What I Learned Having Thyroid Cancer in College

What I Learned Having Thyroid Cancer in College

Succeeding in school while battling an illness is not an easy thing to do.

Last December during my sophomore year of college, I had a lot of health problems arise. I was home for Christmas break and started feeling very tired and sick all of the time. I didn’t think much of it because this had happened plenty of times since I started school the year prior. Living in a dorm with a bunch of other people means living in a dorm with a bunch of other people’s germs. I also wasn’t breathing very well but I thought this had something to do with the seasonal/situational asthma I had been diagnosed with in high school. Turns out, this wasn’t the case. What I had wasn’t aggravated asthma, the flu, or mono. What I had was cancer. It took a while to diagnose but plenty of tests and one surgery later we finally arrived at the conclusion that I had thyroid cancer.

Getting a Diagnosis

A CT scan I had of my lungs and chest showed that there was a large lump in my throat. In fact, this lump was so large that it was beginning to obstruct my trachea and causing me to have about a dime’s worth of space to breathe air through. A couple weeks later, I had a thyroid lobectomy to remedy the situation. My surgeon told me I probably didn’t have cancer. I was told people my age don’t often get thyroid cancer. I already knew someone whose 14-year-old daughter had recently had thyroid cancer and I later found out we had the same surgeon. I’m not sure he should have made that statement.

Because my case was so urgent, I had my thyroid lobectomy very soon after my CT scan and we even skipped doing a biopsy to speed along the process. Instead, the doctors tested the cyst from my throat after surgery. The lump they took out was about the size of a baseball and it turned out to be cancerous. I had to come back for another surgery to take out my other thyroid lobe and was to proceed with Radioactive Iodine Treatment.

The “Good” Cancer

After my diagnosis, I discovered that I had months of ignorant comments and exhaustion to look forward to. Some people treated me as though I weren’t sick at all, others asked if I was OK every other minute, and a select few people treated me nearly the same as always. The worst type of people, though, were the ones who diminished the seriousness of my illness by saying things like, “At least it’s the good cancer.” Yes, thyroid cancer patients don’t have to do chemo and we usually only need one or two surgeries but I didn’t have the “good” kind of thyroid cancer, let alone a “good” cancer. There is no such thing as “good” cancer. Just because the treatment for a cancer is less intensive doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard to deal with and won’t have lasting effects.

Some other unfortunate social side effects of having a cancer that wasn’t clearly cancer was the looks I would sometimes get. If I took an elevator or walked slowly because I could barely breathe and was exhausted, I would get funny or mean looks. Somebody once said to me while I was sick that people my age don’t know how good they have it. This person also said to wait until we grow up and find out how much life sucks. I had to try not to laugh. I knew that invisible illnesses could be difficult to deal with because people often don’t understand that you are really sick. I dealt with this to some extent having had anxiety and depression for years, however, it’s different when your invisible illness is a physical illness. It’s like something is actually wrong with your body. You are physically incapable of doing some things and people cannot understand because they can’t clearly see that you’re sick. I learned to communicate my sickness to others in a way they could understand and that has helped me so much. Luckily the people that I needed to understand my illness, including all of my professors, easily understood.

Staying In School

The reason why it was so important for my professors to understand my illness is because I stayed in school while I was sick. I was already in junior level classes and was taking two honors classes as well. I am an English major so almost all of my classes require extensive amounts of reading and writing, yet somehow, I stumbled through all of them and came out OK. By staying in school while I was sick, I learned that I could do anything with enough determination and hard work. I ended up getting a 4.0 for the semester and even boosting my cumulative GPA to a 3.9. Getting my grades back made me feel so good about the hard work I had to put into focus in class and on homework. Thyroid cancer makes you extremely tired and puts your brain into a horrible, jumbled up fog so focusing is not easy.

Saying "No"

When I first began my college career, I could never say no to anything. This would end up putting me under a lot of stress. However, when I was sick I learned to say no to things. When you have a serious illness, you have to know your limits. Discovering my limits while I was sick has helped me now that I’m getting better, too. Before I was diagnosed with my cancer, I had been given the opportunity of a lifetime for a college sophomore. I was going to stage manage a musical with more than 30 cast members. I was so excited and proud to get this kind of an opportunity. When I was diagnosed, I tried to stay involved in small ways but eventually, I had to say no. I started having to say no to a lot of things. I had to say no to almost all extracurricular activities. I had to say no to work. I even had to say no to reading unless it was for school. I could listen to audiobooks though. My life was school, the hospital, and home but that’s because that was all I could handle.

