September 10, 2014
Questions people ask about my thymoma
BY Anna Masten Jackson
Finding out you have cancer brings so many questions to mind. Finding out you have a very rare cancer, like thymoma, brings even more -- and often those questions have no answers.
Just as a cancer patient has many questions, so do those who care about us. Since my thymoma diagnosis, I've learned that some questions are easy to answer, while others cause you to face possibilities that perhaps hadn't even crossed your mind.
Here are some of the questions I'm often asked:
Because thymoma is such a rare cancer my family, friends, strangers, and even local doctors asked the most common question: "What is thymoma?"
Thymoma is cancer of the thymus gland. Like other cancers, it can take on different forms and function in different patterns. My thymoma (which I refer to as "the Nuisance") was diagnosed as stage IV and had metastasized to my heart, spinal area and diaphragm.
This leads to the second question, "What is a thymus gland?"
Most of us don't even realize we have a thymus gland. The thymus sits behind our breast bone and is responsible for helping our immune system. It plays a particularly important role during our early development. Our thymus gland develops the T-cells that help fight off bacteria, fungus and infections.
Once people understand more about thymoma, there is always the curious question: "How did you discover you had it?"
Most thymomas do not cause a lot of symptoms initially and are often detected incidentally. Sometimes they are discovered through a chest X-ray when patients have a cough or chest pain. I discovered mine because some routine blood work made us suspicious that I might have a parathyroid tumor. In scanning to make that diagnosis, my doctors discovered the tumor on my heart and in my spinal area.
The final question I am most frequently asked is the one that I don't think I could have ever been prepared for. It is one I don't know that I will ever ask anyone again. It is a question with good intentions, but one that goes much deeper than anyone can know until they have been asked it themselves. It's the question that stopped my heart the first time: "What is your prognosis?"
When I was asked that question the first time, it was as if time stood still for me. The world suddenly got too quiet. My mind realized that they were actually asking, "Are you going to die?" I didn't know how to respond. I had been wondering the same thing, but had been too afraid to ask.
"What is my prognosis?" It took being asked that question a few times and going from grief, to anger, to frustration, to understanding before I was able to come up with an answer that brought me peace. I finally realized that any human on earth has a 50-50 chance of making it through any given day. When it comes to longevity, no one has any guarantees. I decided my odds were as good as anyone else's.
So what is my prognosis? As good as yours! Life is about what we make it, how we choose to live it. My faith, my family, and my friends make my prognosis for life blessed.
Life is about what we make it, how we choose to live it.
Anna Masten Jackson