This past January, two weeks after turning 22, I was told that I had thyroid cancer. The only thing I knew about thyroid cancer before this was that Hazel Grace Lancaster had it in "The Fault in Our Stars." It's not a type of cancer you hear a lot about. There aren't walks or charities for it that are heavily advertised like there are for, say, breast cancer and no one dies from thyroid cancer as the big climax in a dramatic movie, but it's still something that affects many people's lives, like mine. Before we both start freaking out about it, because yes I still get a little overwhelmed by it all, let's start at the beginning.
You're probably wondering, what exactly is your thyroid? Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your throat that controls your hormones, metabolism, temperature, and much more, to basically regulate your body to feel normal. The thyroid is composed of two lobes and, if working properly, you only need one of them to continue living a normal, healthy life.
In November of 2017, I was washing my hands in my work's bathroom when I noticed my neck looked huge. Upon further inspection, I found a bump on the left side of my neck. I freaked out because I am one of those people that automatically thinks of the worst case scenario. I went to some of my coworkers and asked them to feel it and see if they thought it was something to worry about, and they all agreed it was probably a swollen lymph node and I just had an infection. I left work early to go to the doctor who said he couldn't tell me anything until he ordered an ultrasound. Then they needed a biopsy. And then I was recommended an ear, nose, and throat doctor who finally told me I needed my left thyroid lobe removed to see if the mass there was cancerous or not.
I had never had surgery before and so this scared me, especially because one of the major risks of having your thyroid removed is that you could possibly lose your voice forever. My family was incredibly supportive though and kept telling me that everything was going to turn out fine. They truly didn't think cancer was an option.
This is the picture I sent out after my surgery to let everyone know I was OK.Lynzi CooperThe longest week of my life was after my surgery when I had to find out what the tests results were. It came back that the mass on my thyroid was almost the size of a baseball and it was actually cancerous. I was in shock and trying not to cry my eyes out, but failed horribly. My doctor told me it wasn't a big deal and that I just had to go through another surgery in order to fully remove my thyroid and possibly go through a radiation treatment. I honestly did not know how to process this information. People kept telling me that thyroid cancer is "the best cancer to get," and that "it could be worse," and while I knew all of this, it didn't make it any easier. It has changed my life in quite a significant way.For instance, my life now completely depends on a little pill I have to take every morning as soon as I wake up. I have gained a lot of weight in the last two months since my second surgery because the thing that once controlled my metabolism has been removed from my body. I feel awful and tired a lot because It takes time to find the right dose of medication your body needs. I now have a ton of medical debt to go with my student debt. I have to go through a radiation treatment at some point. And, for the rest of my life, I will have to worry about it coming back somewhere else in my body.
With the bad comes the good though, because there has been a silver lining to this experience.
With this responsibility, I feel like I am taking my first step into adulthood. I now have to take better care of myself and work towards a healthy lifestyle‒something I've always said I was going to do, but have been too lazy to actually accomplish. I have learned who the people that genuinely care about me are and I feel closer to them than ever. I have a cool scar now that I tell people looks like someone tried to murder me but did a really bad job of it.
The ghost of my thyroid sometimes gets mistaken for someone else in Snapchat filters. Lynzi Cooper
The most important thing I have learned though is that I can handle what life throws at me. I can persevere. I am so lucky to be here, that we caught the cancer early, and I now just want to make the most of everything. It might be cheesy, but life truly is short. I feel like I can embrace that concept now more than ever because a 22-year-old can get cancer, but I can also still keep living despite it.