Having a Home

I was so appreciative of my family in this hard time. I learned that as long as I needed a home, my family would always have one for me. After I moved into my first dorm room, my parents got rid of my room back home. However, when I needed to stay with them they put a lot of work into making a new room for me. While this room wasn’t perfect, it was still something. It was somewhere I could go when I needed it. During the time that I spent having surgeries and being on weird diets I couldn’t even make it from my dorm to my classes on my small campus. My parents and grandparents live only about a half hour from my school so I slept at both of their houses at different times and they helped me get there. My aunt also helped out a lot by looking at my homework for me when my brain couldn’t even put thoughts into words. My grandma cooked my food when I was on a weird diet, too. I could not have gotten better without the support of my family. All families have their struggles and of course mine does too but when I needed them most they were there. The cancer I had can really mess with your emotions so I know I can’t have been lovely to live with but they put up with me in spite of that as well.

A Big Discovery

All I could do for fun whenever I ran out of homework was listen to audiobooks or watch TV. I simply did not have the energy to read. This was disappointing to me as a great book lover. However, my time spent watching TV in particular benefitted me in a huge way. I realized that something I want to do one day is write for television. There are other things I want to do like stage manage and write books, but writing for television is something I have a great drive for. As luck would have it, I even got to meet some actors and writers from my favorite shows I watched while I was sick. This happened when I got to go to the Motor City Comic Con not long after I was done with my Radioactive Iodine Treatment. This discovery is one of the best things I learned while I had thyroid cancer. Who knows if I ever would have realized this if I hadn’t been sick?

True Friends

One more thing to come out of having cancer in college was realizing who my true friends were. Some people who I was merely acquainted with stood behind me and supported me. This was nice and I now consider most of these individuals to be friends of mine. My best friends helped more than anyone, though. I already knew who my best friends were, of course, but I feel that helping me through this hard time made my friendship with them even stronger. My best friend from childhood goes to a different school but she made time to see me every time she came back for breaks. She also texted me more often than normal to make sure I was doing okay. Without that I don’t know what I would have done. I hadn’t felt closer to her in a long time and having that familiarity of a lifelong friendship really helped me get through the storm.

My other best friend is my roommate from that year. She was the only one outside of my family who saw me at my ugliest moments. She was the first person to see me after I found out my diagnosis. She kept the room clean while I was still staying on campus since I was much too tired and brought me food from the cafeteria when I couldn’t make it down there. This was especially helpful since I was super exhausted and it was winter. We had a lot of classes together and she recorded lessons for me when I needed to go to the doctor. She even offered to stay with me the one time I had to spend the night in the hospital. There were also plenty of offers to drive me to the ER, doctor’s appointments, and elsewhere. Most importantly she was more than happy to keep me company and even help me edit my work for class sometimes.


It’s been a few months since I finally started feeling better. I still have some weird health quirks that pop up every once in a while and I panic a bit every time something seems to be wrong with me. My immune system is pretty weak so I know I will probably get sick a couple times this semester. I’m doing a lot better overall though. I’m really excited to get back into the swing of things. I learned a lot about myself and those I surround myself with from being sick. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned but I hope that it doesn’t always take a huge setback to teach me the important lessons in life.

Cover Image Credit: http://drprem.com

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What You Didn't Know About Concussions

Some surprising facts.

Your helmet smacks the helmet of the player you’ve been talking smack to the whole game. Your body bounces off of his and falls to the ground. You black out temporarily and when you come to, the team doctor is standing over you. Your head is pounding and you’re extremely dizzy. You have a concussion, but what does that mean?

Concussions are something that, according to NPR, affects one in four Americans in their lifetime. That is not something that we can ignore. Through research, I have learned a lot about concussions. I am going to talk to you guys about what concussions are, what the recovery from a concussion looks like and how we can avoid them. "Concussion" is a word that a lot of us have heard thrown out in regard to football or maybe even car accidents, but how many of us actually know what it means?

According to the Mayo Clinic, “A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that affects your brain function. Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance, and coordination.” In English, it simply means that your brain has a bruise.

Your brain, to put it simply, is made of Jell-O and is floating in a liquid known as the Cerebral Fluid. When the head is shaken or suddenly hit, the brain moves in the cerebral fluid and will actually hit the inner walls of the skull. Because the amount of force that caused the brain to move in the first place can be varied, so can the severity of the concussion.

It is these injuries to the brain that cause the symptoms of the concussion and it is actually the symptoms that are called a “Concussion,” not the injury its self. A side effect of brain injuries is brain bleeding, so it is recommended that even if you don’t think your concussion is a serious one, you still see a healthcare professional.

Worst case scenario, they send you home, best case you just saved your life by seeking medical attention. To diagnose a concussion, doctors will look at a number of neurological functions including vision, reflexes, coordination, and balance. Other factors that could betray a concussion are increased irritability and confusion.

