My name is Morgan Kennedy and I have the diffuse sclerosing variant of papillary thyroid cancer. I was diagnosed at 22, at four months sober from alcohol, cocaine, and pills. To make a long story short, I wasn’t the best person before I was sober. I couldn’t follow through with anything I committed to and things always seemed to crumble. I grew up in a small town where most people grow up, do sports, graduate, go to college, and get an adult job.
My path looked NOTHING like that. This is where my story takes a turn - very little to my knowledge at that time - for the best.
I had found out I got into a major nursing program around Thanksgiving of 2018 – very much to my surprise. I had reached my out-of-pocket maximum with insurance due to hospital stays - all addiction or mental health related. My mom kept pushing me to go get my yearly ultrasound to watch a nodule on my thyroid that had always been benign. Eventually I got the ultrasound and before I knew it, I was scheduled for a biopsy 8 days before my 22nd birthday.
On Friday, December 21st, 2018, I found out that I had thyroid cancer.
But, the universe works in very funny ways.
I had coincidentally made previous arrangements for that night to pick up a husky puppy that I was way in over my head about. I somehow thought that nursing school and a new puppy was a good idea – not just that, but a feasible one. The fact that it was a Friday was a trigger in itself for my addiction.
I was only 4 or so months sober at that point and very new to recovery. BUT – I had worked day in and day out to develop a solid support system, healthy habits, a gym regimen and healthy eating. I had regrouped since becoming sober and my relationship with physical health was really good up until that point when I was told my papillary thyroid cancer diagnosis.
Shortly after receiving my diagnosis I learned I would need surgery in February. I then spoke with the head of the nursing program who informed me that she could not consciously let me do the program and fight cancer at the same time as it would be too much for my body. I started feeling endless anger and confusion because I had no control.
Fast forward a few months to my first surgery… February 8th, 2019, they took out my entire thyroid and 49 lymph nodes. 35 of 49 came back as a rare form of thyroid cancer (regular thyroid cancer is usually treatable and considered the “best cancer to get”). Only 2% of people with thyroid cancer get the type I got, which made sense to why the RAI treatment I did in March 2019 didn’t do anything. Where my body was supposed to soak up the radiation treatment, it did not happen. My body was resistant.
After surgery, I had to adjust to having no thyroid. For anyone who doesn’t know, the thyroid regulates metabolism, temperature regulation, mood, energy, and a lot more. My bones started hurting, I got tired from walking not even 50 feet, and I’d start overheating basically anywhere and then got really physically sick and exhausted from it.
Yoga as an Outlet
A friend introduced yoga to me after surgery and I started to play with it on my own. She would teach me a few things and then I would go back to my apartment and flow for hours - meditating or resting when it was too much. I instantly fell in love because I could feel control over my body again.
I missed going to the gym so much, but I just didn’t have the stamina anymore. I felt like I was going to pass out if I walked too far and I couldn’t imagine lifting weights when opening a door was difficult for me. I found comfort in yoga because it gently reintroduced me to myself and my body. I was able to do such delicate movements with nothing but me, myself, and I.
I fell in love with the practice VERY quickly – I finally found a non-judgmental way of moving in my body, a way that made me feel GOOD and not sweaty or stressed out. There was so much built up anger and trauma in my bones that I needed to stretch into.I wanted to flow and never stop because the more I did it,the more I felt home in my body.
June 25th, 2019, was my second surgery – four months after the first and two months after the radiation. This one was tough. I felt pretty defeated after the previous treatment.
On top of the tough procedure, I was also dealing with the loss of my grandpa. My mind was racing in every way possible.
I was also accepting pain medicine at the time, in the hospital and then monitored by my mom at home, which really messed me up. I had informed the staff and nurses about my addiction and that I didn’t want any medicine unless it was absolutely necessary. It was explained to me that my body wouldn’t be able to heal properly without the proper medicine – my muscles would stay tense and my shoulders would be up to my ears. I wasn’t able to eat much after surgery because my throat was swollen so I would often “feel” the pain medicine which triggered me in ways I can’t properly put into words.
To help me through this tough time, I stumbled across meditations to occupy my mind while in the hospital. And, boy, did they help.
The months to follow were similar to the months after my first surgery. I reintroduced yoga to my body but this time with meditation as a separate yoga practice.
I learned to meditate in the poses that felt the best. The nerve by my left shoulder was damaged from the second surgery and physical therapy was something I could not get myself to go to - it just felt like another doctor; however, with yoga and meditation, I could embrace and help myself.
I began my mediation practice during this time. I had meditated before, but I had never sat truly with myself. The second my mind wandered, I would entertain it instead of challenging myself to let the thoughts go. I would take meditation as a time to obsess on my thoughts instead of QUIET my thoughts. It is during this time that I challenged myself to actually try, and my personal growth started flourishing.
Regularly, I go to my scans and monitor the cancer as closely as I am able to. I do the same with my addiction and mental health. And, that led me to a third surgery this past April. My battle has been one for the books.
If I lose sight of my purpose, I will start to lose sight of myself.
In conclusion, I wanted to bring attention to the big message of this all. If I hadn’t followed my heart and accepted things for how they were, I wouldn’t be where I am right now. Of course, friends have come and gone. There have been many lows along with these highs, but yoga has helped me balance this and has provided me with a solid understanding of myself.
I believe the universe has a plan for us all. In my case, I got sober and the universe decided that I needed another battle to ultimately teach me that I need the practice of yoga in my life and more importantly, to share my experience with others. Not only has it healed me and continues to do so, but it helps me to heal others and that is the true reward of it all.
If you have made it to the end of this, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know it’s a lot - but it is my truth and I am not apologetic for sharing it deeply and completely.
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