02 July 2015

A Time I Will Never Forget- I am a Survivor!

It isn't very often that I write about my personal life on this blog, but I have a very important anniversary today and want to share it with my readers and future generations. Thirty five years ago I had a major life event that could have changed how my life turned out.  Thankfully, it didn't but it did make me see life in a more precious way.

I had graduated from college at the age of twenty-one. I was looking forward to changing the lives of children through teaching.  I couldn't wait to get a teaching job.  I was ready, I had the degree and the certificates.  I just needed a job.

I couldn't find a teaching job my first year out of college, but I could substitute teach.  I enjoyed substitute teaching and I think it helped me become a better teacher because you never know what will be thrown at you during the day.

The same year I graduated from college, I had a broken engagement.  I was living in the same town as my fiancĂ© at the time.  My dad kept telling me I should come home to live and save money on rent. I could substitute teach at home.  I didn't want to move back home because I thought of it as a failure. In January of 1980, I decided to move home.  It probably saved my life.

I spent the winter of 1980 sick, I couldn't get over a cold.  My pierced ears would bleed and my nose looked like raw meat.  I kept going to the doctor because I could not get better.  I was substitute teaching in elementary schools and I figured I was picking up every bug out there.

One April day I went back to the doctor and he discovered a lump on my neck.  He asked, "was this here last week?" I said I don't think so.  He wanted to send me for more tests; mainly, a thyroid scan. He said I might have cancer. That shocked me to my core.  Never once did I think I had anything seriously wrong. The scan would have to be done at a hospital about thirty miles away, in Bad Axe, Michigan.

I remember the day so clearly when I went to get my scan done.  My mother had offered to go with me, but I said no I am fine, they aren't going to tell me anything today.  I was up early and off to Bad Axe, a place I had been to many times in my teen years.  It is where I would go shopping, or to the movies.  It is where I had my senior pictures taken.  I knew right where I was going.

I got in the car that morning and turned on the radio. The Iran hostage crisis filled the airwaves.  The day before, April 24, 1980, President Jimmy Carter sent helicopters to the Tehran, Iran embassy in an attempt to rescue the 52 diplomats that were being held.  The helicopters were unsuccessful in their attempt. The Iran hostage crisis had filled newscasts since November, 1979, when the diplomats were first taken hostage.  This was before the days of the 24 hour news cycle.  It was big news for the time.

Many people remember where they were during important news times, such as when JFK was killed. I remember where I was on the Friday morning, April 25, 1980 when the news of a failed Iran hostage rescue reached the United States. I was driving to get a thyroid scan.  It was a morning that no one could have predicted what was about to happen.

I arrive at Huron Memorial Hospital eager to get the tests over with.  I didn't have a clue what those test results would uncover.  The thyroid scan involved lying on a table, having an IV put in my arm that contained the radioactive iodine used for the scan, and having to tip my head back.  I would guess this took about a half hour to complete.  I remember the technician came back once during the scan to see if I was okay, which I was.

The scan was completed and I was told I could get dressed and the technician would meet me in the hallway.  The technician took me to a consultation room where a radiologist was waiting for me. Now, I recognized the radiologist because when I was in high school I took a Health Occupations course where we did rotations in the hospital and one of those was in radiology.  This radiologist came to the hospital in Harbor Beach, once a week.  I just remember thinking he wasn't very nice and didn't have good bedside manners.  Now, I had to sit in a room alone with him and get my test results!

The radiologist had my results and started talking about cold and warm areas of the scan.  I was thinking, I am not going to have to wait a week to find out what is wrong with me.  The radiologist proceeded to tell me that there was an area of my thyroid that was cold, meaning it didn't absorb the radioactive iodine and that meant that I had thyroid cancer.  Oh my god!  The "C" word.  I knew it was a possibility, but I was stunned.

I asked the radiologist what was next and he said he would send the results to my doctor, but it would mean I would have to have surgery to remove the cancerous thyroid.  I left the consultation room and the first people I saw were neighbors.  If you have ever lived in a small town you will know that you don't want to see neighbors after you get bad news.  I tried to cover my reaction to the news and just said hi, and went on my way.  I got in the car to drive home.  I made the turn from M-142 to M-19 to go home and I had to pull over to the side of the rode to cry.  I was devastated.  I had cancer!

I believe there are moments in your life when God is very present and I believe that God was present the spring of 1979 when I was selecting classes for Spring term at Western Michigan University. One class I took was Cancer Education.  Less than a year later, I was needing it myself.  I relied on my education that morning on the side of the road as I blubbered about having cancer.  I think it was at that moment I decided I was going to fight this.  Nothing was going to get the best of me.

I remember getting home later that morning.  I had things to keep me busy.  I had phone calls to make because I was helping to plan our five year class reunion.  I was on the phone and there was a knock at the back door.  It was the elementary school secretary.  Remember, it was a small town.  She had been trying to call to see if I would like to substitute teach for the afternoon.  I said yes.  I was 22 at the time, what did I know about taking time to process things.