The typical concussion patient is typically recovering for as little as a week or it could take as long as a couple months. Because the injury varies so much from person to person, there is no set recovery guideline. Some people can do some things while for other people that may the main straining factor.

According to the same Mayo Clinic article from before, the first thing that the doctor is going to recommend is that the patient lay in a dark room with no light, no screens, and no books. Doing this gives the brain a break. Reading and looking at screens and other things cause strain on our brains which is something the patient would want to avoid when he or she has the diagnosis of a concussion. I

n some cases, doctors may even recommend that the patient take time off from work or school in order to shorten the amount of time that the brain is being used to think and minimize strain. Doctors may even recommend that patients discontinue any strenuous physical activity as not to cause undue strain on the brain. In extreme cases where the concussion is taking too long to heal, doctors may prescribe the patient medicine. Typically, they will prescribe medications to treat symptoms such as headaches, depression and memory loss.

Concussions are an injury that can be avoided in most cases if the right precautions are taken. The two main causes of concussions are car accidents and playing sports. In a car accident, concussions usually stem from another injury such as whiplash according to brainandspinalcord.org. One way to reduce the impact of an injury such as whiplash, and
therefore reduce the likelihood of concussion, is to make sure that your headrest is adjusted properly. Wearing a seat belt can also prevent concussions. When not wearing a seatbelt, the head usually hits the windshield which would surely cause a severe concussion.

Playing contact sports severely increases your risk for a concussion, but there are lots of preventative measures that can be taken to dramatically decrease that risk. To no one’s surprise wearing a helmet significantly lowers the chances of getting a concussion. Sports that require athletes to wear a helmet, such as football and lacrosse, increase the players' chances of avoiding concussions severely.

Surprisingly, wearing a mouth guard can also minimize the impact to the head. According to sciencedaily.com, mouth guards put the jaw in a position that distributes force and, if the mouth guard is the right thickness and fit for the wearer it can actually absorb some of the shockthat might come from a hit to the head.

Concussions are serious injuries and should be treated as such despite the fact that there may not be any outward signs. I told you what concussions were, how to recover from them and how to prevent them in the future. It is now one week after you got a concussion in the big game, but thankfully you knew to recognize the symptoms and get help so you will make a complete recovery from your concussion.

Cover Image Credit: Performance Health Academy

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10 Struggles That Give You A Peek Into The Mind Of A Dyscalculic

"Can you remind me what 9x7 is?"

When most people think of learning disabilities, they automatically assume that an individual has trouble with reading or writing. However, for many, this is not the case. Many people have mathematics-related learning issues, more commonly referred to as dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia is defined as a "difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic, such as difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, and learning facts in mathematics." I have struggled with this learning issue since about the time I was in second grade, so I can account for this first-hand. Often times, people who suffer from dyscalculia may not understand simple topics.

Even the smallest amount of math is an automatic overload to the brain. Simple math problems may seem extremely difficult to them. If you're wondering how math looks like to these people, take a look at my hand-made simulation to see what it is like to be dyscalculic.

1. "Can you remind me what 9x7 is?"

2. "160/5... Ok, so, I have to start with long division... I don't know how many times 5 goes into 160..."

3. "I can't do 120 x 5 in my head... can I use a calculator?"

4. "562-428... I have to carry the 1 to the 10ths place, but I still don't understand the process of regrouping. Wait, where did you get the 9 from?"

5. "24x^2+25x-47ax-2... Where did 122^15 come from? This is all completely random, IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE"

6 "5^9=? 4^8=? 6^7=? 7^2=14..." Teacher: "7^2=49!" "I don't understand..."

7. 896^2x725+634543FX0944734G67903S4039683907K0/7904750-9437590^143S475 "This is a huge overload... I can't do it."

8. "18/1/6=3/4+18=22... huh?"

9. "Everyone else finished their worksheet in 10 minutes and I'm only on the second problem trying to figure out this long division. I feel so rushed! Wow, I must be one stupid person..."

10. "I paid $52 and the shirt I bought was $26... so I get $16.44 back? No... $24.83 back? No, that's not right..."

What did you notice? What do these all have in common? Here's the answer: many numbers are mixed up, many are completely off, there is a lack of understanding as to where certain numbers come from, and many are rushed. These various complications represent what a person with dyscalculia may experience on a daily basis.

Whether it be math class or paying for bills/items/groceries, mathematical problems are difficult. But remember: this doesn't mean we're dumb. It just means that our brains learn in a unique way. Many individuals with dyscalculia excel in the arts, music, reading, writing, sports, and so on. We all have our own different types of intelligence.

I have also attached a link for a dyscalculia simulator that gives a better experience here. Please check it out!

Cover Image Credit: Alexa Rosenzweig

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