One Year After my Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis

It's hard to believe but it has been one year since I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. I shared in a previous post how I discovered it through our struggles with unexplained secondary infertility. And in this last year, I have learned so much about how common thyroid diseases and cancers really are even though no one really talks about it. Thyroid diseases like hypothyroidism. Many of us live with it without knowing we do, while it silently affects our daily life. Like exhaustion, how many of us equate our lack of energy with our lifestyle? I know I sure did. Fortunately, I've been given the chance to make changes in my life and not take this whole experience for granted. Besides a small scar on my neck, you really can't tell that anything is wrong with me from the outside but internally I needed a lot of damage control. So for the first time in my life I really focused on self-love and self-care. Previously I was really reluctant to do so because I felt selfish and guilty but I've learned that in order to be there for others I have to first be there for myself. 

Magnolia blossoms blooming in Paris.

Magnolia blossoms blooming in Paris.

PHOTOGRAPHING LIFESTYLE, INTERIORS AND TRAVEL

One major change I did this year that was really hard was reduce the amount of weddings I would photograph. I had a long hard struggle with this one, constantly going back and forth about my decision. I really love weddings, it encompasses so many elements that I love photographing but it was also constantly making me choose between my work and my family. K started school full time last September, meaning I wouldn't spend much time with her anymore during the day and I would be working during the evenings and weekends when she's not in school. I didn't want to feel guilty about not being there for her and my husband, I wanted to be able to spend time together as a family and so it made sense to slowly move away from weddings. Besides my lifestyle work, I've also been photographing a lot more interiors, products, and travel photography which has made shooting less weddings a little easier.     

BEING MORE ACTIVE

A couple months before my surgery, a couple of my good friends gave me a FitBit for my birthday in anticipation for my recovery from my surgery. They wanted to give me something that would motivate me daily to move and to get back to where I was pre-surgery. Little did I know this little black band would give me so much motivation. Honestly, I'm not breaking any records with my steps, I still enjoy my tv marathons a little bit too much but it does encourage me to choose stairs instead of escalators, park a little further, get up and take a break from my computer, just to add to my step count and see the little fireworks light up when I hit my daily goal. It has helped me become more active and actually makes me want to improve my physical health. I've also started working out again and joined my friend in running, it's huge because I am not a runner! And as much as I moan and groan about working out and running, I'm starting to see the benefits.

CUTTING OUT SUGAR

This is a more recent one because sugar and I go way back, wayyyyyyy back. My sweet tooth has a mind of its own and it's powerful. I struggled a lot with being tired and not having enough energy and I relied heavily on sugar to give me that extra kick whenever I felt my energy levels drop, plus I just love sweets, like put a cupcake in front of me and I can't say no. But I noticed that on days when I've had my tea with too much sugar or had too many sugary treats I would get headaches the rest of the day and then have trouble sleeping at night. The bad night of sleep would make me crave for sugar again and it becomes an endless cycle. I know cutting out sugar completely is not realistic for me so I'm taking baby steps, I stopped adding sugar to my drinks, stop drinking sugary drinks and trying to eat less sweets. I've definitely have had less headaches and my energy levels are more consistent so I'll see what other sugars I can cut out slowly too. 

HAVING QUALITY FAMILY TIME

G works a lot of long hours and during the winter it's his busy season, then spring rolls around and I start my busy season until late fall. When we had K, we thought this is perfect because there will always be someone to watch her and we continued to trade off busy seasons for years. But then we started to realize that we rarely had time together as a family. We basically had November and December together and then it would be back to the same routine. Well that changed this year, for the first time ever we took not one but TWO family trips this summer. We've been making weekend plans with friends and family and I have to say it's been really nice spending all this time together. I didn't realize how much I craved this quality time with the family and I'm now enjoying some much need slow paced living.