I arrived at school, which was the school Kirk, my boyfriend and eventual husband, taught at.  He asked me in the teacher lounge in front of other people how my scan went.  I said it went well.  I was not ready to share my news in a public format.  It wasn't until recess time when Kirk came into the class room I was in, that I shared my news.  Of all the people that I told throughout the whole ordeal Kirk was the most compassionate and understanding.  I had already fallen in love with him, but if I hadn't this would have sealed the deal.  The fact that he stuck with me and asked me to marry him five months later proves it.

Now, the waiting began.  Waiting to hear from the doctor, waiting to go to an endocrinologist for a needle biopsy, waiting to schedule surgery.  I think this was the most stressful time of the whole ordeal. I called my doctor's office because I wanted to discuss what the radiologist told me and couldn't get beyond the receptionist.  I wasn't going to tell her, it would have been all over town before I could hang up the phone.  My doctor called me one week later in the evening.  He didn't tell me anything I didn't already know.  I am thankful that my doctor was fairly young and completed some of his training at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, because he recommended I go there.  He did give me the option of having it done in Bad Axe, but I knew enough to know I wanted to go where they treated this often.  He said he would make the referral and I would be hearing from his office soon.

The referral was made to a Dr. Miller at Henry Ford Hospital.  I loved Dr. Miller from the moment I saw him.  He was kindest, gentlest doctor I have ever had.  I didn't know it until much later, but he was friends with my Uncle Hank and Aunt Mabel Glover.  Dr. Miller performed the needle biopsy and the rest as they say is history.  The results came back as papillary carcinoma of the thyroid.  I did indeed have cancer.

The treatment for papillary carcinoma is surgery.  The surgery was scheduled for July 2, 1980-thirty five years ago today!  Dr. Ansari, another awesome doctor, performed the surgery.  I was admitted to the hospital a few days ahead of time and remember going through all kinds of tests.  Dr. Miller, my endocrinologist, even came to my room a couple of times and went with me to the tests.  I remember being in the elevator and it was just Dr. Miller and I.  I am in my robe heading to one test or another, and he said the most important thing I could have done was to have the surgery at a good hospital and I had picked a good one.  He said it was important because it increased the chances that it would all be removed and I would have a great recovery.  He said if you have to have cancer, thyroid cancer is a good one to have as it is almost 100% curable.

I don't believe any cancer is good cancer, but I was cured and I am here today to say I am a survivor. I don't have a lot of memories about the day of the surgery except I am waiting in a dark hallway to go the the surgical room and there was a chatty Cathy asking me what I was having surgery for.  She was having knee surgery. My surgery was successful.  I woke up in my hospital room and was frustrated because I couldn't open my eyes, they were stinging.  I slept most of that day.

The nodule was 2 cm and the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.  I had a total thyroidectomy with two of the four parathyroids and many lymph nodes removed. Dr. Ansari, the surgeon, told me they removed many more lymph nodes than necessary and would test them to make sure the margins were clean, meaning all the cancer had been removed.

I was discharged on July 4th.  Kirk came to take me home.  I had to return to Dr. Ansari's office a week later for a check up.  It was here where I learned he had gotten all the cancer.  The extra lymph nodes were clear.  I would not need radiation or chemotherapy.  I would need to return in four months for a scan, just to be sure they had gotten all the cancer.

The scan in November of that year was clear and I haven't had a re-occurrence of the cancer.  The cancer was gone.  I am on thyroid replacement medicine and other than an occasional high or low thyroid blood level I have been healthy.

I look back on the time when I was dealing with this and wonder how I would handle a cancer diagnosis now.  I had the invincibility of youth at the time.  Nothing was going to get to me.  I was going to fight this and be successful at it.  I remember one of the young residents telling me I had such a great attitude and that a positive attitude would help me beat this diagnosis.  I didn't know anything else.

Today, July 2, 2015 I celebrate life!  I am a cancer survivor.  I am one of the lucky ones.  I wish all cancers would have the prognosis that I had.  I have three very special doctors to thank for my life: Dr. Moi, Dr. Miller and Dr. Ansari.  Thank you for your kindness, your care, and your expertise. You were all there at the right time with the right knowledge and because of you I am here today to celebrate.


  1. Congrats on this important anniversary. Every day is precious!

  2. Thank you Marian and Miss Dazey, I appreciate your kind words.

  3. What a wonderful, heart warming account, Brenda, and you must be thankful you had no need for the rigours of radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Thank you for sharing such a personal story and I wish you many happy and healthy years to come.

    Family History Fun

  4. Thank you for the kind words, Sue. So far, so good and I plan on living a lot more years!

  5. Thank you for sharing your story. What an important "Journey to the Past" to remember!

  6. Thank you, Dana. I felt it was important to share and hope my descendants will read this one day.