The Big “C” and Me

CANCER!! The most hated word in the English language. Waves of fear and trembling wash over just about everyone who receives this diagnosis.
Rewind to winter 1994 in Ithaca, NY.  I meet with tall, dark and handsome surgeon Dr. Ferrer about a matter that was quickly moved off the table when I inquired about a small hard lump just above my right collarbone. I had this for at least a year but always forgot to ask our family doctor about it.

“So Dr. Ferrer, what do you think this is?”
“I don’t know but whatever it is I don’t like it and would like that biopsied asap”.

We quickly set up a hospital appointment to find out more. Our son had an out of town hockey game and I insisted that John take him and I would follow up later. That never happened. In the O.R. I’m given a local anesthetic and the digout soon ensued. At first all was well but began to feel the scalpel and jerked when I felt it.  They asked…”Are you feeling that?”   “Yeah, can’t you tell by the body imprint I left on the ceiling?”  The team was stunned and more anesthetic was given to complete the task.
In the recovery room Dr. Ferrer arrives with bad and good news.
“Mrs. Janovsky you have stage 2 papillary thyroid cancer…but the good news is that it is highly curable” I might have had a meltdown were it not for that “highly curable” prognosis. It stopped me from spiraling down into fears of ultimate death preceded by long periods of treatment. I’ve never been afraid of dying as much as just HOW I would die…in pain? pain-free? I was more worried about the reactions of my family, and in my mind composed a little speech I would give them to calm any fears.  I couldn’t drive myself home so Dr. Ferrer’s assistant, who was a member of my church drove me home. Later John and I retrieved our car. The family accepted my news calmly.

D-Day arrived in late March. In the O.R., on the table I start to feel the anesthesia kick in. Slowly my body turned to lead, getting heavier and heavier every second. Except for my head, I did not feel my body at all. I was like a dismembered head on the table. It was so, so surreal.  Like something out of a B horror movie “The Brain that Would not die”, as I saw my head in a bell jar with electrostatic waves emanating from my head.
The surgery over I breathed a sigh of relief, but there was more to come in my recovery.

The doctor came in to see me the next day.  Remembering past surgeries and removals ….tonsils, appendix, uterus, ovary, etc. and when he reported they took the thyroid, some lymph nodes, part of a jugular vein I wanted to blurt out..”Stop…just draw up an inventory list of what’s left and have it on my desk in the morning, and is it possible to install a velcro strip for any future surgeries?”. The cancer had metastasized in the neck region so they had scraped and harvested as much diseased tissue as they could find. What should have taken 90 minutes went for 3 hours plus. The incision  went far up the right side of my neck but stopped before getting too close to a major nerve. For several years, however there was a slightly diminished sense of feeling in the right shoulder.

Finally I was home and on thyroid medication I would be taking the rest of my life. Was so good to be with John and the kids again. In June ’94 my endocrinologist wanted to test scan for any remaining thyroid cells. Given a “special” pill to “light up” any thyroid tissue I went to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester for the scan. There I met Egyptian Dr. Sayeed who explained what we would be doing. The scan revealed there were still thyroid cells and I was being admitted for a radioactive therapy.  John and family kissed me so long and went home (2 hours away) but of course we talked on the phone often.

My room was prepped for easy decontamination with paper toweling taped to the floor, walls,  chair and food table. The phone was covered in plastic as was the toilet seat. Why you ask? Because the radioactivity in my sweat and skin oils would contaminate these things. In my hospital gown and on my bed, Dr. Sayeed entered with one or two assistants. They rolled in a cart with an 18″ lead shield and vial of the killer drug.   Placing the vial on my food table with the shield behind it (to protect them) they opened the vial and advised me to place the little straw in and draw up all the fluid without lifting the straw off the vial bottom. I complied. I was instructed  to drink a lot of fluid as this would flush the poison from my body in a few days.  Mylanta rid me of some mild nausea from the drug.
This was an isolation room. I had to stay there until I was “safe”.  I was not allowed to roam the pristine halls or visit other patients. Visitors could visit me but only for 30 minutes lest they absorb some radiation. A few times a day someone would come in and take geiger counter readings to measure the decreasing radioactivity levels.  So now I’m reduced to a lump of uranium?  Yeah, I was one HOT mama you could say, with a distinctive GLOW about me. Who needs a night light with me around?

I called a friend who lived nearby and she agreed to visit me. She asked if I’d like her to bring anything. “Yes…bring me some colored markers”. I was so happy when I saw Sara Jo’s blonde hair and sparkly blue eyes and heard her voice.  We had a nice visit and she prayed for me. Soon she left and my creative side kicked in as I made drawings on all the paper in my room, like blue waves on the papered walls.  My favorite was my chair. On the backrest I drew a large circle and inside it a Star of David. On each armrest I drew three radioactive discs. This was now my throne..I was the Queen of Radioactivity.

Having mainly a television for company I truly felt isolated.  Friends have often told me I am strong like a rock.  But I didn’t want to be a rock now….Sometimes a bigger rock falls on another and smashes it.  I was needy and felt no shame over that.  Just wanted to curl up on someone’s lap and have him stroke my hair, humming songs to me.  Tapping into my faith I remembered Yeshua (Jesus) told us “I will never leave you nor forsake you” This inspired a pencil drawing on a sheet of paper. It displayed me being comforted by Yeshua, with arms extended up onto his chest, smiling peacefully with my eyes closed. On the back of each hand I bore the radioactive signs. With one arm around me and the other raised, He too had these signs. It was His way of saying, “Yes…I came to be radioactive with you so you would not feel alone”. Behind the two of us was a sun-sized radioactive disc with waves emanating from it. This drawing brought me great comfort. I had nothing to fear…He was with me. I know it sounds a little child-like but Yeshua said we should come to Him as innocent children.


A final scan confirmed all thyroid cells destroyed, and I went home. Sara Jo drove me as she was going to Ithaca anyway and it saved John the drive up. Future scans spread over several years were done to insure no return of thyroid tissue and the scans finally stopped. That was 24 years ago but the memories are still with me…you don’t forget all that very easily.

I thank God that my journey through this was way easier than it could have been and I pray for all those who are on a much harder road than I was.  Heal them all Father,  Please heal them all.

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