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Forever Thankful: How I Faced Life’s Curveball Head On

My personal story about an unexpected challenge that came my way

Written by: Stephanie Vendetti, Co-Founder of How to be a Redhead. Edited by: H2BAR Editorial Team

It has taken me a while to write this article. It was hard to talk about the last four months, nevermind write about it. As I sit here writing, I’m reflecting on the word thankful and what it means in my life right now. While this may not have anything to do with being a redhead, I feel it’s important for Adrienne and I’s H2BAR followers and readers (aka you!) to know and hopefully learn from my experience. 

Season 3, Episode 1 of the How to be a Redhead podcast is now live. I speak about the unexpected challenge that came my way and how I handled the situation. Take a listen and read my excerpt below:

In September 2019, I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. That c-word consumed my life for weeks.

Luckily, I was on top of my health and frequently got check-ups months before the diagnosis. I was initially concerned because my mensural cycle was irregular. My gynecologist referred me to an endocrinologist because my TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) was higher than normal, which was most likely causing irregular periods. My husband, Brian, and I were eventually looking to expand our family so my doctor recommended I go see if an autoimmune disease or hypothyroidism were at play and causing the irregular cycles.

The earliest appointment I could get to see the specialist was in October. I did not want to wait five months and called continuously to see if there were cancellations. 

Finally, they called me in early September and said they could get me in. I saw my endocrinologist’s physician assistant who did a routine health exam and bloodwork. Just as I was about to leave the appointment, she did an in-depth neck check. It was a very thorough neck check that I am forever thankful for. She discovered a small lump on my right thyroid. My endocrinologist immediately did an ultrasound and a biopsy. He explained to me the ultrasound was looking suspicious but couldn’t be 100% sure until the biopsy results came back. 

I never want to relive that day. I tried to remain calm until I spoke with my doctor. I was freaking out, crying, shaking –– basically all the above and more. If you know me, then you know I’m a pretty positive, fun-loving person. That day, however, was not the case. Something inside me felt like it had changed. I was thinking the worst, hoping for the best, but thinking the worst and worrying to the extreme. I have always been a worrier but this day was way different. I went home, updated my family and friends and took comfort in being with my husband and dog.

The next day, at around 4 PM, my doctor called to inform me that it was, in fact, papillary thyroid cancer. He told me not to worry about that “c-word”. This type of cancer was very slow growing and had a 99%+ survival rate. He eased my mind but I was still in utter shock. I kept thinking, “Why me?” 

I won’t go into detail about every single thing that happened after that phone call, but I will admit I was a mess that week. I couldn’t grasp the news. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt frozen. I realized the years of practicing yoga were not helping. I was not being a yogi off my mat. My mind was racing and I started going down the hole of Googling stuff. I learned the hard way NOT to do this. I kept thinking about what if’s and was being hard on myself for not discovering the lump on my own months before. 

There was another important event that happened during this same week. Although I don’t write about it here, I do talk about it on the new episode of the How to be a Redhead podcast. Listen here:

My life changed after that week. I was beginning to see the world and my relationships in a whole different light. I was being more appreciative, smiling all the time (even to strangers), embracing the little things and noticing the subtle beautifulness in my daily life. I was starting to think that this circumstance could be the best thing to ever happen to me. I started to meditate every morning for 10 minutes and do full-body scans throughout the day anytime I felt stress or anxiousness consume me. Through this meditation discovery, I began to feel extreme thankfulness. It brought light to all the things in my life that I was grateful for. This gratitude practice made it so the cancer diagnosis did not take over my mindset. I was instead focusing on the amazing people in my life: my husband, sister, parents, in-laws, brother-in-law, cousins, my 99 -year-old (wow!) great aunt, best friends, and dog. These relationships made me, me. I was thankful for my dad’s ‘how are you’ texts each morning, my mom’s urgency to come take care of me, the growth of my mother-in-law and I’s relationship, my many friend’s calling and texting to get updates, my sister’s positiveness, and my husband coming home and giving me the biggest hugs ever while our dog licked us. I cherished each of these moments.

This then brought me down the grateful path of actually reflecting on the diagnosis. I soon realized there was more good than bad with my scenario. I had amazing doctors whom I trusted, wonderful nurses, a great health insurance plan and a very positive, level-headed husband who calmed me down every day — especially at night when I would wake him up suddenly with a wave of emotions. I was so thankful to catch the lump early and it was incredibly slow-growing.

The surgery was November 1st. My entire thyroid was removed to prevent this from ever happening again. I had immediate relief that it was out of my body and I could move on from this. I didn’t need chemotherapy, thankfully, and can live a long, healthy life without my thyroid. As a result, I take a pill every day that contains the synthetic thyroid hormone. I am so thankful for medicine and my great doctors. I am also thankful for being on top of my health, for that PA who found the lump and for wanting kids (or else I wouldn’t have scheduled those gyno appointments).

I went into 2020 saying goodbye to cancer (for good) and I’m not looking back. A new decade is upon us and I feel stronger than ever. 

I notice the beauty in my daily life more than ever before; subtle beauty like the one flower that still bloomed outside our house, the leaves that graced my sneakers while walking, the air, the sun, the rain, and the birds chirping. I now realize fretting over the future when the future hadn’t even happened yet is pointless. I learned I need to live each day to the fullest and not dwell on the past. Life is way too short to sweat the small stuff. It’s okay if someone cuts you off on the highway, you get horrible service at a restaurant or spill coffee on your new white shirt. Embrace the moment, and cherish the unexpected. It’s what life is all about and we’re only here on this planet for a short amount of time.

There is so much to be thankful for – in my life and in yours. So before going to bed at night, think of three things you are grateful for. 

The word thankful is so powerful. It changed my life and it can change yours. I am forever grateful.

Rock it like a Redhead!

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