There are so many ways one can prepare themselves for upcoming cancer treatments. This can include getting ready for surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. I am grateful that medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) does not include typical chemotherapy options like other cancers. I have watched friends and family doing things like getting fitted for wigs.
The things I ended up doing as preparations probably overlap somewhat with other cancer patients. I would like to share an idea of what was helpful for me.
Presurgery preparation. This may sound a little more morbid than any of my other thoughts. This was going to be my first ever real anesthetic. Before this I only had my wisdom teeth removed. To say I was uneasy about being put under and operated on for so long, would be an understatement.
The week leading up to the surgery I had conversation after conversation with my husband and family. Mostly, however, the conversations were with my husband. Since I did most of our paperwork, such as bills and the like, I gave him a crash course. We went over which bills are being paid automatically, and which ones he needed to look out for. We talked about where he could find the necessary paperwork for our life insurance if things got that far.
Honestly, the preparation for the surgery was bleaker than any other emotion. I was preparing to not wake up anymore. I made sure all of my family and loved ones knew exactly how much I loved them before heading in for surgery.
Preradiation preparation. Before heading in for my radiation treatments, the preparations took a bit of a funny turn. I wanted to memorialize what I looked like, and what my husband and I looked like together before radiation did the damage that I anticipated it would do.
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I reached out to a coworker turned photographer. I asked her if she would be willing to do a photoshoot with us prior to the radiation treatment. To our relief, she agreed. We headed over to her family’s sunflower farm and captured some amazing pictures. We got some shots of my scar, which had healed quite nicely actually. It was all about having fun, before getting to the not-so-fun parts.
Midradiation preparation. I also ended up doing some more preparations about 1-2 weeks after radiation had started. Before ever starting, I had talked to my hairdresser. I wanted to get the hair that I knew was going to fall out, cut very short. I knew it would be emotionally quite distressing to me to watch my hair fall out. Once I started pulling it out in chunks, I realized the time had come to make the shaving appointment.
Although it was clear the rest of what was left was going to join what already was lost soon, I decided to go for a designed undercut. Who knows if and when I would ever get the opportunity to do so again? It was such a relief not to pull out more and more hair.
Throughout my cancer journey, which has now been almost 6.5 years, we have repeated the photoshoot to capture where we were at the time in our life. It has become a little like a “look how far we have come” tradition.
Health care providers can make the suggestion to their patients to do something fun before they start treatment. They may end up looking at these pictures as something to hold on to. They may even be able to set it as a goal to get back to health, get back to where they were in those pictures. Or maybe they will just have a really great keepsake for themselves and their loved ones.
It doesn’t have to be photography, although I am definitely biased toward it. It could be a family trip or writing letters to yourself and to others. It could be something as simple as having a family dinner before treatments begin.
Just remind them that their life isn’t over. It is, like my friend says, on hold. Help them find something to hold on to, something to look forward to.
About a month after I finished radiation, I had a trip to Disney planned. I honestly think it was very helpful for me to have something fun after all of the terrible things I had to go through during treatments.