In which Ani Casabonne tells us about being diagnosed with cancer during her first semester at Fort Lewis, and the perspective that has lent her.
This was last October, freshman year of college. I went to the doctor for a pretty routine thing and she felt my neck and said, “Oh, there’s a lump there. You should go get that checked out.” I figured that it was probably nothing. No big deal. I’d just gotten to school, so I didn’t go to the doctor until I was back home with my family for Christmas Break.
My dad drove me back to school in January. He’d left maybe two hours prior to my doctor calling me to tell me that I had stage II thyroid cancer. I was by myself in my dorm room. I felt really small. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea what to say. What do you say? “Thank you?” “Have a good day?”
I kept it pretty quiet. I told maybe five really close friends that I had cancer. I didn’t want to be treated any differently. I didn’t want to be the cancer girl. There’s a stigma with it. “You shouldn’t be skiing right now. You have cancer.” It was easier for me to focus on school and enjoying my first year of college than letting this thing take hold of me and everything that I think and am and do. My parents raised me to get past getting down on myself for stuff that I can’t control, to see past that stuff rather than dwell on it. It sounds, I don’t know, fatalistic, but things could always be worse, you know? So I’d rather focus on other people and making them happy, rather than focus on me me me.
A lot of people have it way worse than I do. It wasn’t like I had lung cancer and was struggling to breathe. Not to say that thyroid cancer doesn’t come with its own unique challenges. Your thyroid regulates your emotions and hormones and so you feel, both physically and mentally, hot and cold all the time. Once the doctors told us the symptoms, it was like, “Whoa! OK, that makes a lot of sense.” It explained why I acted the way I did in certain situations and to events and things. I know that it was hard for my parents. They’re divorced – that happened junior year of high school – so navigating that for them must’ve been tricky. And I’m an only child, so—
I make it a point to smile at someone every single day. And genuinely, too. Not just in passing. Someone at Joe’s who’s looks really frazzled and rushed – a smile, a “How are you today?”, a “Thank you so much!” could totally turn their day around. People at City Market – who is actually really nice to the checker or the person bagging your stuff? A genuine appreciation of what they’re doing for you could make their whole week. I strive to be like my dad. Everyone that meets him says, “[sigh] Your dad is such a good guy.” I’m really proud of him. I hope that people think of me as being that kind, genuine person who they’re happy to see. I’ll take nice over cool any day. I don’t need to bring my life’s shit to the party, or let that stuff influence my day. Everyone has that shit. Everyone has a story. They don’t need mine, too. They need help carrying their stuff, or making it lighter, you know?
I guess we all do.
I’m learning that this is a thing I do: I don’t let anything hit me until it’s already passed. Instead, I just tell myself, “It could be worse, it could be worse.” That drives me to forget my problems and focus on others. I have a house, I have really great friends, I have a dog, I have great bosses, I know cool people, I live here – it could be way worse! It’s not willful ignorance. I get that there are things going on that hurt people. My thing is that I can make those things better by being a decent person who sees them and tries to make their day better. I want to make people happy. In the process of that, I’m learning how to make sure that I make myself happy, too. Because you can’t carry other people’s shit if you can’t tend to your own, right? So I’m figuring that out. Bike rides, playing with my dog, having coffee – having fun. Oh! Yesterday, my friends and I had a craft night. We got Thai food, I bought a bunch of flower pots, and we painted them.
There are times that it occurs to me, “Oh, I had cancer last year. What the f**k?” It’s weird. It’s really weird. I don’t think that I ever came fully to terms with it, or wanted to talk about it. But I was way better off than a lot of people. I had radiation, but I didn’t have to have chemo, for example. I have a cool scar on my neck and that’s pretty much it. I’m stronger now because of it.
Cyle Talley put out an EP with his band English Majors called “Tell Me Exactly What You’re Thinking”. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org with academic critiques.