While I was in a groggy state, I heard, “No heavy lifting for at least 7 to 10 days,” as my surgeon was explaining the at-home instructions for me to follow when I left the hospital that day.
It didn’t actually hit me until I tried to pick up a gallon of milk out of the trunk of my mother’s car a few days later. She ran over to my side, took the gallon out of my hands, and warned me: “You aren’t supposed to be lifting anything.” “Heavy lifting,” I corrected her as I walked away. Little did she know that I had already been to my local gym the previous day.
Being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, or any type of cancer, can come with dramatic effects. Questions ran through my mind, including “What stage do I have?”; “What’s my prognosis?”; and “How did I even get cancer in the first place with no family history?”
After being told that I would need surgery to remove the tumor, I was devastated, but I knew that the cancer diagnosis didn’t define me. Two days after my surgery, I was told that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I would need another surgery and would have to undergo radioactive iodine therapy. In addition, I was told that because it had already spread, once the cancer was out, there was a greater chance of the cancer coming back.
Thoughts raced through my mind, again, and tears streamed down my face. I wouldn’t have a thyroid to regulate my metabolism and other body functions, so for the rest of my life I would have to take medication and see a thyroid specialist.
It felt as if the bad news just kept coming. But, trying to hide my feelings of despair and the quivering of my voice, I told my doctor, “It’s okay.” He replied, “Well, no, it’s really not, and I’m sorry you have to go through this, but we’re going to get you taken care of; I promise.”
I decided this bad news wasn’t going to stop me from living my life. I continued to go about my days as normal, working full time and going to school full time by taking online classes. I continued going to the gym at least 3 days, or 6 to 8 hours, a week, acting as if nothing had happened.
I put a smile on my face and made the best of it. It was, and still is, this positive mindset that has kept me going throughout my treatment, and why I consider myself a strong cancer survivor.
I realized it was up to me to keep going and keep my body as healthy as possible even after both surgeries. Which is why 4 days after my first and second procedures, I was back in the gym; chugging my bottle of water while walking on an inclined treadmill. I was tracking my days, and I knew on day 7, I could begin lifting weights again.
In the past, I was a “cardio queen,” going to fitness classes, such as Zumba, and getting my daily stressors out on the elliptical machine. But there was something about lifting weights that made me feel stronger, especially because I was a patient with cancer, and a woman.
Now, as I look back on my “cardio days” in the gym, I realize that there were only guys in the weightlifting section. Not even 1 woman had a dumbbell in her hand. To me, this was scary. I certainly thought that I wouldn’t be the only girl.
I expected to make a fool of myself and be judged for how little weight I was lifting, but I never expected that I would also be breaking this stigma of female weightlifting.
After surgery, I was very nervous as I made my way back to the free-weights section of the gym, with a huge scar across my neck where the surgeon had made the incision for the partial thyroidectomy.
Some people were clearly staring at me, but I continued to go about my business. “Going heavy” — or lifting heavier weights — has always been my way since I have gained even more confidence from being a cancer survivor.
Whether people judged me never crossed my mind; I was doing it for myself. However, I took it easy, knowing that my body wasn’t where it normally was, especially only 1 week after surgery. Even when I felt weak or when I stumbled, I reminded myself that if I could conquer cancer, I could conquer anything. Sure, it looked like I had gotten into a fight, but it was a battle that I had won, and a battle I would continue to have for the rest of my life.
By Carly Flumer