The Power of Family

Nina - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Entered on February 24, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe in the power of family. I remember the first time I considered writing this essay. I had just had surgery due to recurrent thyroid cancer. I was diagnosed with cancer 5 years beforehand and after surgery to remove my thyroid and a few rounds of radioactive iodine treatments, there were still some stubborn malignant nodules in my neck. My doctors disagreed for a few years about whether or not I should undergo another surgery or wait until the nodules became larger and easier to extract. I felt fine, but the weight of knowing that I had cancer in my body started to become all-consuming. What if the cancer spread? My husband, Brian, and I were talking about starting a family. I didn’t want thyroid cancer to get in the way of any of our plans.

Eventually my doctors all agreed that it was time to remove the nodules. I was nervous for the surgery but I had overwhelming support from my family. Then things got interesting–the cancer was successfully eliminated but my right vocal cord was paralyzed during the course of the surgery. I could only eat pureed foods and could only drink thickened liquids. My voice was raspy and thin and it was exhausting to speak. It was one of the lowest times in my life. I was angry, frustrated, and at times, hopeless. I pride myself on having a good sense of humor, especially during hard times, but I couldn’t even crack the smallest joke. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t appreciate the fact that I was cancer free because I was so let down by this complication. This wasn’t fair.

Brian, my parents, my brother and sister, and my then 4-month-old niece congregated at my house. My sister and mother quickly began concocting a menu of baby-food consistency dishes. I will never forget the scene in my family room during my first night home. Each member of my family was eating the pureed dinner that my mom and sister had prepared for us—if I couldn’t eat normal food nobody else would either. Everyone actually looked like they were enjoying this mashed food and that they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world at that moment. I have always felt close to my family but at that moment, I felt closer to each person in that room than I had ever felt before. Their message to me was clear—we are in this together. My family kept me grounded and got me through that painful experience. I truly believe that the power of my family helped me to heal both physically and emotionally.

I have been thyroid cancer free for 2 years. Brian and I were recently blessed with the birth of our son, Jack. His sweet smile and the curiosity that he shows in everything around him bring joy to our lives every day.

The people in my family are what make my life worth living. This I believe.