As many already know, September is thyroid cancer awareness month. According to ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc.’s website, thyroid cancer is “the most common endocrine cancer.” The American Cancer Society estimates that, in 2016, there will be approximately 64,300 new cases of thyroid cancer in the U.S.
Thyroid cancer is one that hits TFB close to home. Amanda Atwell, Branch Manager of The Fauquier Bank’s Main Office branch, was recently diagnosed, and is currently undergoing treatment, for thyroid cancer. In an effort to raise awareness, we spoke to Amanda to get a first-hand telling of her experience.
Amanda first discovered that she had thyroid cancer doing one of her favorite things: running. After participating in a 5K, Amanda’s neck felt sore and swollen, but, due to the mountainous terrain of the run, she assumed she had simply strained some muscles. However, Amanda adds, “At the encouragement of my mom and husband I went to the doctor on Monday morning.” It was during this appointment that the doctor discovered an easily-felt lump on Amanda’s thyroid.
“At the time, I had no symptoms that were unusual enough to alert me to a problem,” Amanda said. She mentioned a persistent cough and difficulty swallowing, both of which Amanda assumed were related to allergies. Amanda later discovered that allergies were not the problem, and said, “My nodule was quite large and putting pressure on my esophagus and trachea causing both symptoms.” Additionally, she experienced fatigue, weight gain, and hair loss, but in a previous test of her thyroid hormone levels, doctors were not alarmed by her results. Cancer wasn’t even a concern at that time.
Advice to Others
As a fighter of thyroid cancer, Amanda is in a unique position to offer advice to others who may be going through the same or a similar diagnosis. Being informed and supported are two common themes to her advice. She says, “Find someone who has been through this that you can talk to.” She mentions groups online and on Facebook that have been “a tremendous help.” Amanda adds, “It’s scary and overwhelming, and having someone who can help with the fears and anxiety is so important.” It’s especially helpful to talk with someone who has overcome their diagnosis and is doing well. Amanda says talking to someone who is recovering “helps to reinforce that you can get through it.”
There are two resources that have been extraordinarily helpful, not only for Amanda, but for her friends and family. The American Cancer Society website, www.cancer.org, provides information on different types of cancer. The Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc.’s website, www.thyca.org, has been especially useful to Amanda as, “It is dedicated solely to thyroid cancer and providing information.”
Therapy has been a key part in Amanda’s battle against cancer. She says, “I see a counselor weekly who has helped me deal with what I am feeling, thinking, [and] going through without the pressures you may face from family.” Amanda also suggests,
“Surround yourself with love, support, and people who will be there when your world is falling apart.” Some friends and family handle a difficult diagnosis better than others. “Try to remember that everyone deals with things differently. Try [to] not let other people’s behavior interfere with taking care of yourself.”
Amanda also says that cancer has been a roller coaster of emotions. She says, “If you need to fall apart, fall apart. I have had epic meltdowns and cried until my eyes were swollen shut and I couldn’t talk anymore. But, this is the important thing, the next day, wake up and say, ‘Today is better, I can do this and I will get through this.’” Amanda has experienced fear, sadness, anger and she explains, “It is all very normal.” An avid runner and yogi, Amanda had to modify her activities to fit in with her cancer battle. She says, “I purchased a prompted writing journal and ‘adult’ coloring book. I was able to use that instead of running to bring sanity back to my life.”
Having this diagnosis has made Amanda completely change her perspective on life. She says, “My cancer wasn’t terminal, but hearing that word…it rattles everything and life comes to a halting stop.” Amanda looks at life as a precious gift; one that she knows “could be all over in an instant.” She says “I love you” more than ever now. She focuses on each day and feels that life, “should be more than work and paying bills and surviving until the weekend.”
Until her diagnosis, Amanda lived a healthy lifestyle – working out regularly, eating healthy, and taking care of herself. She has learned that, “Life really is unfair and unpredictable.” Cancer was never on her radar; never something she thought she’d have to prepare for. “Don’t try to understand it. Cancer is an evil devil that picks who it wants.”
Battling cancer has completely refocused Amanda’s life purpose. She aims to better balance her life in an effort to spend more time “doing what makes [her] heart and soul happy.” Amanda is no longer putting off goals and experiences another day. She says, “I used to joke about how awesome it would be to run a marathon for my 40th birthday. I’m not waiting until I’m 40 [now]. I am running the Disney Marathon next year.” Amanda is thankful for all the support she has received and mentions one particularly powerful experience she had right here in Warrenton:
“I went to Chick-Fil-A and the lady in front of me paid for my milkshake and said to pass along the message, ‘There is still love in this world. God Bless.’ When the server told me, I started crying. That woman had no idea what I was going through, but that small gesture made a huge impact on me. So now I try to pay it forward regularly even in just a small way because someone else could need it just as much as I did.”
Words to Live By
On the days you feel your worst, remember that you are beautiful.
On the days you feel like you don’t know what you are doing, remember that you are brilliant.
On the days you feel exhausted and like you can’t go any further, look back and see how far you’ve come.
On the days you feel like you cannot handle another battle or more bad news, look at your scars and be proud of them.
On the days you feel alone, remember that you are never alone.