me she quickly started to relay her plans.  I specifically remember her saying, “I’ll open your neck from ear-to-ear and take out your thyroid and any other lumps we find.”  I remember saying something along the lines of, “well the other doctor said that there’s a good chance this isn’t cancer and it could have just been a false positive.”  At which point she sternly said, “No. You have cancer. You don’t test positive for papillary unless you have cancer.”  She quickly wrapped up the conversation telling me to meet with an Endocrinologist, then set up the surgery afterwards.  I remember walking out of her office in somewhat of a fog.  Mentally I just wanted to run away.  I was walking as fast as I could when my parents caught up to me. They hugged me and I cried in the middle of the hospital hallway.  I was scared.  I was only 26 years old, how could I have cancer?

The next thing I had to do was find an Endocrinologist.  I didn’t know where to find one so my parents and I started doing research.  In the midst of our research my dad found out that his friend’s mother-in-law worked for the #1 rated Endocrinologist in the state, Dr. Neil Kaminsky.  She made a call and he made room for me on his schedule.  He was a dapper old man with perfectly starched button up shirts, his initials embroidered on the cuffs of his sleeves and a perfectly tied bow tie. He took over my care like I was part of his family.  He felt my neck and said, “your thyroid feels like mush” then proceeded to explain the ins/outs of the Thyroid Cancer I had.  He asked which surgeon I met with and he said, “Well I don’t recognize the name and you’re not seeing her ever again.” He went on to say that the surgeon he worked with completed her fellowship at the Mayo Clinic and would be one of only two in the state that he would trust to do my surgery. 

Over the next few months my schedule was full of appointments, CT scans and more tests.  I was often upset and impatient.  All I wanted to do was get this cancer out of my body.  The surgery date was finally set…until it wasn’t.  It got postponed because it was near a holiday weekend and there wasn’t going to be enough people on the surgical team.  I was frustrated.  Why was this taking so long?

The surgery got set again and I had one last ultrasound appointment to map out my surgery.  The sonographer was thorough, took her time, and looked at every part of my neck.  She got to my jugular notch (the hole where your collar bones meet) and pushed really hard.  She turned her tool every which way and said, “do you feel something right there?”  I didn’t feel anything so she continued and completed the ultrasound.  I left the hospital and was walking to my car with my parents, when my phone rang.  It was the sonographer.  She said, “Can you please come back really quick?  I have a feeling that I need to double check something.”  We walked back inside, I laid on the table and she started the ultrasound again.  She focused on my jugular notch and was sure she could see something, a large mass near my aortic arch.  She immediately called the surgeon who happened to be wrapping up her work day.  The surgeon ran over and did a fine needle biopsy on the spot.  She got a hold of the pathologist to review the biopsy while we were still there.  About 30 minutes later she confirmed that the large mass was cancer.

My surgery was cancelled.  My surgeon wasn’t comfortable completing the surgery.  She was an ENT surgeon, she wasn’t qualified to work within my chest cavity.  My hope was deflated.  Why did this surgery keep getting postponed?  Where else in my body would they find cancer?  How large was the mass?  When would it be gone?  I just wanted it out.

My surgeon had connections at the Mayo Clinic and submitted my referral to those she worked closely with during her fellowship.  After a month or so of waiting we received a call from the Mayo Clinic stating that they would oversee my care and surgery.  They sent me a week long schedule of testing and the date of my surgery, August 24th.  

Upon arriving to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN I was met with the best healthcare I never knew existed.  I was also met by two world renowned surgeons who would oversee my care.  They had reviewed my case and presented it to a board of some of the best doctors in the world in order to define the path forward.  My parents and I met both of them together and they broke down every single test with us from blood work to reviewing each section of my CT to show us exactly where the cancer had metastasized.  The cancer had spread to most of the lymph nodes on the left side of my neck, a small portion on the right side of my neck and into my chest cavity.  The largest mass was slightly bigger than a golf ball and was resting against my aorta.  They took their time answering our questions and assured us that both the ENT and Cardiothoracic surgical teams would be in the room working together to remove the cancer.  I finally had hope again, this part of my cancer journey was almost over and I felt some peace knowing that I couldn’t have been placed in better hands. 

The day of my surgery came and I was surrounded by love from my parents, brother, aunt and grandpa (aka Gramps).  I told everyone I loved them, was taken back, prepped for surgery and before I knew it someone was telling me to open my eyes.  I opened my eyes and my surgery was done.  The next thing my surgeon told me was, “We got it all and we didn’t have to crack your chest.”  I was in pain, but I woke up happy.  The doctors met with my family and said, “She’s out of surgery, awake and for some reason smiling.”  They explained how smooth my surgery went.  My dad told the surgeons, “She had a lot of people praying for her.”  One of the surgeons replied, “we could feel it in the room.” 

A few days later I would fly home and continue recovering.  A few weeks after that I would go on to complete my radioactive iodine treatment and full body scan to see if there was cancer left anywhere else in my body.  There was no trace of residual cancer found.

They say when you’ve been diagnosed with the type of cancer I had and it has spread as much as mine did, there’s a chance that it will return because there may be some thyroid tissue cells left behind.  I have been closely monitored for the last 13 years.  I’ve had ultrasounds, full body scans and blood work completed consistently.  I’ve had zero recurrence of thyroid cancer.

Prior to this diagnosis I had been making bad, often times reckless decisions.  The way God worked in the midst of this storm wasn’t because of anything I did or deserved and it didn't happen by chance or coincidence.  God was the reminder that told me to ask about the lump.  He was the one who aligned me with the best Endocrinologist in the state.  He was the one that worked through the sonographer to find the large mass in my aortic arch.  Had she not found it, cancer would have been left behind.  He postponed my surgery because he only wanted to work through the best surgeons in the world.  He had a plan the entire time and it was better than the rushed, impatient plan I had for myself.  It was at this point in my life that I began learning who Jesus Christ was to me...My Great Physician, My Peace and My Sustainer. 

I wish I could say that this chapter taught me everything I needed to know in order let go and trust in his plans for my life, but this happened to be the first of many chapters God was using to pull me closer to Him. 

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