Living as a Cancer Survivor – Elise Fourie (Counselling Psychologist and CANSA volunteer)
My name is Elise Fourie, I am a cancer Survivor diagnosed with thyroid cancer in December 2001.
Thyroid cancer is a fairly rare cancer, and depending on the type of cancer, a cancer with a fairly good prognosis.
This information however, didn’t help at all in that moment that I was told that I have cancer. It felt as if the bottom of my world had dropped out, my heart was racing, I was nauseous, and I was totally speechless (which for me is very rare…). Being a counselling psychologist didn’t help either-I didn’t have answers for myself in that moment.
It took about two days before I could inform my daughters, family and friends – I first had to process the news before I could share it. My very supportive and darling husband respected my silence, and just held me, comforted me and hugged me a lot…really A LOT!
I didn’t undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment. However, the left lobe of my thyroid gland was removed surgically and the rest was treated with radio-active iodine, which of course, has left me without a thyroid and an inactive salivary gland. I have to take thyroid medication for the rest of my life.
Physically living without a thyroid gland, has its own challenges…
In order to prevent the cancer from returning, the TSH-levels are kept low by administering a higher dosage of thyroid hormones. This has very ‘interesting’ consequences…hot flushes and heart palpitations, to name the worst two. Another effect for me of having to live without a thyroid gland, was that menopause came early for me, which made life even more ‘interesting’…besides the hot flushes I already have as result of the low TSH levels, I take MANY short private vacations in the tropics.
Other challenges of living without a thyroid gland, include fluctuating energy levels, weight issues, memory and concentration problems (as if menopause and ageing don’t already affect memory and concentration). Eating with an inactive salivary gland, is sometimes also quite a challenge, regardless of the other active salivary glands.
Fortunately eating healthy has always been important for us, I only had to make adaptations to changes to my diet. Exercise remains important, even for a couch potato like me. Most importantly, I have to manage stress levels as well as my immune system. Despite being informed that I only have to undergo check-ups every second year, I prefer to undergo check- ups annually. The fear of a recurrence or metastasis is very real and always present. The time during the yearly check-up is usually very nerve-wrecking and I am then even more aware of the risk for me, than during other times. I almost can’t describe the relief when I am informed of another year that I am cancer-free.
Emotionally I meditate often and focus on a realistic appraisal of my thoughts and fears. Positive thinking doesn’t mean that I repress the fears of negative thoughts or deny their existence, it means that I acknowledge their presence, but then find some way of dealing with these thoughts and fears, whether it is through realistic appraisal of the thoughts, talking to my husband or a colleague or a friend, or just taking time off for myself. I regularly consult a colleague,
Spending time with my family has become a priority and we have created many special memories in the years since I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
As a counselling psychologist, I work hard to walk my talk, especially when I deal with clients diagnosed with cancer. It took a while before I could start counselling clients diagnosed with cancer, but today I see many clients diagnosed with cancer and these encounters are precious and inspiring. I have been privileged to support clients who have become terminally ill, and to me this as almost holy work. I am saddened by the passing of each person due to cancer (and other terminal diseases) and this inspires me to want to make a difference in the battle against cancer.
Five years ago, I was asked to become involved as a volunteer for CANSA. My journey with the CANSA Relay For Life Corporate event has since then been an inspiration, a joy and an opportunity for me to feel that in a small way I too am making a difference in the battle against cancer, not only for children and adults diagnosed with cancer, but also for myself. As much as I find inspiration by being a volunteer for CANSA, I find even more inspiration in being involved with the organisation of the CANSA Relay For Life Corporate, as this is the CANSA fundraising event that touches me most as a cancer Survivor. Relay has all the elements that makes it a very special experience- Survivors of cancer celebrate life, gratitude is expressed towards their Caregivers, the loved ones that have passed away are remembered, and a community comes together in the fight against cancer.
I hope, pray and trust that I will have many more healthy years, and that I will see my daughters getting married, be a grandmother to my future grandchildren and grow old with my darling husband.