Finding Peace in Change–Surgery Week.

Well, many of you know that after sitting down with the Dean of Admissions, and speaking once again with my surgeon, I was encouraged to defer a year of school. This has been pretty difficult to grasp. I just moved across the country again, to start school. I was excited to begin working toward a degree that I believe will help me most readily in my dream of helping those in modern-day slavery.

It’s hard to not feel like a failure or that I wimped out or that I gave up. I have never backed out of anything in my life…once I commit to something, I see it through. It was extremely hard to make the final call. I talked to several of my professors and they articulated how incredibly difficult it is to miss even one day of law school–and I was looking toward missing at least 5 days upfront. Also, while the surgery recovery is supposed to take 10 days, the ENT was clear that it could take some time to regulate my “fake thyroid” medication after surgery (I’ll be on this medication the rest of my life), and it is likely that I will be tired frequently. I will have radiation treatment about 6-8 weeks later, and that also looks like there will be a few days I’ll have to be down for the count. The Dean of Admin thought it was a wise choice to defer for medical reasons, which means that I have an automatic spot secured for next year.

With all of this in mind, it seemed unnecessary to struggle to hang on the first year of law school–a lot hinges on the first year and there were several other external factors that confirmed my decision:

  • Scholarships for your remaining years in school are determined by your grades your first year. I want to work toward being the top of my class.
  • The bar is mostly based on first year material.
  • I don’t want to just make it through the year–it’s essential to me that I truly understand the material. I want to know what I’m learning and not just frantically catching up.
  • I’ve been told several times that students develop study groups at the beginning of their first year that often carry out through all three years. I would be in surgery the end of the first week into the second and realize it is likely I will miss out on opportunities to connect with classmates from the beginning.
  • I’m really not on any time frame. Taking one year off at 22-years-old is not going to drastically change the outcome of my career. I’ve just never wanted to take any time off, because I have goals and I know what I hope to accomplish in the future.
  • If the doctor is trying to regulate my “fake thyroid” medication, I imagine it will be much more difficult if my stress level is through the roof with school.
  • I have been going non-stop for a very long time, and it could be very good for me to take a step back (I wouldn’t have made that decision on my own, without something health-related to stop me 😉 )

I know that this year is going to end up being something very special. I am going to make the best of it, and I am already extremely excited at all of the places I plan to go, people I plan to see, things I plan to do once all of this passes–whether it’s 6 months, 8 months, 10 months, etc. Whenever this passes, I’ll be ready to continue pursuing life at full force 🙂 :

  • Looking into an internship at International Justice Mission
  • Teaching percussion at the two high schools I’ve already started to help this year.
  • Riding my bike, just because!
  • Training for a mini marathon and/or decathlon
  • Writing more, taking pictures again, art projects with my roommate
  • Seeking a conversation partner to finally become fluent in Spanish
  • Spending more time with my family north of the city
  • Driving to Indy and spending time with my brother and sister-in-law and baby nephew (due in January!)!
  • Going to The Justice Conference in February! I have always wanted to go to this. It’s in Philly this year, assuming I can pull the money together for the ticket and travel, I can’t wait! I’ve always wanted to go.
  • Continuing to write articles from Halftime and freelance elsewhere
  • Jazz events in the city
  • WGI Finals 🙂
  • Participating in another Venture Expeditions trip!

I am also making sure over the next several months that I spend significant time alone, in reflection and prayer. I am opening my mind to what the Lord has in store for me, even if it may not be what I have been convinced of for so long. I am letting go of all of my expectations and remembering the journey and finding peace in the process. I pray that I am sensitive to my conscience and not stubborn in my goal-set ways. I’m already growing and learning.

My surgery is this Friday, August 31, and I’m really hope time passes fast between now and then. The anticipation and waiting is pretty rough. I’m SO thankful that my parents are able to fly in this week from northern California to be here during the process. I am so blessed to have them. I love them dearly.

My parents and I at Biola graduation– May 2012

My lovely parents

Cycling 500 Miles, Law School & Thyroid Cancer

Seven months ago I began bike training for a 500 mile bike trip that I completed three weeks a go. It was at this time that I started noticing a lump on my neck, because my helmet strap laid across it everyday when I put it on. I didn’t think much of it and focused on my training.

The bike tour was radical. I will never forget riding through the mountains of West Virginia singing John Denver’s song Country Roads.

