After getting diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age 29, Belgin Aksoy changed her lifestyle and shared it with others through Global Wellness Day.
I noticed I had a hot temper, shaky hands, and mood swings since I was 17. After a trip to the doctor to learn what these symptoms could mean, I discovered I had a thyroid nodule — a lump in the thyroid gland located in the front of the neck. Over the next 12 years, my doctor kept an eye on it with ultrasounds and blood tests. Though the nodules multiplied, my doctor said there was nothing to worry about, as long as sizes were under control and did not grow too much or too fast.
At 29, just a year after I gave birth to my son, I started to have trouble swallowing and an ultrasound showed that the two nodules had grown significantly in the last year. The biopsy (removal of a small sample of the nodule for further testing) showed no sign of cancer cells, but my doctor decided I should have the surgery anyway, since one of the nodules was larger than 3 cm. At the time, I was still breastfeeding my 17-month-old son and I was a newly single mother. My doctor did not want to wait more than two weeks to operate on me, so I had to start taking a medicine right away to stop the flow of milk.
After the biopsy, two out of the five nodules were indeed cancerous (papillary and follicularly), despite initially showing no signs of warning. The doctor broke the news to me that I had been afraid of: I had thyroid cancer. I soon learned that thyroid cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women. Women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men, and thyroid cancer diagnoses have tripled in the past three decades. But the good news for anyone who has thyroid cancer is that, if treated properly, there is a 98 percent cure rate. However, the treatment will be a life-long marathon.
No one tells you that thyroidectomy surgery and radioiodine treatment is not the end; it’s the beginning. Like others recovering from this disease, I now have to take levothyroxine (l-thyroxine for short), a replacement for thyroid hormones for the rest of my life. The drug has its own unsavory side effects. For me, that meant hair loss, brittle nails, pounding heart, weight changes, and mood swings. The drug triggers hormonal changes that took me on an emotional roller coaster ride. At the slightest provocation, I would cry randomly, then get angry. My doctor’s recommendation was basically to accept the fact that this was my new normal. He said there was nothing that could be done about the mood swings and weight gain, but I just felt like there was another way. Since I was a kid, I have had this urge to prove people wrong, and that's exactly what I set out to do.
This new reality motivated me to change my diet, my exercise regiment, my mental attitude — in short, my whole lifestyle. You could say my sickness became my solution. However, I was not content to hoard this new wisdom and these practices to myself. After converting my family and friends to healthier ways of living, I wanted to inspire the world. In 2012 I asked the question, “If health is one of the most important issues of our lives, why don't we have a special day dedicated to living well?” That’s how I came to establish Global Wellness Day.
Global Wellness Day (GWD) is an entirely not-for-profit day with the fundamental purpose of making us aware of the value of our lives. It's one day a year to stop and think, and to get away from our bad habits to find peace within ourselves. The second Saturday of every June is now celebrated in some 150 countries with free events and activities, all designed to educate people to a readily available wealth of wellness options. This year, GWD falls on June 8, 2019. An easy way to get involved with GWD is to follow our seven-step manifesto, but here are my personal tips for living well.
Listen to Your Body
If something feels off, don't hesitate to insist your doctor check it out. In my case, I had to find new ways to adjust after my thyroidectomy, even though my doctor advised me to just deal with my symptoms. If something doesn't feel right, look for a solution that suits you, personally.
Yes, move — as in exercise. It's the answer to almost every health question. Do anything that gets your blood flowing and lowers your blood pressure, like walking, yoga, or any kind of aerobic exercise. Exercise also improves your mood by stimulating the production of endorphins: chemicals in the brain that are natural painkillers and mood elevators. Make whatever you choose to do as routine as brushing your teeth.
Speak Up and Express Your Feelings
I used to almost literally swallow my words when I had feelings to express that I was worried would offend others. Maybe it’s a personal trait; maybe it’s in my Turkish culture to hold back. According to the Hindu theory of chakras, the chakra at the throat controls communication. I personally believe swallowing my sentences and suppressing my emotions wasn't healthy for the overall wellbeing of my body. Don’t hold those feelings inside; let them out.
Put Healthy Eating On Your Personal Menu
Clean eating is essential. What does “clean” mean? It’s eating more organically grown and seasonal foods, and fewer processed or refined foods. No canned foods. Eat at home more often and prepare food in healthy ways. Pack food to eat away from home when on the road, at work, or at activities. When you do eat out, choose wisely. I am now a vegan, but I found my way there by experimenting. When I discovered that certain foods (like my favorite soy latte) left me with mood swings and spiked my thyroid-stimulating hormones, I sadly had to say goodbye to soy. It turns out, you are what you eat. So if you eat wisely, you will become a wise and healthy person.
Thyroid cancer was not the end of my life. In so many ways it was the beginning. I am grateful it hit me in my 20s; it was a great wake-up call. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today, and there wouldn’t be a Global Wellness Day impacting millions of people. Today, I look back on my journey since the discovery of my cancer in astonishment. Not just at how my lifestyle has changed, but at how long I lived with unhealthy habits, oblivious to so many options at my fingertips. I’m told it could come back; being cancer-free is never a done deal. But I'm always ready to beat the odds.
To get involved with a GWD initiative in your area, check out our website, or start small by implementing the above tips into your everyday routine.
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