I Survived a Cancer Scare. This is What I Learned.

Last June, I read the post “Why Family Reading Time Should be on Your Summer Bucket List” and was so inspired! I have been reading aloud with my kids for years but had fallen out of the habit thanks to middle school homework. With fresh determination, I boldly commented that I would read aloud a YA novel to my kids over the summer… and then I realized I couldn’t. My voice had become hoarse and I simply could not read aloud, raise my voice, project, or even yell! I’m not sure if it happened gradually or if I just noticed it gradually, but I found my voice dampened like the pedal on a piano. 

I Survived a Cancer Scare. This is What I Learned | Houston Moms Blog

I didn’t think too much of it at first. I thought maybe I had a cold or allergies. I tried allergy pills, I drank hot tea and sucked on throat lozenges. My throat didn’t hurt, thankfully, but nothing seemed to change the quality of my voice. I called it my ‘old lady voice’ and wondered if I was already at that stage of aging. Then, I googled “hoarse voice” and of course Dr. Google told me I could have cancer, but that’s what he always says, right?  It’s never actually true, right?

I was not in any pain or discomfort, so I basically just ignored the change in my voice for the summer. I am new to the US and frankly didn’t want to contend with the US health care system when I’m used to Canada’s universal health care. I find the insurance and benefits all very confusing no matter how many times I call my insurance company. A friend of mine had a hoarse voice and it turned out to be silent reflux, easily cured with medication. I met another little boy at my daughter’s dance class with a voice like mine; his mom said it had been like that for a couple months. PHEW! If a little boy had the same symptom, then it definitely couldn’t be cancer, right?

Wrong.

I finally went to the ENT on a normal Thursday. I did not like the scope-down-the-nose experience AT ALL. Though it doesn’t hurt, it sure isn’t comfortable. After it was done, I fully expected the doc to tell me I had a nodule or allergies or reflux. He did not. He showed me the scope video, as if I could tell what I was looking at :: “There’s the problem. It’s a lump on your false vocal cord. It’s either a cyst or a tumor.” Pardon???

I was completely shocked and though I wish I could report immediate stoicism, the truth is I started crying and didn’t stop for a few hours when I had to pull myself together before my kids got home from school. My husband was traveling overseas for work so I had no choice but to put on my big girl panties and figure out what step to take next.

The following two weeks were a blur of stress and worry but I’ll give you the spoiler right now :: my lump was benign. Hallelujah, all the praise hands, thank you God.

I Survived a Cancer Scare. This is What I Learned | Houston Moms Blog

Going through that whole experience taught me a few things that might be helpful for others who unfortunately find themselves in similar circumstances…

Do Share the Bad News   

At first, I wondered whether I should even tell my kids, knowing it would worry them. I lost a friend my age to cancer almost a year ago and my kids knew her, knew her kids and, sadly, that was not their first time hearing the word “cancer” or knowing the worst-case outcome. However, one look in the mirror and I knew I couldn’t NOT tell my kids. They would know something was wrong the second they walked in the door. So, I gathered them up, got my husband on the phone, and we told them together which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a mother. We moms have to be strong for our kids, even when we are terrified ourselves, and so I was. They cried and I reassured them that we would get through it together. 

I also wondered whether I should tell my friends and online tribe. I’ve always been pretty open and authentic with my friends IRL and online so it made sense to share my news. I know that many women are much more private and would make a different choice, which is totally fine. I have no regrets about sharing my news because I was immediately engulfed with love, support and prayers. I don’t have family nearby and even though I didn’t know it at the time, I needed a support system. I would not have found one without sharing my news.

I also decided to share the news with my children’s teachers. I was concerned that my kids would feel upset and stressed, and that it could affect their attention, school work, and behaviour. Kids manifest stress differently than adults and I wanted their teachers to keep an eye on them and also extend a bit of grace, if needed. 

I Survived a Cancer Scare. This is What I Learned | Houston Moms Blog

Don’t Google 

Even IF Dr. Google had been right, learning about my symptoms, possible diagnoses and prognosis from Google is NOT the way to educate yourself about your health. Ask your doctor. Call back if you forget to ask any questions, but DO. NOT. GOOGLE during a cancer scare. All it will do is get your mind racing and tempt you to distrust the medical professionals that are actually trained and trying to help you.

I Survived a Cancer Scare. This is What I Learned | Houston Moms Blog

Don’t Feel Bad About Worrying About THE WORST

Your mind is going to go there. You hear the word “cancer” and immediately think you’re going to die. This is a natural response {I hope} and you don’t have to feel bad about not thinking positively in that moment. You might start gathering up the user names and passwords for your spouse. You might suddenly dig out that scrapbook and get to work on it. You might feel a bit reckless with online shopping – what difference does it make if I have cancer and I’m going to die?! Don’t feel bad if such thoughts enter your mind {but also don’t do *too* much shopping!}.

Do Focus on the Moment

In the midst of a cancer scare is not the time to make bucket lists and try to get your whole life together, just in case. Instead, take it day by day, moment by moment. You will be in an acute state of stress and that means that you will not be thinking clearly about anything. Lower all the expectations and demands as much as possible and focus on the moment. This is the time to be gentle with yourself. I found I could not concentrate so I relied on my established routines, went through the motions, and let everything else go. 

Don’t Look Backwards

During a cancer scare, it is tempting to think back on every “wrong” thing you’ve ever done with regards to your health. I had to consciously choose not to berate myself for waiting so long to go to the doctor, for not being a runner, for not eating kale every day, etc. etc. Don’t look backwards with regret. Once the scare is over, you will do things differently but you have to get through this first.

Don’t Be Surprised When You Become Uber Healthy

I immediately stopped drinking, bought Brussels sprouts, scheduled a bone broth cleanse, drank a gallon of water, and vowed to exercise two hours a day. I found myself making plans to basically become a hybrid between Dr. Oz, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Melissa Hartwig. This didn’t last, of course, but when you’re faced with a cancer scare, you can’t help but try to mitigate that by being as healthy as possible. Taking steps to improve your health is not a bad thing but you’re probably going to swing to an extreme then swing back and settle somewhere in the middle, whether or not you do have cancer. Again, rely on your doctor’s advice, be kind to yourself, and save the long term big health changes for after the dust settles and you know what you’re up against.

Do Stay Positive

A positive attitude is not the same as false hope or self-delusion. A positive attitude means confidence – in your doctor, in the system, in your ability to weather the storm, in your spouse and children and friends to be your support during this time. A positive attitude does not mean telling yourself you don’t have cancer. You might. I honestly thought I did. I thought the only reason my doctor was so somber and got me in so quickly was because he was sure it was cancer and the haste was necessary. I thought my testimony was about to become cancer. It wasn’t, thankfully, but meanwhile, I allowed myself a bit of wallowing then did my best to stay positive. Surround yourself with positive people, put on uplifting music, watch uplifting shows, have hope! Stress WILL impact your health and ability to cope but so will a POSITIVE ATTITUDE.

I Survived a Cancer Scare. This is What I Learned | Houston Moms Blog

Dealing with a cancer scare is not something I wish for anyone. It is okay to go back and forth between stress and strength, holding it together and falling apart. I am so grateful that my experience was only a cancer scare but I know that is not the case for so many. My heart is with mothers and families who go through a scare and then have to carry right on through to a battle. If you are in a scare or a battle, I stand with you, I see your strength, and I’m cheering you on.

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