Instead of the “P” word, it’s the “C” word

Since both the specialist and the surgeon said there was only a 5 percent chance of cancer, I was 95 percent shocked when the doctor told me — over the phone mind you — that I had cancer!

A few years ago a doctor discovered a lump on my thyroid. I had it biopsied, which was a little unpleasant, but when the tests came back it turned out to be benign. “But,” the doc said, “come back in a year or so and we’ll check it again.”

Unfortunately, I’m a terrible procrastinator. And in my defense, it wasn’t really explained to me, nor did I understand that this lump could morph from benign into malignant. I went back to the doctor a couple years later, mostly at Joe’s insistence.

Another biopsy was performed, again unpleasant. This time the results were different. The doctor was no longer sure it was benign and said the growth showed signs of being malignant. Drat!

At that point, my emotions ranged from irritated to a little worried. The doctor explained, very gently, that it was okay, it was a pretty simple operation. The surgeon would only remove half of my thyroid and many times our bodies can function on the half that is left, with medication to help it along. He assured me that there was only a 5 percent chance that this was going to be anything more serious. Sounded easy, right?

Next, we meet the surgeon. He was interesting. He assumed from our surnames that we were polygamists, and explained he had several patients who were and let us know he didn’t have a problem with it at all. Whew, that’s was out of the way! He went on to explain that odds were very low that the surgery would uncover any more problems. Really nothing to worry about, he said.

A week later, I’m off to surgery, a new experience for me. It seemed to go very well. I didn’t even require any pain meds afterward, which was a pleasant surprise. Mostly, there was just this strange feeling that something had to be taken out of me, a part of me was missing. Melodramatic, I know, but I was glad to finally be on the other side of it all . . . or so I thought.

Surgery No. 1 is — thankfully! — behind me!

Now comes the emotional part.

After the surgery, the doctors told me to call in week to get the lab results. I was just the tiniest bit nervous because even though they wanted me to feel there was not much cause for concern, there was no way to be sure until we got the report.

On that day, I sought out the quiet of our living room and, with Joe by my side, I called the surgeon. “We had to send the sample back to the Mayo Clinic because they’re the experts, and they discovered that it was the bad kind of cancer and we need you to come in next week to remove the rest of your thyroid before this spreads anymore,” he said.

This is the moment when it all became too real. I was still holding the phone because I had questions, but tears started rolling down my face. Joe was holding me, trying to grasp what the doctor had just said. Vicki and Alina ran in from the kitchen and everyone surrounded me, trying to comfort me and handing me tissue after tissue as I cried and blubbered.

We all ended up squished on the couch together and after the tears subsided (for the moment, at least) we tried to make sense of it all. We were all a little bit frightened and, hey, “cancer” is a scary word when it’s spoken to you or a loved one. We didn’t know what to expect or how this might affect all of our lives. We also had to break it to the children.

Which we did. As each age group came home from school, we had them come into the living room and gently explained, on their level, what was happening. That was hard! They reacted differently, according to their personalities, but they were all very sweet to me, giving me hugs and trying to comfort me. I could tell they had fears of their own about it.

Later that day, the specialist called me. He was worried that it was a little harsh to get this news over the phone and he wanted to reassure me that this was not a ‘death sentence,’ that it was Stage One cancer, and we would do treatment after the surgery was over. That was actually very reassuring. Even though I still had lots of questions, it gave me hope.

Stay tuned for Part II, when I will tell you all about…Surgery II and The Treatment.

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14 Responses to Instead of the “P” word, it’s the “C” word

  1. Tracy Roth-Myers says:

    Oh my G-d!

    I am so sorry! I hope that you will get better real soon. I also hope that you and your family stay strong. I will be praying for you and your family.

    G-d speed.

  2. Mary B says:

    Thinking of you. I’m glad you’ve decided to share this. I’m sure it’s very personal but it can be very therapeutic. :o )

  3. Sara says:

    my thoughts and prayers to you and your beautiful family! you’re all so strong, you will get through this!

  4. Stephania says:

    Know that others, both far away or not-all-that-far-away are thinking of you and sending as much healing and prayer as we can. You are surrounded with love and support from those closest to you. That is such a huge part of getting well and recovery from any kind of illness-the kinds that end up to be not-so-serious or the more serious kinds- not to mention quality of life whether one is ill or not, having a supportive ‘ring’ around you. When something like this happens, it can really show a family’s strengths (or in some cases, weaknesses) but in your case, it sure looks like you have a strong family, therefore ….while of course you are no doubt at least somewhat afraid, (that is only natural!) you are not alone.
    Valerie, don’t play the mental game of ‘oh, if I had only done this, or acted sooner, or not done this, or somehow I am being paid back for not being good enough or this or that or somehow I brought this on myself etc., etc. ‘. Not saying you are doing this, just that we all do this to some extent when we are afraid or when we feel things are out of our complete control. Even this being so, there’s science, faith, family and love on your side and I think you will come through this and be fine- if you have to treat this aggressively, if you have to take thyroid medicine forever, that’s OK.