OUR FAMILY PLANS

You may be wondering what has been happening with our infertility struggles. We are still hoping to add to our family but have taken a break from pursuing IVF, after last year we just weren't ready to jump back into it. Thankfully a fellow photographer was kind enough to share her own struggles with TSH levels and unexplained infertility and introduced us to NaPro Technology which is a more holistic approach to fertility and infertility. They have a high success rate with diagnosing couples who are previously diagnosed with unexplained (secondary) infertility. We've started the program with FertilityCare in Toronto and hoping to get some answers in the next few months. In the meantime, I'm focused on keeping my stress levels low and improve my overall health.  

We've done a lot this summer so far, ticked off a few places that I've been meaning to visit for awhile including the Bruce Peninsula and Tobermory, Terre Bleu Lavender Farm and Prince Edward County with the stunning Sandbanks. These small trips have really been great for the soul and I'm excited to do more. Feel free to share in the comments some places you like traveling to in the summer or suggestions for Fall trips because summer is coming to an end all too quickly!!

My Personal Challenges of 2016

I've been thinking about how to write this post for awhile now, it's never easy to share something so personal and feel so vulnerable but it has been such a significant journey so far that I felt that it's important to share. 

GROWING OUR FAMILY

To get to the end of 2016, I have to share a bit of a back story. My husband and I had always wanted 2 kids that were close in age and when our daughter turned 18 months we started trying for another baby. It only took us 3 months to conceive our daughter, so we didn't think it would take that much longer for a second one. A year went by and nothing happened, we did everything we could on our own including charting, herbs, essential oils, acupuncture, and the list goes on. We really started feeling the pressure of time ticking away so we decided to get professional help and went to see a fertility specialist. After a whole bunch of tests, we were told that we had unexplained secondary infertility. Meaning everything came back fine from the tests and they couldn't tell us why we were having trouble having another baby. Their recommendation was to start fertility treatments but mentally we weren't prepared for that so we decided to keep trying naturally and see if we could get "lucky".

GETTING A SECOND OPINION

Another year went by. At this point I was really hitting a low. I was struggling so much with this state of unknown and felt like we were trapped in limbo. And the pressure from family, friends and even strangers were not helping. It was such a hard topic to talk about, less than a handful of people knew about our struggles. I felt like we were keeping this deep dark secret, this shame of not being able to have another baby. Meanwhile I was reminded daily to "don't wait too long to have another kid", "it will be so much better for your daughter to have a sibling", and the constant pregnancy and baby announcements on social media, I felt like I was drowning. And so we decided to see another fertility specialist and get a second opinion. Hoping they could tell us what was wrong. 

PREPARING OURSELVES FOR FERTILITY TREATMENT

Unfortunately the second fertility specialist didn't have anything different to tell us, we were diagnosed yet again with unexplained secondary infertility. There was a red flag that came up, my thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels were high. It had shown up the first time with the first fertility specialist but she had told me it's nothing to worry about. The second fertility doctor also told me although it's high, it's not clinical high, so I shouldn't worry about it. It worried me though so I pushed for a referral for an endocrinologist and was put on a 4 month waiting list to see her. In the meantime, our fertility specialist recommended starting fertility treatments. We signed up for the government funded IVF treatment which also had a 4 month waiting list. And while we waited for our names to be called for IVF, we tried IUI. It was months and months of the same rollercoaster ride, where we would feel hopeful, anxious, disappointed, and then sad. The fertility specialist said that there's not much information they can gather from IUI treatments so we still didn't know what was wrong. After 4 months, it was our turn for IVF. I had always been nervous of the whole idea of IVF but we really wanted to try everything we could for our potential baby. Though I still had a nagging thought about my TSH levels. We had to do an IVF education session before the treatment and it was 2 days before my appointment with my endocrinologist. I asked if we should wait till after my appointment with my endocrinologist before proceeding with IVF and buying all the (really expensive) drugs but again I was reassured it would be fine and to keep them updated with what the endocrinologist says. 

