According to the Healthline, statistics show that 89.7% of women with breast cancer survive for five years after diagnosis. Compound thyroid cancer atop of that, and one could only imagine the battle it would take to overcome. Fortunately, our very own Ms. Ruth Nelson achieved just that, as she celebrates being nine years cancer-free.
“Death wasn’t an option,” Ms. Nelson constantly reminded herself after learning of her diagnosis. Oddly enough, the prospect of passing away was nowhere on her radar prior to this. She explained the disease came with no signs or symptoms and how she felt generally healthy. In fact, 2010 was the year when she finally shed all medications from her regimen, vying for the most optimal lifestyle possible.
As any other responsible adult, Ms. Nelson diligently made visits with her doctors for check-ups as needed, however always had a small pet-peeve about them. “They always call you saying there is something wrong,” she stated. As a result of this, when the inevitable happened and her doctor’s office tried to contact her over and over, she “didn’t go to any appointment(s).” After all, she was busy—occupied with all her obligations, not to mention her ESE teaching job at the time.
Because of this Ms. Nelson’s doctor had to resort to breaking the news over the phone. Initially, the diagnosis of breast cancer was taken well: A “game plan” was formulated promptly and she was determined to tackle this challenge in the most optimal, strategic manner as possible.
Amid all of this, however, Ms. Nelson was aware that the impact would not only be taxing on her, but knew the people around her—friends, family, and loved ones—could also be extremely shaken and traumatized by the news.
But nevertheless she persisted: first confiding a close friend of hers. As she began to unveil her story and what ensued, though, something happened, and her sure-fire plan appeared to buckle. Ms. Nelson recalls breaking down, crying, whilst humanity overtook her. It was then she realized she was going to have to rely on ones close to her to ride out this curveball in her life. This realization eventually grew to be one of many wonderful outcomes from this ordeal.
Realigned on her path, Ms. Nelson entered her first surgery, as scheduled, with full confidence; but once again, the plan was unsettled as not only was the mass larger than originally anticipated, thyroid cancer became also apparent. Now, she believed it felt like the right time to brief her parents on the situation. She recalled this experience being especially difficult.
But nevertheless she persisted, as now she knew she was in a fight and had to come out the victor. One memorable recollection made during this time was how “Gonna Fly Now”—the “Rocky” theme—reran over and over in her head.
Following the surgery, Ms. Nelson’s parents paid her a visit, with her mom staying for eight entire weeks. Over this time, she grew and bonded with her parents immensely, to a level of which one could only imagine.
The underlying denominator among all of this, however, was Mrs. Nelson’s son, a University of West Florida football player, Nash Nelson. A matter of fact, she attributes her “always have faith” mantra, as she phrased it, to her devotion to him. Because she was his primary caregiver, she knew he could not afford to lose her. Despite this, Nash confidently stated even though he was only nine years old, he took the news just as well as his mom did, understood the prognosis, and was aware of the possibilities. This was a time of reckoning for him, and in many respects, both he and his mother acknowledge, substantially matured him to the point Ms. Nelson remarked she knew, “he’s gonna (sic) be a great boyfriend or husband one day,” she continued, “he had to grow up really fast to take care of me.”
Due to the restrictive nature of her preventative medications, chemotherapy, and radiation, Ms. Nelson was often limited to the house. During these times, she was especially grateful for the assistance he provided. Her “great caregiver,” as she stressed, helped with basic household tasks that she could not sustain anymore.
They were not just cooped up in the house together though. Due to her illness, Ms. Nelson was determined to complete her “bucket list”—one item being kayaking. Within their adventures together, however there were some trying times.
One experience both, again, recall was the reaction undergone once Ms. Nelson had every hair on her head removed in preparation for the chemotherapy which would, as she vividly described, cause all the hairs, from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet, to fall off. Unaccustomed to this site, people in places such as the supermarket, gawked and acted as if she had the plague.
But nevertheless Ms. Nelson (and her son!), persisted. Ms. Nelson confidently stated her son was severely troubled by these people’s behavior and proceeded to “put them in line,” as many would say, one day in the store. Nash, when asked, insisted he acted in a more composed manner.
Ms. Nelson also shared how her baldness gave her the chance to develop a deeper bond with her special education students. She recalls having to prime some of them with subtle hints toward the idea of a woman having no hair on the head, asking them if they believed it was possible.
Her new hairdo also gave her and opportunity to connect more with her father (I think?!), as it was now a commonality between them.
The transition onto chemotherapy was an awkward one. Ms. Nelson recalled first entering the room where it was being administered and seeing a room of sad, gloomy people. Notwithstanding, she reminisced about her time there, saying **Finish this w/ help* Positive!**
**(Info on when resolved? When remission?)*** One large lifestyle change that occurred was her new, more plant-based diet—cutting out all red meats. Ms. Nelson, though, will be the first to admit that it was impossible to part from chicken and fish. When Nash was asked whether he joined his mother in this new régime, he claimed that despite him standing in solidarity with her many fronts, this was no one of them.
The story of Ms. Ruth Nelson is that, yes, of human struggle, but more importantly it is one of how we deal with that struggle and eventually overcome. In our conversations with her, the notion of staying strong and positive were echoed constantly—trumping any negative interpretations that one would expect to her. In other words, her story explemifies the “when life give you lemons, make lemonade” philosophy. So, if one takeaway could be drawn from this, as she says, “Always have faith.”