Today marks five years since I was diagnosed with cancer. Whoa!

At 24, I was living alone in Chinatown, dating a guy 3,000 miles away, and just been notified that a growing tic-tac-sized nodule in my thyroid was cancerous. I remember telling my mother I would be fine for the night as we shared a plate of cheese fries at a diner on Third Avenue near my endocrinologist’s office. It was two days before Thanksgiving.

I went back to work, took the M15 bus home, drank wine, and fell apart.

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Source: American Thyroid Association, ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc.

My life, at 24, was supposed to be just starting. Most of my friends and I were still adjusting to our new homes in the city. I had been here for almost two years, and lived that storybook narrative of sprightly, and naively believed invincibility. My social circle still found excitement and a youthful sense of normalcy in partying and exploring, happy hours and late nights.

I made it because of my family, friends, and so many wonderful connections that I have to my great city. Cancer is never an easy thing to face, but if you have to do it, New York City is the only place I would want to be.

Gilda’s Club, in the West Village, introduced me to so many beautiful people. In my support group, I was the youngest compared to most by about 20-30 years. Most notably, I met an artist, midwife, and architect who shaped not only my cancer experience, but the path of my personal growth. They taught me perspective on suffering and strength. There will always be someone suffering more than I had, or displaying strength greater than my own. At the end of the day, I was strong, mature, and determined enough to face, manage, and overcome cancer.

My family taught me about having tough conversations with people whom I believed we already discussed everything. Some people couldn’t address my illness, while others made it their business to address my illness in heart-to-heart phone calls or visits, make note at fundraisers that they are “Standing Up to Cancer” for me, and running 5Ks in my honor. While sisters are my life, cousins are my world, and I could not envision a better group of people to have in my corner, today I have a niece and nephew for whom I breathe every single day.

A significant launching pad for so much personal growth is the romantic relationship in which you find yourself. Five years ago, I was forced to Skype with a boyfriend to tell him I had cancer, someone whom I believed to be the one. Unfortunately, the ultimate lesson with which I walked away from a four-year, on-and-off relationship, was that his presence at a traumatic time didn’t mean that I was indebted to him. For years after the diagnosis, I felt like I owed him for staying with a sick girl.

After that, I came across countless men who were great on paper, but wrong for me. One relationship, more specifically a breaking point, comes to mind, especially on this anniversary, as I write from a couch snuggled next to The Man. A guy that I had dated briefly frequently fought me because I told him that I believed I needed a best friend who wasn’t my boyfriend. At that point, I did not feel that I had found a best friend in my partner. To this day, I do not believe that anyone who holds my former belief is necessarily wrong.

The diagnosis of cancer changes your life forever. I faced the concept of mortality, learned what is important in life, developed a voice and a confidence to defend what I want, and came out on top. My relationship with my family and friends was heightened and deepened by the experience. And I went through testing the waters, and came out with The Man who appreciates my experiences and continues to support me in my everlasting medical tests and appointments. He is never more than a phone call away, and in my arms every night– unless he is on the night tour. Perhaps my favorite part about his presence is that I found my best friend in my partner. With everything we have gone through as a team, the life that we have planned, the myriad inside jokes we’ve created, and our tangible love for each other, I could not envision finding a better best friend in anyone else.

Thank you to everyone who was there five years ago, and to everyone who has joined me since then on my still sprightly journey through life!

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