You may have noticed a lull in posts over the past summer. It wasn’t because we were busy with kids and vacation. I wish so much that was the case. In fact we had just planned a 2 month journey through Asia for a trip of a lifetime. Instead, the doctors found a Thymoma tumor in my chest cavity. It was “the size of an orange”, my doctor described. And just like that my life was never the same again.
The next few days, I went to see a thoracic surgeon to get it removed. They suspected a ‘Thymoma’, a rare form of cancer cells which form on the thymus. “It is usually encapsulated and benign,” the surgeon told me. Except mine wasn’t and no one knew until they opened me up and found it had spread. What was supposed to be 2 hour operation turned into nearly 4 hours. And now, I’m one of the many that is forever stained by Cancer.
So after the resection of the tumor, I was told I had Thymoma stage 4B cancer. That statement thrust me into the “upside down”. If you’ve watched Stranger Things, you know that the Upside Down is the parallel universe; a dark abyss of your life where you’re scrambling to find your way back without being caught by the Demogorgon; the Demon Prince. Only for me, I was escaping Cancer or what I call The Annoyance. The following months were spent searching for an oncologist who had experience with Thymomas which turned out to be few and far between in Dallas. By the grace of God, and I don’t use this lightly, we got into MD Anderson within two days rather than the usual month long wait.
Over the rest of the summer, we drove up and back to MD Anderson in Houston countless times. If you follow me on Instagram, you would have seen lots of food photos from Htown from June to September. In August, I underwent radiation treatment. Twenty-five grueling sessions. Radiation was a different kettle of fish. You lay on a flatbed and a machine spins around you for about 10 minutes. It doesn’t feel like anything, more like having an xray. But it’s killing you a little at a time in the hopes of saving you. It’s grueling on the mind. It was hard being away from my family. The children had started school and there were three weeks where I had to be up in Houston. Lucky for me, I’ve some pretty special friends who flew down or drove down to be with me during treatment. These gems are hard to come by.
So now, I’m home again feeling like I have to relearn my whole life. The fatigue is so severe at times, I’ve to be careful not to take on too much. Sometimes unloading the dishwasher puffs me out. And like the little boy in Stranger Things, I did manage to come up from the Upside Down but I’ve come back with something else inside. I still have a lump that’s not dealt with. So for me, there’s a season two as well. But till then, I wanted to leave you with 5 things I learned from having a tumor. I know everyone’s journey is so different… this is just one slice of the cake.
What my thymoma has taught me
5 lessons to live by
TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH: As parents, it’s always hard to put your needs first especially when you have little ones. My journey started with a little persistent cough. It wasn’t bad but it went on for months. It was just a regular stream of ‘ahems’ all day which got worse when I laid down at night. I happen to tell this to my OB at a wellness exam and she suggested a chest X-ray. I wish I had looked into this earlier. My tumor was massive and it took a lot of months perhaps years to grow. Have regular check ups, eat healthier, exercise. Set aside to do what is best for you health-wise so that you can live a healthier life and be a better parent.
BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE: We were so shocked and floored at the news that at first we just went with what the first oncologist told us. It was grim in the first meeting as he said “You are uncurable” and proceeded to tell us how little experience he had with thymomas. We started researching, polled our friends to see if anyone in the medical industry knew a doctor in Dallas with thymoma patients. Lucky for us, one of ours was a cancer researcher and though thymomas were not her area, she was able to pull up information for us. In the end, we went with MD Anderson and gave thanks to God to be living so close we could drive.
ACCEPT HELP: As an independent spirit, this was one of the hardest things for me to do. My husband and I are Australians and without family here. Luckily, my mother was visiting when I was diagnosed and she was able to extend her stay to help a few months. I know that having a serious sickness is a personal thing but please TELL PEOPLE. People want to help. Once we opened the floodgates, we were overwhelmed by the generosity and love from our friends, acquaintances, and even our children’s school. I wanted to cry every time I received a meal because it was lovingly prepared but also a reminder that I’m not alone. It was humbling to step back and let someone take care of me.
LET GO OF CONTROL: My job is to make things run smoothly in the household. I work part time but most of the time, I’m a SAHM with two school aged boys and a 3 year old at home. I’m the chef, the taxi driver, holiday planner, fun organizer and homework taskmaster. All that went out the window when I had the surgery and was unable to move. After the surgery, my left side had limited movement. It was hardest not be able to carry my three year old. I slept a lot, and was pretty much useless for months. It was time to give in and let them happen without me managing every part of it.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF: Good advice from my friends. After coming home from radiation treatment, I was euphoric to get back. It was like being released from jail. A few days after returning, I found a house to buy and then started planning the rest of my life. So there was my issue, I started planning again and tried to gain control over my life. And then I crashed physically. I hadn’t realized how fatigued I would be. This brought a lot of angst toward The Annoyance for ruining my life (again). And then friends started telling me to be kind to myself. So I backtracked, pulled out of the house purchase and simplified activities. I was learning how to walk again metaphorically. Learning how to pace myself and not get angry for not being able to do ‘normal’ things.
It’s been less than six months since my diagnosis.I remembered the day I went for my chest x-ray. The biggest issue I had in my life then was whether the blue highlights in my hair was too blue. It seems so silly now. Today, I’m grateful to be alive and still have such great quality of life. I’m grateful for my family, my tribe of friends and new friends I’ve made through this journey. For those with loved ones struggling with this, I send you peace. I’m happy to speak to or offer any words of encouragement to anyone who needs it. Please share this post with them or ask them to email me at ittybittyfoodies (at) gmail (dot) com.
And with that, I wish you and your family a heartfelt Thanksgiving! Love and be kind.
Cheryl Ng Collett
(I am a Child of God, Mama to three precious IttyBittyFoodies, Wife to sweet husband, Brian, Daughter to Robert and Angie, Sister to Colin and Michelle, Friend to You)