Thyroid Cancer Canada
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Stories of Strength

These are individual stories of thyroid cancer survivors. Each is unique and all are inspirational. Share your thyroid cancer survival story – click here to submit.

Nadia Hohn, Blogger

November 17, 2010

If you are a blogger like I am, you have probably heard one of these statements from your close family member, friend, or spouse: “Don’t post that on your blog!” “Are you going to blog about this?” or even the helpful, “You should put this on your blog.” I have heard all three in my most recent attempt at “blogdom.”

My first attempt was while taking a break from my career as a teacher five years ago, I was working in a sort of corporate training capacity for a company and bored out of mind. I had chemistry textbooks stacked on my desk since I was also completing prerequisite courses to get into a naturopathic medical school and decided to pour all of my anxieties, indecision, regrets, and self-pitying into a very pathetic blogpost. Ich! The very thought sends shivers down my spine. In 2011, a few years after I had left that corporate position. I had some major life changes. I “ixnayed” the naturopathic studies, decided to return to the classroom, and received a diagnosis of papillary thyroid cancer on November 17, 2010. My physician found the lump in my neck five months earlier. I was horrified to see that old blogpost still existed like an exorcised zombie which desperately needed to be “put down”. I did my best to delete... delete... delete... and zipped into starting a new blog called Blue Butterfly, a fresh, graceful, and vibrant alternative as its name suggests. I had so many things to write about on this new blog. . . books, music, art, nutrition, and cancer, thyroid cancer to be exact. And I wanted to tell it all about thyroid cancer... tell....  it... all.

“Why do you put your business out there?” as my mother put it. Well, when I was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I did not know anyone who had this disease other than vintage rock star Rod Stewart and film critic Roger Ebert. I scoured the internet, looking for personal, first-hand accounts and websites about the “thyroid cancer journey” and I came up largely empty-handed.

With thyroid cancer as my muse, the desire to let all my friends and relatives know how I was doing, as well as my wish to share “experiences, thoughts, and lessons through my cancer journey”, I decided to start my blog Blue Butterfly. I chose “blue” because it is my favourite colour and “butterfly” since the thyroid is shaped like this insect. I would eventually learn that the blue butterfly has other meanings as well like a symbol of healing in Cost Rica. A Quebec film with the same name depicts the real life story of a young leukemia patient who is cured when he finds this rare insect. Butterflies also emerge from cocoons and I pictured my radioactive isolation as a sort of cocoon from which I would emerge restored and transformed..

Blue Butterfly became an elixir in my recovery process. Before I started my blog, I was petrified of using the term “cancer” to describe my illness and fearful of telling others beyond my family and friends. Since starting the blog five months after diagnosis, I not only became more comfortable with the terms cancer and tumours (not what I used to call them-- carcinoma and nodules), but I began to open up a lot more about my diagnosis. On a sick leave from work, I quickly taught myself to design a proper blog with an attractive layout, learned how to photograph food with proper lighting, and invent music video playlists such as: The Cancer Survivor Playlist, The Waiting for Whole Body Scan Results Playlist, and The Radioactive Playlist. I blogged about my recent discoveries of veganism, good books, and inspiring arts along the way while providing in the words from my blog “a delicious, thought provoking, and creative” healing journey. In the beginning, as I recovered from thyroid cancer, I could not physically do much else but easily blogged (and cooked) for hours on end. Yet when I stopped, I would almost collapsed from exhaustion. It was that engaging.

I reviewed films and discussed support groups and events I attended such as the Thyroid Cancer Canada Patients’ Forum and Young Adult Cancer Canada retreat and conference. I created a list of celebrities who have had thyroid cancer that is much more extensive than Roger Ebert and Rod Stewart. I delved into some pretty dark territory as I discussed mortality, resentment, fears of recurrence, hypochondria, depression, and tears. . . I wrote about the ups and downs, highs and lows, moodiness, and funny situations about being radioactive and alone for four days on the Easter long weekend in 2010 when I had a craving for Thai food and spring rolls. I finally got to eat when it was all over but then cried because I couldn’t taste them, a side effect of the radioactive iodine (RAI). I have my taste back now though. I wrote about the challenges of sick benefits, Thyrogen (or the lack thereof), finances, and long-term disability.

I wrote about possible causes of thyroid cancer that I have gathered in my reading—the ones the doctors don’t tell you about—as well as politics and activism. I created a list of “100 Funky Sexy Manifestos”— a series of posts featuring what I wished to accomplish after thyroid cancer. I even wrote a series of posts about Meaty, my thyroidectomy scar, and his “latest adventures.”

On the flip side, there were some areas of my life where I had to draw the line on openness. In respect to my fiancé and to protect our privacy, I kept posts about our relationship to a bare minimum, but I will say that the blog has helped it. As a writer, I can access and express certain feelings and experiences much easier through the written word and hence this blog. From reading some of my posts, he has been able to gain a much deeper understanding of what I was going through and respond accordingly. I also had to exercise some discretion as I was also aware that my employers might be reading this material. Above all, I realized that the benefits of the blog far outweighed the risks.

One day he was reading my blog and a co-worker looked over his shoulder, saw a photo of “Meaty,” and she said, “Ew. That’s gross. Who’d put that on the internet?” He responded “My fiancée and that’s her surgery scar from thyroid cancer. It shows she is strong and has resilience.” (Right on!) I’m so glad that she saw my scar. People who have often dismissed thyroid cancer as the “easy cancer” and from my journey they could see the scars and what it was really like.

Unbeknownst to me at the time of starting this blog, I was creating an information resource for not only myself but thyroid and other cancer survivors as well, for which I am extremely proud. I not only received e-mails and responses from fellow survivors, family members, and friends who have been inspired by these posts but readers in the United States, Spain, and Israel (as well as a lot of spam). From its inception in April 2011, Blue Butterfly has had more than 60, 000 page views and over 200 posts. Blue Butterfly has opened doors for me as well. I have been invited to speak at events, interviewed for an online magazine, and even began a second blog, My Big Fat Jamaican Wedding, to document the planning of my nuptials.

Creating Blue Butterfly has been a gift in so many ways to me. It helped me to revive my passion for writing that I hope to pursue in the forms of future studies and career direction. This blog has given me a legitimized, raw account of my journey during a very unique time in my life. Most of all, it has given me a place to connect with and help others.

You can visit Blue Butterfly at http://nadiahohn.blogspot.com

Chris LimNadia Hohn