Erin Watt

Age at Diagnosis: 14 (2005)

Hometown

Halifax, Nova Scotia

How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?

I went to my doctor to see about what I thought was a swollen gland in my neck. I had also been feeling quite tired. She thought it was nothing, but she sent me to see an ENT (ears, nose and throat) specialist, just as a precaution. He also thought it was nothing, an infection that could be treated with medicine at the worst, but he sent me for a CAT Scan to be safe. I was told I would hear within 3 weeks the result, but my mother received a call within 3 days that I was to meet the doctor on that Friday. He showed myself, and mother and father that there were growths on my thyroid and lymph node glands that were cancerous tumors.

What year was it? What was your age at the time?

It was 2005, about 4 weeks before my 15th birthday.

At what level of education were you at diagnosis?

I was in the ninth grade.

What was your diagnosis?

Papillary Carcinoma, the most common type of thyroid cancer

What are your career goals?

Plans on becoming a Physiotherapist.

What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?

I was very upset. I cried in the doctor’s office, both parents were teary-eyed. I never, ever thought something like this could happen to me.

How did your family react?

My diagnosis was really hard on everyone. I think my mother took it the hardest. She had always been so strong; it was difficult to see her cry. My dad and sister were quite shaken up, as were my grandparents.

How did your friends react?

My friends were very surprised. I only told a few very close friends at first. Word eventually leaked out about me, so my whole class knew the story. I wasn’t treated much different, because I didn’t act much different. I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, because my doctor assured me I’d be fine. They did call me a lot more than normal, and always asked how I was.

What did your treatment consist of?

Medical Side: I had to have two surgeries to have my thyroid and infected lymph nodes taken out. I then had to have radioactive iodine treatment (a big dose of iodine at once) to destroy any residual thyroid tissue. I felt extremely tired after it was all done. I had to recuperate after both surgeries. I really missed going to school to see everyone, and it was very frustrating not have a lot of energy. It also got really tiring to answer everyone’s questions about what happened and so on, because it’s generally hard to talk about. I just wanted everything to get back to normal.

In which hospital(s) were you treated?

IWK Children’s hospital in Halifax, Nova Scotia

What is your current medical status?

I am cancer free!

How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?

Life isn’t much different. I refuse to feel sorry for myself; I just wanted to get back to normal as quickly as I could. I do tire out faster than I used to, but life is how I remember it pre diagnosis.

What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?

The toughest part was seeing my parents cry after my diagnosis. Another hard part was not being able to see my friends for so long. They would visit with me frequently, but I missed seeing all of my classmates and it was difficult hearing on all the good things I was missing out on school. I also didn’t like people asking me questions about my cancer. I answered the same questions so many times, I just didn’t want to talk sometimes, but people who didn’t understand what was actually wrong with my thyroid didn’t comprehend that.

What is/was the best part of your challenge?

The best part about learning I had cancer was realizing how short life is, and how you must make the best of it while you have your health.

What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?

Getting back to my routine; going to school, seeing my friends and being able to be a fifteen year old with them kept me sane all through my tough times.

What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?

As odd as it sounds, I haven’t really learned a lesson from my experience. I knew from the beginning that my cancer wasn’t life threatening, and for that I feel very lucky.

What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?

Being diagnosed with thyroid cancer has been a crazy experience. I knew really nothing of it before I was diagnosed, but now I could write a book on it. So much knowledge can come out of what seems like a terrible thing. I think that was the silver lining in this case.

What are some (if there are any you know of) preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?

Thyroid cancers aren’t caused by anything, such as smoking. They’re quite sporadic (just popping out of nowhere) and not usually inherited from parents or other relatives. I’m very glad I went to my doctor when I did, so the only thing I can suggest is that you get a check up regularly!

Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?

I didn’t attend one. There are several support groups for cancer patients in my area, but I felt a bit out of place because they are usually for people with terminal illnesses, and that wasn’t my case. I kept my spirits pretty high after finding out I had cancer.

If you did not attend a support group, why?

It may have helped, but I think talking to my friends and family was better. They are all so great and easy to talk to. If I had anything on my mind, I could talk to them about it, so they were really my support line.

How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?

My cousin, Brad Bissett and his wife, Chanda, are friends with Geoff Eaton. My cousin, Brad, suggested I email my story to Geoff. It was really interesting to tell my story to another cancer survivor. It’s a great site! I’m so glad Brad told me about it.