Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Something was choking me. I woke up in a sweat, heart racing, unable to catch my breath.
I was 15-years old and scared. It was summer 1975, my bedroom windows were open, and the night air was thick with the expanding buzz of cicadas singing. I lay on my bed and put my fingers on my neck. There it was: The bump.
The bump turned into a lump. Sounds like a Dr. Seuss rhyme! Summer kept me busy with babysitting jobs and seeing friends, I hadn’t noticed the changes in my neck. Now on my back, in bed, I felt it pressing on my windpipe. It was choking me! The next day my mom made an appointment for me to see our family doctor, Dr. B. His hands were delicate, and his manner caring.
“I think you may have a goiter on your thyroid gland.”
“What’s a thyroid gland?” I asked.
“It’s this little butterfly-shaped mechanism that runs your body’s metabolism.”
In no time at all I would be in surgery and would discover I had thyroid cancer. The doctors told me (even though no one could be sure) the cancer in the neck was probably caused by over-radiation of the neck/jaw after a terrible bicycle accident at age 10. There were so many x-rays after the accident. They had to re-set my jaw, wire my teeth together for a month…did the x-rays cause the cancer? Or was it because my mother took the infertility drug DES (to prevent miscarriage) during pregnancy?
Since childhood, I’ve had 3 different types of cancer, a total of four times, been through 3.5 years of chemotherapy, radiation, and many operations. I still have a port in my chest and I still have a...good attitude. The latter is the most important thing. And something to really live for which is my family.
For me, personally, the other key to recovery and survival is art. Art (making & viewing) got me through the ups and downs of cancer treatment. City of Hope in Duarte, California is a stone’s throw away from one of the greatest libraries and art museums in the world: The Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino, California. This beautiful art oasis is literally 20 minutes down the street from where I am treated. I would visit the Huntington Gardens after every medical appointment at City of Hope. I credit both institutions with saving my life!
In nine days I will turn 60. It makes me want to cry when I think about it. I am a pediatric cancer survivor who is still alive and thriving. The world of medicine has changed 100% since I was first diagnosed at Greenwich Hospital in 1975. This blog is a view into that changed world and an expression of gratitude and hope. Thank you for reading.