THE LONG AWAITED ENDOCRINOLOGY APPOINTMENT 

My endocrinologist confirmed that although my TSH levels were not high enough to be considered clinical, they were too high for someone who was trying to get pregnant. I was experiencing symptoms associated to high levels of TSH known as hypothyroidism. She started me on hormone medication that would help control my levels and that brought a sense of relief. We still didn't know if my TSH levels were the cause of our fertility issues but at least we were finally getting some answers. She followed with a routine check of my thyroid at the end of the appointment and noticed it felt a bit swollen so she ordered an ultrasound. I left that appointment feeling hopeful again. 

PHONE CALLS FROM DOCTORS ARE NEVER GOOD NEWS

It wasn't long after my ultrasound when my endocrinologist called me back to talk about the results. She said the scans showed a concerning lump in my thyroid that needed a biopsy. I had been so consumed by my fertility issues that it barely registered when she mentioned the possibility of cancer. I was like what? Say that again? Cancer? To say I was shocked was an understatement. With that news, we put our IVF treatment on hold and proceeded with the biopsy. I waited weeks and weeks for a result but it came back inconclusive and my endocrinologist said that I would have to wait another 3 months before having another biopsy. There was not much I could do but wait and to keep my head from spinning out of control, I threw myself into my work. It was wedding season so I was throughly distracted and happy to be. Finally it was time for the second biopsy, I was hoping that it would come back with some kind of results at this point. I didn't know if I could handle any more waiting.

AND IT CAME BACK POSITIVE 

The results came back, the tumour was malignant and I had papillary carcinoma...thyroid cancer. Thankfully thyroid cancer is highly treatable and survival rate is extremely high. My husband was at that appointment with me and I remember him asking the endocrinologist all these questions and I just sat there trying to process all this information. It was a lot to take in. It wasn't until we left my endocrinologist's office and half way to our car when my husband stopped walking and held me so tight, that I finally let my emotions go and cried. I couldn't help but think why me? Why is this happening to us? What did I do wrong?

SURGERY WAS IMMINENT

The next several weeks I was all about getting everything in order so that I can go into recovery without anything looming over me. I met with my ENT surgeon and surgery was booked to remove my thyroid in November. That gave me enough time to finish off my season, deliver all my images to my couples and also attend my sister's wedding. November felt like a long ways away but soon it was the day before my surgery and I was feeling quite nervous. I had never had surgery before and being put under for the first time was also freaking me out. However my surgeon was amazing, I was in really good hands and when I woke up I was in very little pain. I figured if I can give birth to my daughter wide awake, this would be nothing. Recovery took about 2 weeks and I was throughly spoiled by friends and family. It was actually really nice to have this "break" and not feel too guilty about it.

He never left my side

He never left my side

Next day after surgery

Next day after surgery

CANCER-FREE

Today marks 4 months of being cancer-free and although physically it wasn't a grueling experience, the emotional and mental aspect was what made 2016 such a trying and challenging year. It was definitely a wake-up call that I needed to make some changes in my life, to find balance between my work and my personal life. I had to finally put some focus back towards my personal life and family. Ask any business owner and they will tell you that work never stops and we're all guilty of working during family vacations, outing with friends and choosing work over family in general. It's a tough choice when you truly love what you do so much but as my daughter reaches her milestone 5th birthday this week, I'm reminded to fight for that balance so that work doesn't consume everything. I want to be there for all of her major milestones and one day I want to watch her dance with my husband at her wedding for their father-daughter dance. So I need to prioritize me and my health so I can be there for my family.

My big and little love

My big and little love

YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN SOMEONE IS HURTING

And I share all of this with you because our fertility struggles has been an extremely lonely journey and hoping this will help bring the topic to light more, so we can all have a more open and understanding conversation about it. You never know what someone is going through, there are so many of us battling silent battles and I guarantee you those are the ones that hurt the most.

Thank you for reading.