It was a year ago today – the Sunday after Thanksgiving – that I found the lump. The lump that turned out to be cancer.
And what a year it’s been.
That Sunday, I was at the computer trying to make sense of the strange things happening to my body. Of course, I used the symptom checker at WedMD.com. [Also known as "Hypochondriacs R Us."] One of the options it spit out was thyroid disease.
“I have a thyroid?” Seeking the best-of-the-best information, I went to the Johns Hopkins website, where I learned that my thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of my neck, in charge of my metabolism. I put my hand there. It felt like a swollen gland. Hopkins said that if I swallowed and the lump moved up and down then it was likely I had a thyroid nodule.
I swallowed. It moved.
I freaked out.
It was not pretty. My mind raced from disastrous outcome to disastrous outcome. I spun story after story, none of them with a happy ending. Oh, I was a gray little Eeyore of a woman, muttering gloom and doom, misery and unhappiness.
But then I had to stop. Because crisis requires consistent, sustained focus. And panic trumps focus. Every single time.
And I had to focus to make my way through what was, at times, a baffling medical process.
The day after I found the lump, the medical machinery got moving with my first appointment with a doctor which led to an ultrasound of my neck which led to a fine needle biopsy which led to a meeting with a surgeon which led to surgery which led to a meeting with an endocrinologist which led to a meeting with a nuclear medicine doctor which led to radiation, which, months later, led to an outcome – disease free.
I never thought I’d say it, but I am so very grateful to have had cancer. It was a challenge I was handed, and I handled it. I’m more myself today than I’ve ever been. And I’m grateful for that.
And that’s my message to you today. Challenges will come. And they will come to you. And those you love. You may find, in that challenging instant, “To freak out, or not to freak out” becomes the question.
Freaking out in a crisis is a way to get our internal chaos to match the external chaos we face. There’s a comfort and balance in it, you know, because it’s all… matchy-matchy. But a freak out is not sustainable over the long term – panic saps your energy so you lack the ability to help yourself, or help others.
I’ve found that the ticket to managing a challenge is to freak out if you need to freak out, and do a thorough job of it. But then gather yourself together as soon as you’re able, so you can put your time and attention on whatever it is that’s facing you.
Because there is good stuff there if you know where to look.
Every challenge I’ve faced – and I’ve faced cancer, unemployment, divorce, death of a loved one – has been a moment of discovery. And, if you’re open to it, it will be for you, too.
A crisis point can be the moment when you discover what’s important to you, and the depths of your own strength and resilience. You discover who you really love, and who really loves you.
Getting the stuffing kicked out of you, ironically, provides an wonderful opportunity to become a fuller, richer version of yourself. But only if you let it. So why not let it?