It never really occurred to Sherri Eder that she could get cancer.
She takes care of herself. She eats well. She stays fit. She doesn’t use bleach and she tries to stay away from chemicals. She gardens because she wants to know exactly what goes into her food. She always thought that made her immune.
And then came December 2015, weeks before her 53rd birthday, when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
“It truly does not matter what you do in your life: how healthy you are, how much you exercise, if you’re vegetarian, if you eat organic, it does not make a difference,” says Eder, who is a billing specialist and vacation cottage property manager with Aging Outreach Services (full disclosure: AOS is OutreachNC’s parent company). “Anybody can have cancer. We’re all susceptible.”
She says this matter-of-factly, though, and without self-pity or dread. Here’s one thing about Eder: she’s a pragmatist, and she doesn’t let could-have-beens occupy valuable space in her mind. Here’s another: she believes in educating herself, in researching her condition and making intelligent treatment decisions. And here’s yet another: she greets every day – even the rough ones – with an appreciation for the life she has rather than regrets about her disease.
“Even if I have a headache, I’m like, ‘Thank you, Lord. You allowed me to wake up,’” Eder says. “There’s so many people I know who have had cancer who are not here today. Everyone’s touched by it, but not everyone’s blessed to be here.”
Eder is a spiritual person, and her faith helps her stay grounded. She recognized early on that the future is largely out of her control, so she consciously gave that worry and concern to God. Beyond faith and prayer, she trusts her instincts. Eder knows how to keep herself physically healthy and well. In this way, she plays an active role in her treatment: she does her part, and the doctors do theirs. And then there’s mental self-care: traumatic news like a cancer diagnosis unleashes a cluster of complex emotions, and Eder gave herself time to process these feelings.
“You need a year to mourn everything you’ve gone through,” says Eder. “Even though I didn’t feel [mournful] – I always stayed upbeat and joyful – you have to go through a certain process to come out the other side. I always knew I would.”
The early days of Eder’s diagnosis were tough, but it wasn’t fear or anxiety about her own health that wrecked her. What was most difficult was telling her husband and grown children; her sisters; her dad, who had been diagnosed with cancer just the year before.
“I felt bad about having cancer. That was the thing – I felt bad,” Eder admits. “I think it’s a mother role, being the oldest of five girls, the oldest sister – having to tell them that there was something wrong with me was very difficult.”
From there, things looked up. Thyroid cancer treatment has advanced substantially in the past decade, Eder says, and her endocrinologist believes we are on the cusp of improving thyroid cancer survivors’ quality of life as well. And while Eder’s spirit is strong, there have been physical ups and downs. She recovered quickly after her thyroid was removed in January 2016, but eventually that caught up with her. Eder now takes Synthroid, a replacement hormone for people with a removed thyroid, and once her body adjusted to it her energy levels plummeted. It was the first time in this naturally energetic woman’s life that she knew what it felt like to be simply wiped out and unable to recharge, and she spent a full year exhausted. Fortunately, since early 2018 she and her doctors have found a more appropriate dosage, and Eder’s energy level is back to what it should be.
“Half a pill more or less every week makes all the difference between me being jittery or being so tired I feel like I can come home and sleep on the couch as soon as I get home for 12 hours, which is unusual for me,” she says.
Eder also received radioactive iodine therapy. Because of the radiation in the medicine, she had to quarantine herself at home. This meant staying in the guest room and having no contact with others for five days. She couldn’t cook, she couldn’t see her pets and everything she touched had to be double-washed, destroyed or stored for the three months it takes for the radiation to wear off. Fortunately, her quarantine coincided with a spring-like March week, so Eder spent most of it outside gardening.
Indeed, optimism, faith and mental flexibility have allowed Eder to respond positively to trying circumstances: rather than bemoan her year without energy, she celebrates that she now has it back; and rather than spend her five-day quarantine feeling isolated and miserable, Eder spent it outside doing something she loves. And, finally, rather than let cancer change her or damage her spirit, Eder elects to not really think about it.
“Most of the time, I’m just going to ignore it, pretend it’s not there and go on with life and be happy and joyful and laugh,” Eder says. “I don’t think I’ve really had any change in my personality. I did not allow it to make me down. I just acted like I didn’t have it.”
If you have questions about thyroid cancer and its treatments, Eder is happy to speak with fellow thyroid cancer survivors and people touched by this disease. “I look at it as a privilege to be able to pass this information on,” she says.
Eder may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 910-692-0683.