How Cancer Healed My Broken Heart

I do not dive in head first on a whim. I am calculated, organized. I am a true perfectionist. Or, rather, I was these things. I stressed about being all of these things until I turned 20 and my life as I knew it was turned upside down. I was in love -- head over heels, insanely infatuated, off-the-deep-end type of love. I had never been in love before. No one teaches you how to be in love. They teach you how to talk, walk, bathe yourself, drive a car, and then they send you into the world to figure out the rest. I soon became deeply dependent on his love. I needed his love. He was my source of happiness.

Then, one day, in the blink of an eye it was gone. All of it was gone. He could no longer be all that I needed him to be. It was too much. It was no longer fun for him. Who could blame him?! It was no longer fun for me either, but I couldn't seem to break free of this dependence. I look back on it now knowing that the two greatest things that he ever did for me were to love me and let me go. I needed to be shaken up. I needed to learn how to truly, healthfully love another person without losing my sense of self.

Sounds like I handled it pretty well, huh? Not so much. These are the wonderful lessons I've learned in the five years since that heart-breaking day when we parted ways. The first four months I was a pathetic mess of tears. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't hold a conversation without mentioning his name. My days were filled with grief, sadness, and depression. I couldn't figure out how to break the cycle -- or maybe I didn't want to?

Then, one afternoon in July, I was sitting in a doctor's office waiting to have stitches removed as a result of a minor cyst removal procedure. It was in, out, see ya later Doc -- or so I thought. There I was 20 years old alone in a doctor's office when my doctor calmly said, "We had the cyst sent out for testing as a routine precaution, and, well, it's come back positive for thyroid cancer." I was stunned, too stunned to cry. I thought, "Did he say cancer? Yep, he definitely said cancer." Given my previous knowledge of cancer, all that I could think of was, "I'm going to lose my hair... and I might die." That's a lot to process. So, I uttered something few 20 year olds ever say, "Am I going to die?"

It turns out that few people die from thyroid cancer, but it was going to require a 5 hour surgery to remove my entire thyroid gland, multiple rounds of iodine radiation, and relying on synthetic thyroid hormones for the rest of my life. Pretty daunting considering that until this point all I really worried about was my broken heart, final exams, and whether or not my thighs were too big.

The rest of the summer blew by. It was filled with pre and post-op appointments, surgery prep and recovery, scheduling follow up appointments, and starting on my new synthetic thyroid hormones. In the face of true, life-threatening hardship my broken heart started to mend. I realized that if I could swallow a cancer diagnosis with little more than a nap and a few tears, then I certainly had the power to overcome this heartbreak. Hearing that word -- cancer -- in reference to my own body made me realize that I, alone with the patch of ground beneath my feet, am living for a reason. I have a purpose. I am so much more than one half of a couple. I am meant to help others, to give back, to inspire, to follow my bliss, and most importantly to love again.

Here we are, five years later, and while I have lost my thyroid gland, I have gained so much more. I have gained strength. I have learned to let go of the little things. I have become shamelessly proud of myself. I revel at all I've done both before and after cancer. I have a new outlook on what's truly important in life. I have re-discovered myself. I ditched the complaints. I ditched the anxiety. I finally embraced happiness and self-love.

A friend of mine who I've known for about three years recently described me as "always very happy." This caught me off-guard because for so long I described myself as an anxious, stressed, overwhelmed perfectionist. Since shifting to thoughts of happiness and love, shifting my focus to following bliss, I have actually become a light-hearted, playfully happy individual. I could cry just typing that sentence.

My broken heart showed me everything about myself that I was no longer satisfied with, and my cancer diagnosis gave me the strength and determination to do something about it. If it wasn't for these two experiences my current relationship would not be celebrating it's fourth anniversary this month. It's because of these two experiences that I have learned what I need in a relationship. I need a best friend, not a crutch. I need respect, not pity. I need love, not complacency. I need to be an independent woman that complements an independent man. I need to exist singularly, yet joined by love. I need to look in his eyes and feel secure in him, in me, and in us.

In all, I am grateful for my first love and his letting me go. I am grateful for my thyroid gland and my letting it go. And, this is how cancer healed my broken heart.

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