“Because of this, I am a volunteer for CANSA and am a Relayer”
Elise Fourie – My meeting with thyroid cancer started in a strange, but oddly heart-warming, manner. The surgeon informed me, “if you are told you must have cancer, you have no choice, but you can choose…you choose this one.”
Prior to this, small nodules were discovered on my thyroid, when I consulted a general practitioner due to severe mouth ulcers. If he had not performed an examination of my thyroid, I may not have been so lucky.
I was very resistant to losing my thyroid, as a psychologist ai fait with the important role of one’s thyroid, I wanted to avoid the physical, emotional, and cognitive impact of living without a thyroid.
But alas, that was not to be. After a left thyroidectomy, I underwent two treatments with radio-active iodine to destroy what was left of my thyroid. This was a freaky experience, not only was I radioactive for two to three days (which I could clearly hear when the nurses entered my room with a Geiger counter – was that my body causing the counter to sound like that), but I felt like a chipmunk with mumps!
Adapting to life without a thyroid was, and still is, challenging. To be able to remain healthy, one takes a higher that required dosage of thyroid-medication. The daily heart palpitation “attacks”, due to the high dosage, sometimes leaves me a bit breathless, and often worried – is this only medication heart palpitations, is my heart okay, or is this stress…
I developed insulin resistance, and I went into menopause shortly after turning 47, apparently due to not having a thyroid. With already tricky temperature control due to a lack of biological thyroid hormone, it felt as if I had hot flushes on steroids!
Today, 18 years later, living without a thyroid remains challenging. I still have heart palpitations, my temperature control is still out of whack, I am more forgetful than what age and menopause can account for and I have almost daily nap attacks, to mention only a few consequences.
If I don’t take my thyroid medication continuously, eventually my heart will stop beating and I will die. My biggest fear is not being able to obtain my thyroid meds.
Until I became a volunteer for the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), I was too embarrassed to tell other cancer Survivors I was a Survivor too. Compared to their difficult, painful, and difficult journeys, mine seemed easier – what do have to complain about, I have a “mickey mouse” cancer?
But I was reminded by the wonderful staff of CANSA, that I, like other Survivors, heard the words, “you have cancer”, the bottom dropped out of my world too at that moment. In addition, living without a thyroid has its own unique challenges every single day. And even though I may not be diagnosed with thyroid cancer again, I am not guaranteed that I may not be diagnosed with another kind of cancer. I therefore feel as nervous as my fellow Survivors when it’s time for my yearly follow up scans, and as relieved when I am declared healthy.
My husband has been the most amazing Caregiver, he helps to see the humour in every symptom I have and gives extra hugs on the days that the symptoms are too much. Our two daughters, now adults, worry when I’m under too much stress and all three of them wait with me with baited breaths for the results of my follow-up scans and examination.
As a psychologist who has been diagnosed with cancer, I have walked many individual journeys with my patients, friends and acquaintances diagnosed with cancer. I’ve cried with them when wounds did not heal properly or when chemotherapy became too much, I’ve rejoiced with them when they are in remission, and I’ve cried with them when they became sick again.
I have supported children diagnosed with cancer, and I’ve tried to answer some pretty tough questions by children about death. I’ve supported patients who are terminal, and I’ve cried when they lose their battle against cancer.
I’ve supported parents with children who have been diagnosed with cancer, I’ve supported children with parents diagnosed with cancer. I’ve supported Caregivers when they feel scared, and they are tired and overwhelmed. I’ve cried with family members when a loved one has lost the battle against cancer.
My patients and their families know I’m a phone call or a text message away.
My journey with CANSA Relay For Life, started in 2011, when I was invited to chair the Survivor and Caregiver subcommittee for the first CANSA Relay For Life Corporate. This was the first time I heard about and participated in Relay For Life. Up until then, I had only made financial donations to CANSA.
After this CANSA Relay For Life, I knew I rather wanted to donate my time, rather than just my money, and so I became a proud Relayer, not only as a participant, but as a member of the organizing committee member since the first Relay in 2011, and as chairperson for a few years.
Throughout the ten years I’ve been involved with the CANSA Relay For Life, I have cherished welcoming and meeting Survivors and their Caregivers, speaking to them, and was time and again inspired by how they are. I’ve felt sadness when Survivors don’t return because they have passed away. I feel humbled every time when my fellow Survivors and I walk the first lap, and we rejoice in celebrating another birthday.
Since becoming a volunteer for CANSA, I’ve become involved in other CANSA projects as well, such as Shavathon and Cuppa For CANSA. and I have also been elected as a member of the National Relay Advisory Team. As a volunteer for CANSA, I have an earnest intention to come up with ideas for the CANSA Relay For Life to continue, despite the challenges of Covid-19, and, together with the CANSA staff members, I almost have brain-freeze, trying to come up with other ideas for fundraising, so that CANSA can continue with its important task.
Looking back, I can see how my life has been touched by the many Survivors and the Global Heroes of Hope I’ve met on this journey, and how sad I have felt with each life lost to cancer.
Lastly, the thief that cancer is, was brought home cruelly, when my best friend, my person, my sister by heart, after winning the battle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, passed away in January 2021, because her body was unable to fight Covid.
Cathy, and all the other Survivors I’ve met, will be my inspiration to remain involved in this battle against cancer, and I hope to make a difference, no matter how small, in the battle against cancer.