In November of 2011 I had a cancer scare. While getting my annual physical my doctor found a lump on my thyroid gland. Both my parents had a cancer diagnosis already, and four out of five of my Dad’s siblings had faced cancer. I didn’t expect a good diagnosis, and I was sure my tumor was cancer. After an ultrasound and biopsy, the tumor was highly suspicious of cancer and I had to undergo surgery to have it removed.
The surgeon informed me that the procedure would involve an incision made in the front of my neck about where it meets the collarbone, and that he would remove half of my thyroid for sure. While I was on the table, they would biopsy the tumour, and if any cancer was found in it, they would then remove the other half of the thyroid as well. I woke up with half a thyroid remaining, for which I was thankful.
For me, the worst part of the process, was looking in the mirror for the first time when the bandages came off. My husband had to stand with me and remove the bandages as I was too afraid of what I would see. The truth hurt when I looked in the mirror. I told Dave “I look like Frankenstein!” And there was a definite similarity. The scar looked bad, and the skin around it was very puckered and swollen. My husband told me I was still beautiful to him, and he assured me the scar would continue to heal nicely.
The second worst part of the process was the side effects of living with half a thyroid for the next three months, without medication to regulate it. In majority of patients, half the thyroid will do the job of a whole thyroid. Doctors failed to tell me though, that while the body is trying to find its new normal, a patient can experience racing heart, anxiety, depression and mood swings. Twice during this three-month time, I thought I was having a heart attack. After the three months my thyroid was weak, and I will be on medication the rest of my life.
My husband was right, my scar did heal nicely. After nine months or so I hardly even noticed it anymore. I quit trying to hide my scar because I accepted it as part of my story, and I thought other women facing the same surgery may ask me about it, and I could warn them about possible post surgery side affects.
The following year brought many changes to our lives. Our middle daughter graduated high school and left for a year at bible school in Texas, our son got married and moved to Texas for university, we moved to another city, my husband got a new job, and I got a new job working at our church. It was a lot of change in a short time. Prior to this, I thought I was a person who enjoyed change, but this was different. Most of these changes triggered big emotions in me. Especially two of the children moving away. Texas is a four-hour plane ride from our city.
My role at the church was Executive Assistant, which is a job I could practically do in my sleep. I am just wired that way. A year into the job, an opportunity arose to be involved in women’s ministry. My prior women’s ministry involvement included starting and running a charity called Mentoring of Mother’s Society (MOMS). I was the Board Chair and Program Director the duration of the ministry. These ten years were exciting times. I wrote curriculum for women and kids, I did speaking to MOMS groups. We were responsible for helping start seven chapters in seven cities. We ran events and conferences for hundreds of people. But after ten years in operation, the Board agreed we needed to fold the ministry because it was not financially sustainable. When God called me to lay this ministry down, it felt like I was giving up a piece of myself. I grieved for a long time. I wondered if I would ever be involved in ministry again.
Three years after I laid MOMS down, I became Pastor of Women’s Ministry at our church. My role as Pastor was a lot different than Program Director or Board Chair of MOMS. My Pastor role required that I get out from behind my computer and meet women for coffee and talk face to face. As an introvert, getting face to face with people for conversation was stretching. I felt God calling me to be authentic with women, to take off masks I was used to wearing, to lower my walls of self-protection and not only listen to women’s stories, but to offer my own stories as well. I was shocked by the outcome. As my heart began to become more real, emotions I held back for years, started breaking through the walls of my heart and spilling out my eyes. I could be in the middle of a staff meeting thinking about nothing, and tears would start to pour out of my eyes. I would say “Oh, it’s just my thyroid”. I figured this sounded better than “It’s just hormones, or PMS, or our kids just up and moved away.” My thought was that while people may have preconceived ideas of PMS or hormones, no one knows what to say about thyroid issues. Most likely they’ve never heard that excuse used before and are not likely to even know what a thyroid does.
Becoming real is difficult when like me, you’ve built walls around you heart because life’s circumstances and hurts have been too much to bear. I felt like a turtle who had spent life hiding inside my shell, beginning to poke my head out every once and a while. It felt risky and I was often nervous.
God began a work in me that continues today. He massaged my heart of stone and transformed it into a heart of flesh. Jesus is such a gentle potter. He calls us deeper into His love, He smooths off our rough edges, He calls us to know Him personally, He calls us to allow Him to walk right beside us. God has given me more emotion healing than I thought possible this side of heaven.
There are still days when the tears roll and my emotions flare, and I blame it on my thyroid, but the truth is that when God does a work in our hearts, it’s going to be good, and well worth any inner struggle it takes to get there.