Happy Mother’s Day! Whether you were celebrating the mamas in your life or being honored for your own role as a mom, I hope it was filled with joy and goodness.
This week I am so excited to share an interview with Cheryl. She’s a cancer survivor and Type I Diabetes Warrior. Despite the struggles she’s had with her health, her love for God and faith in Him shine brightly for all to see.
Cheryl has been married to her husband Jim for 17 years and is a mother of two children, ages 12 and 10. She grew up in NJ and still lives there. She works part-time at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as a diabetes educator.
Cheryl is active in her church, helping in the church nursery and helping coordinate women’s events. In her free time, she loves Zumba, reading, spending time outdoors, and completing checklists. Here’s my interview with her:
EARL GREY AND YELLOW: Tell me about your journey with thyroid cancer. How did it come to light and what was your journey through the treatment like?
CHERYL: In 2009, my daughter was 2 years old, and I had just delivered my son via C-section. A day after he was born, an endocrinologist came to see me in the hospital due to my having pre-existing endocrine issues not related to pregnancy.
When they examined me they found nodules on my thyroid but mentioned that this is a common issue post-pregnancy, so they scheduled a 6-week follow-up. That follow-up turned into a thyroid ultrasound which then turned into a thyroid biopsy. All this time, never once did I have fear. Whether it was the euphoria of just having a baby or trying to recover from my C-section, my mind honestly just never went to what this could mean.
I’ll never forget the day I got the news. I was nursing my son on the couch while my 2-year-old daughter was sitting next to me watching Dora the Explorer. I held my emotions back to prevent scaring the children or affecting my nursing. I put the phone down and was in a state of shock. I had not prepared at all for that moment.
Being that I work in the medical field, I think my natural response was to not emotionally overreact. Being the planner I am, I started making a list of everything I needed to do. Who would I tell? What doctors would I meet to get opinions of the next steps?
Over the next few months, I went through major surgery to have my thyroid removed, followed by debilitating fatigue as a result of no thyroid. This was finished off with a week of radioactive iodine isolation treatment, only 3 months after the initial diagnosis.
Good news followed–the mixture of surgery and radioactive iodine treatment had eliminated the cancer. At this point, the “treatment” part of the cancer was over, but the recovery and adjustment to my new thyroid levels continued for much longer.
EARL GREY AND YELLOW: What were some of the most difficult aspects of this illness and why (physical/emotional/spiritual)?
CHERYL: The hardest part of this journey was simply feeling like I missed out on the newborn stage with my son. After receiving my diagnosis, I had to quit nursing my son, who was only 2 months old. I could not hold my baby for several weeks, and I had to learn to rely on others. This was really tough for me as I am a rather independent person and I do not like accepting help. However, I was left with no choice.
I went through months of depression. At the time I blamed my post-partum hormones, mixed with a cancer diagnosis. I figured that this was “normal”. In hindsight, I know I should have reached out for help to address this.
My level of exhaustion during this time was something I had never experienced before either. All of these things combined led me to not being in a good place physically and emotionally. As far as spiritually, that wasn’t much better either.
Soon after my diagnosis, I was in shock and went through the motions of going to church and praying like I usually did. I had a group of friends rally around me shortly after to pray over me. But it all took a turn.
I became angry at God, asking questions like “Why me?”, “Why when I just had a baby?”, “Why one more medical issue I have to deal with?”. I completely felt absent from God. To make matters worse, my father-in-law was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the midst of all of this. In addition, my husband was struggling quite a bit spiritually because two of the closest people to him were both battling cancer at the same time.
Within the year, once the depression subsided and life essentially got back to normal, I found my way back to God. But it definitely took some time.
EARL GREY AND YELLOW: What is your current status regarding thyroid cancer?
