“My Voice” by Dorienne Plait

Dorienne Plait - 'Survivor'

What in the world is a thyroid, anyway? I hardly understand anything my doctors are telling me. Thyroiditis? Nodules? Papillary Carcinoma? Excuse me, but I’m only 17. Can you put these terms more simply, please? And can you stop poking and prodding me and tell me what the hell is wrong with me? I feel fine!

One week and four days before graduation. What teenager spends this time getting a biopsy of her neck of all things and worrying about what these doctors find? Who wants that? I should have been worrying most about if my cap and gown fit me properly, and what color dress would not show through a gold gown. I should not have been worried about cancer. I should not have been concerned with what this needle in the neck told me. I should have been trying to get all my stuff together so I could have an amazing summer before college.

Three days before graduation. I should be losing sleep thinking about if I’ll be my usual klutzy self and trip going up the steps to receive my diploma. Instead, my parents, brother-in-law, sister, brother, nephew and I are sitting in a surgeon’s waiting room. I’m trying to keep composure as I do my Sudoku puzzles. My sister had given me three signs to look for when a doctor has bad news: no eye contact, solemn facial expression, and “Well…” being the iconic phrase to start off the visit.

Within one minute of sitting in that doctor’s examination room, I knew I had cancer. June 1, 2006. Three days before graduation. Who the hell wants to think about cancer at a time like this? Graduation was supposed to be the only milestone I had to accomplish. Who would have thought I had two different hurdles I had to leap over at once?

Keeping my mouth shut was the hardest thing I had to do. Walking across that stage was a bittersweet moment. It was the start of two new lives: as a college student and a cancer fighter. How would I get through both at the same time without falling flat on my face?

My first surgery was on June 27, 2006 and it frightened me. I had never had surgery before, and I certainly could hardly believe that I was starting at 17. My father had his first surgery when he was 49. The moment I turned around and saw my family’s fuzzy faces (the doctors wouldn’t let me have my glasses/contacts) before entering the OR, I knew then I was way too young for this.

They removed my entire thyroid and ten lymph nodes, two of which were malignant. My surgeon had told my family that, since thyroid cancer is slow-growing, I probably had it for 8-10 years prior to diagnosis. I was only 7-9 years of age when it could have developed! That idea was petrifying, and it also pisses me off even today. How in the world can these things happen to people when they are so unsuspecting? It’s worse than someone turning around during a duel and shooting you in the back before the witness gets to “ten.”

I had no idea what to expect during my first radioactive iodine treatment. I was given 149 millicuries of I-131, and forced to stay in the hospital for 2 days. Since I am definitely a person who enjoys the company of others, this was torture. My very first day in the hospital, I had a serious meltdown. My parents waved from the back road where my hospital window looked out. I cried my eyes out seeing them blow me kisses and make faces. My father, being the joker that he is, came up to my room, and insisted that he needed to try something before they left for home. He turned around to stare at me, flicked off the light, and kept staring. Then, he said, “Damn, Adelina. She doesn’t glow!” He flicked the light switch back on and left. I laughed and cried at the same time.

My second treatment in January, 2007 was a cinch, considering I was much more prepared than before. I brought my old CD player, burned CDs, a book I could throw away, and some puzzle books. It was a lot easier to deal with the pain of not seeing my family and friends because I knew this was something I needed to do. Sure, I had my hissy fits because I thought I would not need another treatment, but in the end, I had to accept that this was a must.

In September of 2007, I felt invincible. My scans had come back clear. I cried until my eyes felt like the Sahara Desert. For the first time in over a year, I had felt relieved, relaxed, rejuvenated. My world had finally started to turn again. Everything seemed to come back together.

Two weeks later, however, my endocrinologist called telling me my bloodwork came back higher than normal. She wanted to check my neck. After attempting four biopsies of one suspicious lymph node, she referred me for a thyrogen-induced PET/CT scan. At the time, this was a new type of scan. It felt like I was inside that machine for hours, but it felt like months waiting for the results.

In October of that year, my endocrinologist called me at 8:00 am (what a pleasant surprise) to tell me that two lymph nodes had lit up on the scan results, and that she wanted me to have surgery. In a way, I felt like I had expected this. I had already accepted the fact that my results could have come back negative. Now that I knew, I was hoping I was ready to face a second surgery.

November 29, 2007 marks the day I had my second surgery, during which my surgeon spent 3 hours removing 29 lymph nodes from my entire left side of my neck. It was a scary thing, because I had already undergone two previous surgeries (yes, two…my appendix decided it wanted out also, so that got removed in March 2007) and I felt like this surgery was going to end terribly. I was also extremely worried about not completing my semester and getting poor grades (what a nerd). But, alas, my professors rocked the house and helped me in any way possible, and I did well. I also had a very successful surgery.

As of now, I am 21 years old and in my senior year of college. I plan to graduate with a degree in Adult Special Education and get a job at a local public middle or high school. I have two scars on my neck, both of which have healed wonderfully, and I am under careful watch by my amazing surgeon and endocrinologist. It finally hit me recently that this really will be a lifelong battle. I used to think that I would have my surgeries and treatments, and then be on my merry way to live my life as a cancer-free adult. Now that I am being poked and prodded all the time and under constant alert whenever my endocrinologist finds something suspicious, I realize that this will never end. Even though I have a “good” cancer, I will always have this hanging over my head. I was never given a prognosis, because I never needed one. One negative about that, though, is that thyroid cancer is always going to be around. I will never be in remission, nor will I be “cancer-free.”

I never thought the word “survivor” would describe me. Before I had cancer, I just considered myself to simply “be.” This was hardly the type of thing I would want to refer to as something I survived. I would never wish this on anyone, nor do I ever really enjoy hearing that one other person has struggled with this disease. But whenever I do hear about that person, I smile because I know that one other person is surviving, too.

Survivorship, to me, means love, friendship, strength, and faith. These things are what got me through everything, and are what keep my feet moving forward. No person deserves cancer, but the ones who are cursed with it deserve to survive. My advice to everyone who has been affected by cancer in any way: continue to love, stay strong, and don’t let your faith be shaken. Believe that you can beat it, and you will. You will.