‘The doctor would like to meet you in person.’ My legs shook uncontrollably. I knew.’: Woman ‘freshly diagnosed’ with thyroid cancer urges ‘love matters most of all’

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“So often we hear stories of triumph long after the storm has passed, yet I’m here sharing as more storm clouds are still rolling in. However, I see it as a gift to speak from rock bottom rather than a mountaintop, because while I don’t know how my story ends quite yet, I do know what a miracle it is to breathe in the present moment, what an honor it is to allow emotion to flow freely, and what a joy it is to seek the sacred magic scattered throughout each day. Cancer isn’t something I ever thought I’d experience, but here I am: freshly diagnosed with malignant thyroid cancer.

Woman wearing hat posing outside smiling
Kate Hope

Throughout 2020, my health slowly began to decline. I attributed my unexpected weight loss and extreme fatigue to stress, though in retrospect there was a part of me that knew something more was at play. As the months passed by, I began to develop more and more symptoms that left me struggling to go about daily tasks: blacking out frequently, struggling to eat, constant pain in and near my throat, daily headaches, a weakened immune system. I tried to ignore it all, continually attempting to convince myself I was fine. It wasn’t until I began to notice a painful lump growing on my neck I decided it was time to take action.

Woman standing outside wearing button-up shirt smiling
Courtesy of McKell Quilter Wilson

April 2021 was filled with appointment after appointment. From a blood panel to an ultrasound to a biopsy, I sat in that doctor’s office with the quiet knowing my deepest fears might actually be a reality… there’s a good chance this could be cancer. While the biopsy itself was excruciating, waiting for the results was far more painful. Each day the sun set without a call from the doctor’s office left me feeling increasingly anxious. How do you go about your day normally when you know the entire trajectory of your life could change in an instant? 6 long days later, the call came. My heart sank and my legs began to shake uncontrollably. ‘We have the labs back from your biopsy, the doctor would like to meet with you in person to discuss the results.’

Woman wearing floral face mask in front of brick building
Courtesy of McKell Quilter Wilson

I knew. To be honest, I don’t remember much from the days between that call and the appointment—just waves of grief, attempts to remain hopeful, and the inability to survive a single hour without tears streaming down my face. Finally, the time came to officially receive the news. Because of ongoing restrictions, I wasn’t permitted to have anyone with me. I clung to a small, brown stone etched with the word ‘courage’ on it, knowing if anyone needed a reminder to be courageous at this moment, it was me. Sitting in the waiting room that afternoon felt surreal. I watched as each person passed me by and wondered who else might be there awaiting life-altering news. Who was silently grieving? Who among me had a weary heart?

Woman's hand holding brownstone that says "courage"
Courtesy of McKell Quilter Wilson

My senses seemed heightened, acutely aware of the complexity woven within every human soul. I questioned why we don’t talk to each other. I wondered why we are so slow to share our burdens with one another. I mourned at the realization there were likely times in my own life when I had unconsciously contributed to someone else’s pain, not knowing what was weighing on their heart. I vowed to myself at this moment—’courage’ clutched to my chest—I would spend the rest of my life striving to see people deeply, and to love everyone I crossed paths with. I vowed no matter where life’s journey would take me, it would never take me away from Love. My thoughts were brought to a halt as I heard my name called.

Black and white photo of woman wearing mask staring into camera
Courtesy of McKell Quilter Wilson

Walking back to the room with the nurse, she asked how I was doing. I couldn’t help but grin at what felt like the most ironic thing to be asked at this moment—for when you know you’re minutes away from hearing the three words we all dread, can you really answer with a default ‘good?’ I smiled and told her something along the lines of, ‘I’m trying to be okay,’ and found my way to that same green chair I had sat in weeks before. More waiting came, and my heart ached from the speed it was beating. I glanced at my watch to check my heart rate: 102. I focused my breath, and prayed the mightiest prayer I think my lips have ever uttered. I know I have cancer, but I don’t know how to survive until he tells me those words. Please, help.

