Five years ago, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and my life changed. At the time of diagnosis, I had a bolt of clarity that I needed to reassess my life, but the change didn't occur immediately or swiftly. For me, it has been a gradual process of learning, changing, and growing. Little did I know the winding path that I would end up taking or the lessons of life that I would learn along the way.
My cancer is "the best cancer to have" as told by many doctors because it has the highest survival rate. I happen to be in the 1 percent where a specific complication arose. The nerve to my vocal cord was severed when the surgeon removed an infected lymph node that had grown around my vocal cord. It left me with vocal cord paralysis on the right side, limited lung capacity, and no voice. This was definitely not the 1 percent of the population that I was striving to be!
For 18 months, I did not have my voice. I could not speak normally. I could not use tone inflection. I could not scream, but I wanted to on many occasions! I could only whisper -- a soft whisper at that. I lost my ability to be heard. Even my dog would look at me quizzically when I gave him a command!
At a year, I was told that the reattached nerve wasn't working and that I would never get my voice back. I was devastated! And then I began visualization therapy on my own. I visualized the neurons firing from my brain down to my vocal cord and then making a sharp right turn down the muscles of my throat. Think Space Invaders with a twist. I did this every day for six months.
According to my doctor, it was a one in a million chance, but the muscles surrounding my vocal cord picked up the slack. While my vocal cord is still paralyzed, I can speak normally and use tone inflection. It took another year before I could scream again, but being chased by Chucky in the House of Horrors at Universal Studios solved that problem!
During my journey, I learned a valuable lesson. I did not know what my voice was worth until I lost it. And then I began to see how precious it was. I realized that I had not used it properly. I had minimized my voice. Before, I did not voice my dreams. Before, I did not speak up when being verbally abused. Before, I thought I could keep from dwelling on problems if I did not vocalize them. Before, I thought that if I didn't say much, people wouldn't realize that I was not perfect. Now, I speak up if I don't agree. Now, I tell someone if they hurt me. Now, I don't hide my imperfections because they are part of me. Now, I speak of my dreams and work to achieve them. Of course, I stumble at times -- sometimes more often than not -- and dip head first into my old habits. However, as I become aware, I refocus my efforts. I have reclaimed my voice!