We rode to spread awareness of modern-day slavery and the reality of this kind of oppression in our world today. We rode to raise money for International Justice Mission, to support their efforts in combating these issues. I wrote this post right before we left, and it shares a little more about why we rode. For more of my updates from the trip, search #IJMFreedomTour on Instagram (@Joyness44) and Twitter (@Lydianess).

One of the last days of the cycling trip, I asked Una, one of the participants on our trip who happens to be a doctor, to take a look at the lump on my neck. She told me to go to the doctor when I got back.

I went to the family doctor initially, and he expressed a little concern. I had an ultrasound over my neck which revealed several small nodules around my thyroid and one significantly larger nodule which looked like a lymph node–all on the right side of my neck. The ultrasound showed that the nodules were in fact solid, so they could not be cysts.

However, he called me and said that sometimes lymph nodes swell up when you get a virus, and to just wait it out a couple more months to see if the larger one goes away or gets larger. This was frustrating because it had already been there for over six months, so I didn’t understand why they thought it would go away now. I was also surprised because my grandma had lymphoma, so I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t at least want to remove the large lymph node that was causing me problems.

The next morning he called me back and changed his mind and told me to go see an ENT. Because I moved close to where I lived when I was very young, I have actually been able to see the same doctor that did minor surgery on my ears when I was very little. He has been awesome. In our initial visit, he was concerned about several things that he felt. He told me that his initial thoughts were either thyroid cancer or lymphoma.

He had me get a biopsy of the large lymph node. They didn’t numb me, because it was supposed to be a quick in and out needle biopsy. However, because of the location of the nodule, they had to try four different times with two different sized needles to get cells that would be useful. It was pretty painful by the fourth time.

I flew to California for a wedding last weekend. Amanda and I went to see The Bourne Legacy at 10 am the day it came out–> we wanted to see it cheaper :). About halfway through, the ENT called me to say that the biopsy showed thyroid tissue in my lymph node, which more or less solidified his concern for thyroid cancer. We scheduled a CT scan for the day I returned from Cali and an appointment to talk about surgery. Amanda and I didn’t finish the movie (anyone want to go? ;).

The CT scan was so interesting. They injected me with dye so they would be able to see contrast better. They told me that it would feel warm and might feel like I was peeing my pants. They were right, and I ended up laughing hysterically the whole time they were doing the scan because it felt like I was (I hope you can picture that–it was pretty entertaining). The CT scan showed a growth on the right lobe of my thyroid, and then at least three other nodules between my lymph node and the thyroid.

I am now scheduling surgery for a full a thyroidectomy and cleaning out of the lymph nodes on the right side of my throat. When I’m under for surgery, they’ll figure out what kind of thyroid cancer it is. I start law school Monday, so this will be an interesting start to the next chapter of my life. BUT, the incision will be a hockey stick shape on my right side of my neck, so maybe I can get sponsored by Nike 😉

There will be follow up 6-8 weeks later to see how things clear out, or if anything remains, and we’ll go from there.

Now, there are several details to take note of:

  • When I had my physical before the bike trip, I forgot to tell the doctor that my grandma had lymphoma, so she did not check out my neck at all. Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go on this bike tour if they had started testing before the bike trip. I deeply believe that this bike trip was an essential part of my life story, so I also don’t believe this was a coincidence that I managed to forget on that day to tell the doctor a vital piece of family health history.
  • I managed to train for and ride 500 miles across the country with thyroid cancer 😉
  • A month a go, my mom scheduled a visit to Chicago to see me, and little did we know then, that it would happen to be the week that I have finalizing tests before heading into surgery. It is such a blessing to be able to have her here for this.
  • Over the past several months, I had developed an irrational fear of dying young, before getting married, before having a family of my own, before accomplishing my dreams… I know this seems pathetic, BUT it was this fear that prompted me to ask Una to check out my neck. I am a very optimistic person and fears like this never permeate my mind. I truly believe the Holy Spirit prompted me to ask Una.
  • The community of my bike trip has been the biggest God-send. I have been updating them on the process of going through testing of this lump, and they have been steadfast in prayer and encouragement. In fact, they rallied together to fast and pray for me the day of my CT scan, from their various locations around the country. Now that is community. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

Above all else, I want to be clear that I am doing fine, that I am surrounded by love and that I am SO thankful for my life and the people in it.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9