Woman in front of gallery wall looking into distance
Courtesy of McKell Quilter Wilson

The most brilliant calm washed over my body. Moments later the doctor entered the room, and while I thought I was ready, nothing could have quite prepared me for the feelings that rushed in as I was told I have cancer. I managed to keep my composure as I walked out of the building, somehow a different person than when I walked in. I opened my car door and crumpled into the seat, no longer able to hold back tears. I wept. I wept and I wept, then I called my husband to tell him the news. I hung up the phone and wept some more. Eventually, my tears ran dry and I felt capable of facing the next moment. I took a deep breath and prepared myself to go pick up my two boys (Rad, 4, and Ollie, 1) from their grandparents’ home. Immediately upon leaving the parking lot of the doctor’s office, I was honked at by a driver who felt I hadn’t switched lanes fast enough.

Black and white photo of woman smiling in the sunlight
Courtesy of McKell Quilter Wilson

A smile took over my face and I sighed, wondering if the man’s tone might have changed had he known he just honked at someone who just found out they have cancer minutes before. I found humor at the moment, but the sentiment remains: you really never know what the stranger next to you is going through. Whether the best day of their life or the worst, the answer is still the same: be gentle, be soft, be kind. I embraced my sons, and somehow my pain melted away for a moment. Eventually, I shared the news publicly and was deeply overwhelmed by the love I received. I felt undeserving but deeply humbled. I wish I could adequately express the gratitude that has flowed into my heart as I have been included in the meditations, prayers, and mindful moments of others.

Woman wearing hat standing outside looking off into the distance
Alexa Christensen

Despite the magnitude of hatred that oozes throughout the human population, my eyes have been opened to the magnitude of love that far outweighs it. This past month following my diagnosis has been the most transformative month of my entire existence. While the particular cancer I have has a hopeful outlook, cancer is still cancer, and with it comes a major in-your-face realization life really is fragile—years upon years aren’t actually guaranteed. At first, this realization brought me to feel as though I had been leveled to the ground, but I quickly began to see this death of who I was offered a beautiful opportunity for complete renewal—for a new, more whole, more complete me to be built; or rather, the opportunity for the truest form of myself to make herself known.

Woman taking smiling selfie in the sunlight
Courtesy of McKell Quilter Wilson

As I’ve begun the process of picking up the pieces of my soul I want to keep carrying, I’ve come to find what truly matters to me. I’ve reflected upon what it is I really want people to know, and what I hope my tiny print on this world brings. So to you, dear reader, I want you to know when I say you are loved, I mean it with every particle of my being. I KNOW it with everything I am. I want you to know this life is not all there is. There truly are angels, your passed loved ones are active participants in your life, and however you choose to label Them, there is a Higher Power filled with unconditional love for you. I want you to know as much as your mind may try to convince you otherwise, you have impacted and are impacting the lives of others for the better. From the deepest acts of love to the seemingly small gestures of kindness you offer to strangers at the grocery store—it all matters. It really all matters, and it really does make a difference.

Black and white photo of woman wearing hat and laughing
Kate Hope

I want you to know how beautiful your soul is. I want you to know how powerful your soul is, how divine your soul is. YOU are a gift. You, specifically you, are a miracle and it doesn’t matter a thing how the vessel housing your soul looks. You’re beautiful because you’re you. This is the truth. I want you to know the more you seek out tiny beautiful things in your life, the more you’ll see them—and what once seemed insignificant will grow to be the most significant and awe-inspiring of all. My deepest hope is somehow, in some small tiny way, I can offer these gentle reminders to the world. There may still be mountains for me to climb and lessons for me to learn as my journey with cancer continues, but oh, how grateful I am to be here. And here, I hope somehow, in some small tiny way, you have been able to feel my love. It is there. It is real. And to me, I think love is what matters most of all.”

Family of four hugging each other outside
Kayley Curtis

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by McKell Quilter Wilson of Utah. You can follow her on Instagram and on her podcast. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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