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Warriors Never Quit: How a 21-Year-Old Overcame Her Battle With Cancer

“At the time, I knew nothing about thyroid cancer. I knew I had a thyroid, but didn’t really know what it did. We are told to check our skin for moles, or for lumps in our breasts, but no one ever talks about checking your neck.”

Lavania Nagarajan

I went to see the doctor for my annual medication refill for my colostomy bag. I have had an imperforate anus since I was born, which resulted in having a permanent colostomy bag.

Imperforate anus is a defect that is present at the time of birth (congenital). The opening to the anus is missing or blocked. The anus is the opening to the rectum through which stools leave the body. It usually requires immediate surgery to open a passage for feces unless a fistula can be relied on until corrective surgery takes place. Depending on the severity of the imperforate, it is treated either with a perineal anoplasty or with a colostomy.

The doctor asked me, “How long has your neck been so swollen?”. A routine checkup of my neck and lymph node was done, and he felt a tiny lump on my thyroid. He told me that nodules are common and happen with age but recommended I get an ultrasound to be safe. The ultrasound found three suspicious nodules that had to be biopsied, and the results suggested that it was papillary thyroid cancer.

Cancer was the last thing I wanted to hear. So, when I went to seek a second opinion on my diagnosis, I went alone hoping it was a problem with my thyroid.

In February 2015, at the age of 21 years old, I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer. It was 4cm; the size of a golf ball!

At the time, I knew nothing about thyroid cancer. I knew I had a thyroid, but didn’t really know what it did. We are told to check our skin for moles, or for lumps in our breasts, but no one ever talks about checking your neck. Things moved very quickly from there. Within a few weeks, I had to have my whole thyroid surgically removed. They removed 2 lymph nodes together with the entire thyroid gland. Unfortunately, the involvement of my lymph nodes made the surgery more invasive so for a long time I had a lingering pain.

A few weeks after my surgery, I celebrated my 21st birthday. I remember others complaining about how old they felt, and feeling impatient with them. We should be grateful for every year we are able to celebrate.

Radioactive Iodine and Isolation
most cancers, thyroid cancer patients are treated with radioactive iodine. Patients are usually isolated for five days to ensure that they don’t endanger others with their body’s radioactivity. Shortly after undergoing surgery, I started on radioactive iodine treatment. I was alone in the hospital, which made me feel very afraid and isolated. Eventually, anxiety took over me and I was out of control! Thankfully with the help of family and friends, I managed to pull myself back together.

 

Lavania with her friend and sister-in-law

Friendships Were Tested
It’s funny how life works. Before I was diagnosed, I had many friends! After my diagnosis, I realized who really cared for me. My best friend Jasreen and my sister-in-law were there for me at the time I needed them the most. They would bring me pizza to cheer me up and Jasreen would make me laugh by saying that my voice sounded like a man after surgery!

When You Give, You Get
Having thyroid cancer really changed my life. Being diagnosed with cancer as a young woman is difficult. However, the experience has given me wisdom, maturity and a perspective I would not have if it were not for the cancer. I see life very differently now and try to live each moment to the fullest. I realized I had to change the way I think in order to change my life. I want to be more positive and to give more to others in need. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that when you give, you get.

Lavania’s dogs who kept her spirits up

Life After Cancer
I feel just as lively and energetic as I did before the diagnosis. I’m happy to say that I’m back to working full-time at my job! Woo hoo! I’ve also started to explore my love for photography, traveling and being outdoors. The best part of my day is spending time with my dogs. Whenever I came home from treatment, I’m almost always tired, but they would wait for me and give me an extra boost of energy!

Support Group
I reached out to the National Cancer Society of Malaysia and found out about the Young Survivors Group. Through this group, I have found many new friends and it has helped me feel less alone about going through cancer at a young age.

Lavania’s mother

My Mother, My Caregiver
My mother is a superwoman! I remember breaking the news to her and she was devastated. Despite that, she never gave up on me and is my constant source of motivation to fight cancer.
She came to the hospital every single day to take care of me, even though she has a full-time job and very little sleep.
If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here today and I came this far because of her. She is the strongest and most independent woman I know.

By Lavania Nagarajan

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