    You’re a beautiful mother, wife and woman, and those things are eternal. It may sound crazy from someone who was not raised in your faith, but my own beliefs may echo some of yours- and that is..the reason you are together now, the reason that you have the love you all do, as hard as it could/can be -is that you were always together in the eternal sense to begin with, though we may not have perfect knowledge/remembrance of before this life- that having what you have with your huge and terrific family (cancer aside of course) is like winning the eternity jackpot- that you can never lose, and I don’t think you will lose this fight either .
    Some of us don’t have cancer (though none of us are entirely safe from this possibility), but also never had or might never have the other things you have, and that is why you all are , as cheesy as it may sound, an inspiration and hope- just that those things even actually do exist. That on it’s own is an inspiration to someone who might have had brushes with something different and turned out to be benign (so far) but who didn’t have at all what you all have , in fact, more the opposite.

    You all give to us, the ones who are alone- hope- by your very existence and what you share with us- and the emphasis isn’t even always on the poly/numbers/logistics (which you get endlessly prodded about ad infinitum to the point where we saee that stuff isn’t where the point of interest lies ) but on the vast amount of commitment and caring you have as a whole.
    In that, you teach us, the ‘have-nots’ no doubt by the comments we see here that you get-whether we are alone or not- we collectively thank you for that, appreciate you for that, and like I said, it goes much further than simple numbers or marital configuration(s)- it is the way you live it and what you have said that we have heard on the interviews, the books-show the character you all have. We thank you for this and in out own way whether it not be of your particular faith or any particular faith, still count it as prayer when thinking of you, all of you.

    • Valerie says:

      Stephania, Wow! I am really touched by your comments, and pleased that you get what it is we have been trying to portray. That is, after all, the whole purpose in being public the way we have. To educate people and also to help create a better experience for our children, should they choose this lifestyle for themselves.
      I could feel your empathy throughout your comments and it’s not lost on me that you may have had some experience in a similar situation. Understanding, for instance, that I’ve had those feelings of ‘How did I bring this on myself?’ and questioning everything.
      I do feel very blessed, both for the very positive outcome of this whole experience, and also to have this wonderful, supportive and caring family. It’s hard to think of where I would be without them.
      I read your words about being an inspiration and about our family giving people hope. When we became so public that is not something I expected to be one of the outcomes of writing the book. It is a very humbling feeling.
      Your comments and what you have expressed are very meaningful. You sound as if you have a big heart, an open mind and a lot to give. Thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers in my behalf.

  5. KevinV says:

    My wife went through this same ordeal a few years back. It’s just good to know they got it before it got too bad. It’s not easy but the good Lord will see you through! Our prayers are with you and your family!

    • Valerie says:

      Kevin, as strange as it may sound, it’s somehow nice to know that I’m not the only one who has had this kind of experience, though I wouldn’t wish it on anyone! I’m happy for you, it sounds like it was a positive outcome for your wife. Please give her my best wishes that she will continue to have a clean bill of health.
      I’m so thankful for all the prayers sent up in my behalf. I believe prayer to be such a powerful expression of faith.

  6. Ruthann says:

    Your such an inspiration Val! You have tears rolling down my face now, to close to home for me. I love the depth each one of you have, you ladies are something special!

    • Valerie says:

      Ruthann, I’m so very sorry! I didn’t intend to make anyone cry. At least, not in a sad way. I have a feeling that you must have an inspiring story yourself, by your comment that it hits close to home. I’m hoping your story had a happy outcome!
      Thank you for the generous compliments and also for seeing something that goes much deeper than what is on the surface.

  7. jules says:

    Dear Val:
    I just wanted you to know that I am so sorry to read that you are going through this. I will be praying for your recovery! I saw an interview on Oprah years ago with you that touched my heart. That is why I downloaded your book on my Iphone. I finished it last night and just wanted to tell you and your Family that you are all beautiful children of Heavenly Father. I am LDS and as someone who is a convert, I could never grasp the “Polygamy” heritage of our church. It was nice seeing a bit of why Polygamy is so beautiful. I know that our Church does not condone it today, but I just wanted to send my sincere love to all of you. Your book made me cry so much, especially the Chapter of Alina and Joe’s child and the Chapter of your Life before you entered into the marriage with your Sister, Alina and Joe. You all seem so special and I truly wish you Val all the best in your recovery. You are in my prayers.

    • Valerie says:

      Jules, it is heartwarming to know that our book is doing what we hoped and prayed it would do. It was written to educate and inform people about our faith and our family. If, in the process, it has inspired people, that is an added bonus. It has been very humbling to realize that there are such caring people out there that don’t even know me and yet they’re praying for me and rooting for my family.
      I love what you said about grasping the polygamy heritage. I’ve always felt that the early church members made a lot of sacrifices back then that we are still benefitting from today.
      And, I can’t believe you remember me on Oprah! It was a long time ago, and I was so blonde back then!
      I want to sincerely thank you for sharing your thoughts and sending your love, and for your prayers and well wishes for our family. It means a lot.

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