Angie Nordstrum shares her story of surviving cancer during pregnancy and how laughter was an unexpected saving grace during a difficult time.
You Are Stronger Than You Know
“That’s funny,” my doctor said. “When you laugh your thyroid bulges.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. “What is a thyroid?”
I soon learned that your thyroid is a gland that regulates hormone function in the body. It is located at the base of your neck and shaped like a butterfly.
I didn’t really think anything of this conversation. I didn’t feel sick or uncomfortable. This was a routine doctor appointment.
My doctor asked me to get a biopsy. I did that. I don’t think I even knew what “biopsy” meant at the time. Certainly no one had referenced the C-word or mentioned anything especially concerning about my thyroid.
I was at work in my cubicle when my doctor called with the news.
“Angie, this is your endocrinologist’s office. We are calling to let you know your biopsy showed papillary carcinoma of the thyroid. We need you to come back in and make a plan for treatment.”
“What?!” I said. “I don’t understand. What is carcinoma?” I really was not sure what the nurse was telling me. “Do I have cancer? Is that what carcinoma means?”
I was reeling in total confusion. I stumbled to my supervisor’s office and told her that I just found out I had cancer and needed to go home. I’ll never forget that drive. I’m surprised I made it home in one piece; tears were pouring uncontrollably from my eyes as I drove.
I’ve always been someone who is always laughing, always smiling. I’ve known for a long time that a smile and laughter are how to break the ice and welcome others into my world. Who doesn’t love a full on belly laugh? One of those I-cannot-catch-my-breath-my-abs-are-cramping-up kind of laugh? But when I laughed during a conversation at my doctor’s office, she noticed my thyroid bulged out. What a wild juxtaposition. My laugh, something as unique and personal as my fingerprints, showed the cancer growing in my neck.
I made a plan with my doctor for treatment. We scheduled further testing and surgery to remove the thyroid. This whole thing was truly blowing my mind. I was only 33 years old! I was a healthy mountain biking, snowboarding, vegetarian Iowa girl living the Colorado dream. How could I have cancer?
I tend to have a positive attitude, so I made a surgery and treatment plan with my endocrinologist. I wanted to get the cancer out of my body as soon as possible and move on with my life. We scheduled a surgery 4 weeks after my diagnosis. I had the date on my calendar and the treatment plan was in motion. I was crossing off the days until surgery. I was reading every cancer survivor book I could find to keep my attitude positive.
But a positive attitude can’t fix everything.
A week later, I realized I had missed my period. I attributed this to stress, of course. A cancer diagnosis is more than stressful and, despite my efforts to have a positive outlook, I wasn’t eating or sleeping well. I didn’t feel like myself.
But I went to my gynecologist anyway and told her about my concern.
She ran a pregnancy test.
“Congratulations! You are pregnant!”
The gynecologist didn’t know the cancer part of the story yet.
I melted into tears in the office, sobbing while the doctors and nurses exchanged crosswise glances while I told them about my diagnosis. My gynecologist agreed to speak with my endocrinologist to adjust my treatment plan. But I guess that no one in town had dealt with thyroid cancer in a pregnant woman before. We connected with doctors at the University hospital and we made a new plan.
Fortunately, I learned that thyroid cancer is a slow-growing cancer which meant that we didn’t have to operate immediately. I could proceed with my pregnancy. So, we scheduled the thyroid surgery after my first trimester ended.
And thus began our wild ride of cancer and pregnancy. This was a wild experience of life beginning and cancer that needed to be removed. New life and death, happening in my body all at the same time.
There is so much more to this story… But I can tell you that it ended well. The doctors monitored my baby during surgery while they removed my entire thyroid and a necklace of cancerous lymph nodes.
My pregnancy proceeded normally and I delivered a healthy, beautiful, nine pound baby boy.
I’m sharing this story because my laughter is what led my doctor to question a bulge in my neck. Had I not laughed during the appointment, would she have noticed my bulging thyroid? Would the cancer have spread throughout my body? Who knows?
This is why I paint butterflies. My butterfly paintings all have positive words and affirmations written in the paint.
And I laugh. A lot. My laughter led me to the scariest time in my life and brought me the biggest joy I could have ever imagined with the birth of my son.
Keep laughing. And look for the butterflies. You are stronger than you know.
By Angie Nordstrum
Angie Nordstrum of Angie Nordstrum Design is a multi-passionate artist and maker who creates in a variety of mediums. Her current work includes painting bold, colorful murals and canvases. Butterflies often flutter into her work. Angie teaches workshops locally and internationally.
Angie’s work has been published in The Turquoise Iris Journal, Better Homes & Gardens Do It Yourself and Creatives Kids magazines, and The Denver Post. Angie is based out of Erie, Colorado when she is not galavanting around the globe. Follow Angie on social media @AngieNordstrumDesgin on Facebook and Instagram or visit her website.angienordstrum.com to learn more.
Angie Nordstrum is a multi-passionate artist and maker who creates vibrant, colorful paintings on canvas, walls, windows and clothes. Her mission is to create art that inspires and maybe even sets your soul on fire.
Angie’s artistic journey has taken her to fascinating places, including the design and creation of eclectic decor for eight renowned restaurants across the country. Fueled by her love for public art, she has adorned numerous walls in Colorado with captivating murals. Sharing her expertise locally and internationally, Angie imparts her knowledge through engaging workshops. View Angie’s Full Bio