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6 Months After Surgery: A Former NFL Cheerleader Gets a New Outlook on Life | Health

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6 Months After Surgery: A Former NFL Cheerleader Gets a New Outlook on Life
Health, People
6 Months After Surgery: A Former NFL Cheerleader Gets a New Outlook on Life

In the past four years my life has emulated a roller coaster ride.   The peaks have included family time, making the Buffalo Jills cheerleading squad, interning at Channel 2, getting a 4.0 in college, and traveling.  I've bottomed out with two life-changing illnesses, the death of my grandmother, the murder of a friend, the tragic death of a young girl friend, and three friends under 25 taking their own lives. 

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the rocky road I encountered after graduating from Orchard Park High School but after the long storm the sun is shining again.

The experiences that I’ve had in the past few years have changed my life drastically.  I’ve learned how to love, to appreciate, to be thankful, and to be strong.  The phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff” has a whole new meaning to me today.  

Today is the 6 month anniversary of the surgery I underwent to remove my thyroid that became virtually useless after a large, calcified tumor had grown on it.  As I write this I am well into my recovery but the road hasn’t always been so easy. 

Three years ago I was just beginning one of the most significant years of my life.  Making the Buffalo Jills cheerleading squad opened up a whole new world to me.  I lost 25 pounds, changed my hair color, and really came into my own.  I was healthy, happy, and confident.  The season was filled with exciting opportunities: charity events, meet and greets, traveling, photo shoots, fan photos, and of course, the games.  I was honored to make the cover of the Jills’ swimsuit calendar and was chosen by Maxim to be part of its NFL Cheerleader spread. 

I was on top of the world and nothing could stop me, or so I thought.

After deciding to not return for a second season, I began experiencing some very strange things happening with my body and mind.  I was gaining a lot of weight rapidly, feeling hungrier and having sugar cravings, my skin began to change and I began to sleep much more often.  It took almost two years for me to find out what exactly was happening to me and luckily not a minute later.  

Shortly after Christmas 2010, I went in for an annual check-up at my doctor’s office and discovered I had gained 35 pounds since the last appointment.  I knew I had gained a significant amount of weight but to hear a nurse reading it out loud to me and seeing her reaction really drove it home.  I left the appointment sobbing and called my father, who is a doctor, and we both agreed we needed to get to the bottom of that situation.

In the year leading up to that December appointment, I had seen two specialists and after several blood tests and examinations, both told me nothing was wrong.  So it wasn’t until my shocking annual check-up that I really began to worry.  I was directed to an endocrinologist and by the end of the first batch of blood work I was diagnosed with a genetic ovarian disease.  The symptoms: weight gain, skin problems, sugar cravings, etc.  I was shocked to discover I had all of the symptoms and neither of the doctors I had seen previously even mentioned it as a possibility.

During the same appointment, I encountered some more bad news.  As I was talking, the doctor noticed a lump in the lower right side of my neck that was moving up and down when I spoke and swallowed.  She told me it was likely a thyroid problem that wouldn’t be too big of a deal but I needed to get some tests done to be sure.  After an ultra sound and blood work it was discovered that I had a large calcified tumor growing on the right side of my thyroid.  Because of the size and calcification of the tumor, the endocrinologist and ultra-sound technician feared cancer. 

Nothing has ever shaken me as much as hearing the “C” word while sitting alone in that cold, small doctor’s office.  “How could this happen to me?”, I thought. I was twenty years old, a three year vegan, worked out every day, practiced yoga, ate organic, filtered my water... it just didn’t make sense.

After I left the office crying, I called my mother and father and they immediately went into action.  My father was able to get me an appointment with one of the best Ear, Nose and Throat surgeons in the area for the next morning.

The surgeon was adamant that the surgery take place immediately and the entire thyroid be removed.  So, by the next week I was in the operating room. 

One of the most frightening parts of the experience was waking up after the operation.  While the doctors performed the two hour surgery, they opened my lymph nodes to see whether cancer had spread there.  If I did end up having thyroid cancer the prognosis is typically very good, but when it spreads to the lymph nodes the game changes drastically.  Because of the calcification of the tumor, the threat was very real and very frightening.

I am thrilled and thankful to say that I woke up to good news.  My father was standing above my hospital bed telling me that my lymph nodes were cancer free.

The first few weeks after the surgery were really rough but soon enough I began taking my thyroid replacement hormone (which I will take for the rest of my life) and things have progressively gotten better.  Since the surgery I have been able to lose 12 of the 35 pounds I gained and I’m proud to stay I am still losing (the healthy, natural, hard work way).  I am now able to function on the normal 8 hours of sleep and my skin has cleared up as well as my mind.

The biopsy on my thyroid about a week post-surgery revealed that the tumor was benign.  The doctors, my family, and I were shocked but so thrilled.   It was after that phone call that my family, friends, and I were able to take our first sigh of relief in weeks.  I was told how lucky I was that we caught it when we did because if it were given more time to grow I may have had a grim future of radiation or chemotherapy.

Every time I get down on myself for not being able to fit in that bikini that once graced the cover of an NFL cheerleading calendar and Maxim, I stop to remember how lucky I am that I am not going through something much worse right now.

I would never wish this experience on anyone, but I somehow find myself feeling fortunate to have had it.  It gave me a chance to see how truly insignificant certain things are.  I actually had to sit down and ask myself, “if I find out my time on this earth is going to be very limited- what will be important to me then?” Even though a twenty year-old should never have to think about something like that, the enlightenment it brings is profound.

I find myself today, six months later, really focusing on the things that are important to me and appreciating everything that this world has to offer.  I have become significantly closer to the two people that brought me into this world and are responsible for taking actions that may have saved my life.  My mother and father are the most important people in the world to me and the bond that I feel to them is most beautiful and real thing I could ever imagine.

If I could give advice to someone, especially someone my age, it would be to put him or herself in that scary, uncomfortable position of asking, “What would I do if I knew I my time on earth would be over soon?”  I think people will be surprised how many things that seem important today, just fall to the wayside.

Many people have told me how shocked they are that I speak so openly about the things that occurred in the past few years.   But because I have shared my story, three other people I know have gotten thyroid disorders diagnosed and treated and another friend switched doctors to get better treatment for the ovarian disease that we both have.  If being open about my story can help others then it is the absolute least I can do.

Three weeks ago the website ProPlayerInsiders.com, a website dedicated to everything NFL, approached me about writing an article about my story.  The piece is really wonderful and I’m very happy that I can share it with all of you.

Don’t ever forget how lucky you are to be alive and please tell your loved ones how you feel about them as much as you can.  Tomorrow is not promised, today is a blessing.

See the article here at: http://proplayerinsiders.com/from-hometown-student-to-nfl-swimsuit-cover-model/   

note: the author made a mistake saying "battle with cancer", it should read "cancer scare".              

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