CHERYL: I am cancer-free! I do have to routinely get checked to make sure there is not a reoccurrence, but this has become routine. The present-day struggle is my thyroid levels have changed my overall metabolism and energy level. This is difficult physically and emotionally at times. However, this year marks 10 years as a survivor. I’ve been more emotional about it than I expected, but I’m happy to hit that milestone.
EARL GREY AND YELLOW: In addition to being a cancer survivor, you are a Type 1 Diabetes warrior. How has this experience shaped your life?
CHERYL: It’s funny. The diabetes thing has been part of my life for so long now it seems like second nature. But when it rears its ugly head it’s vicious. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at sixteen years old.
This forced me to grow up rather quickly. I have always done a pretty good job of taking care of a disease that makes no sense some days. It definitely has its moments of inconvenience, frustration, and some scary moments too. Despite this, I have used this experience in my life to help others.
Shortly after diagnosis, I decided to make a career out of helping patients with diabetes. I went to college and received a BS in Nutrition. I quickly worked my way up to becoming a credentialed registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. I now work with children who have been diagnosed with diabetes. I love it. It has given me an outlet to take something that could have been devastating and turn it into something helpful.
EARL GREY AND YELLOW: How have your health issues impacted/ influenced your relationship with the Lord?
CHERYL: When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I wasn’t a believer at the time, despite being involved with my church. I remember attending a youth retreat several months after my Type I diagnosis and giving my life to Christ. I was surrounded by many youth leaders and friends who loved me. They helped me through a rough time, so it was awesome to get to take this step with them.
With the cancer diagnosis, I mentioned previously that my relationship with God became shaky. It took me a while to work my way back into wanting to go to church and starting to pray prayers that were not angry.
To be completely honest, I thought I was finally putting my full trust in God. However, within the past six months, I went through an emotional time of reflection on this health journey and realized I still had some hidden anger with God and lots of questions.
I still felt like I needed to know what purpose this journey served in my life. With the diabetes diagnosis, I’ve been able to reflect back and see the purpose of this in my life and how God has used this to help others. But this cancer thing, I just couldn’t see the purpose.
I finally realized that I may never see a purpose or reason. I have learned He was teaching me to fully trust in Him–not in my own control, not in the doctors or how my body would handle things. Just simply Him.
EARL GREY AND YELLOW: What advice do you have for people facing unsettling diagnoses like the ones you faced?
CHERYL: Look for support from your friends, family, and church circles. Accept help. Try not to be a hero and do it all yourself. But more importantly, ask for prayer from others. Spend time in prayer and cry out to Jesus.
It’s okay to have human moments of weeping and have your own pity-party. Brush it off and always come back to prayer. There are many momentary comforts to help. While those are okay in the moment, the only true comfort is to put your whole trust in God and lean on him to get you through the uncertainty.
EARL GREY AND YELLOW: What’s your favorite passage of scripture and why?
CHERYL: Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” I tend to be a planner and checklist person, but I have learned I can’t always control or understand why certain things in life occur or don’t occur. This verse reminds me that I need to let God take over and to lean into Him.
EARL GREY AND YELLOW: What’s your favorite family activity that isn’t related to school or extracurriculars and why?
CHERYL: I love playing board games with the family. I grew up with a family that loved doing this and I have carried the tradition on in my own family. I might be a little too competitive though 🙂
EARL GREY AND YELLOW: Rainy morning with nobody else home–coffee or tea?
CHERYL: Tea without a doubt. This might sound strange but I have never liked coffee. I love the smell, but the taste..no thanks!
Thanks to Cheryl for sharing her story of praying and working through health difficulties. I pray this story encourages someone out there who is having a health issue.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. -Proverbs 3:5-6
Hi! I’m Tracy…Christ-follower, wife, mama, writer, blogger, speaker, teacher, dreamer. I love Earl Grey Tea and quiet mornings. Here at Earl Grey and Yellow, the focus is striving to be faithful and appreciate the small things. So glad you stopped by. Please have a look around and subscribe to our newsletter and social media to stay connected.