Balancing Cancer and Grad School

Updated on March 4, 2020
Addy Jaye Writes profile image

I'm a full-time, second year grad student who was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer the month before I started my master's degree.

Is it Possible to Excel in Grad School While Battling Cancer?

The short answer is yes. If you are determined to not let your cancer diagnosis stand in your way, you can do anything that is necessary to accomplish your goals!

I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer two days before the deadline for enrollment in my master's degree program. Not only was I nervous to be starting grad school, which I knew would be more intense, but now I had to deal with thyroid cancer and everything that brought with it.

In the middle of the first quarter of my program, I had surgery to remove my thyroid and some of the surrounding lymph nodes—9/27 removed were also cancerous. I was out for a week, unable to do much of anything while the anesthesia was leaving my body. Thankfully, I had a very understanding professor who allowed me to turn in an assignment late that week without penalty. I won't say I would have failed if I hadn't gotten points, but I will say that I greatly appreciate her kindness and understanding.

Post-op, day 1 (February 2nd, 2019)
Post-op, day 1 (February 2nd, 2019)
Radioactive Iodine (RAI) Therapy had me feeling so gross! (March 20th, 2019)
Radioactive Iodine (RAI) Therapy had me feeling so gross! (March 20th, 2019)

Balancing Health and School

I entered school already knowing that I would have a rough year ahead of me, treatment wise. I knew I needed surgery, and I knew it was very likely that I would need Radioactive Iodine Therapy to eliminate any remaining thyroid cells that could become cancerous. I also knew that school was important to me and that I wanted to do the best I could. Whenever possible, I read or worked ahead in class. I won't lie and say I did not sometimes race to get my schoolwork done before deadlines, but I at least made an effort to reduce my stress levels.

I got lucky and had Radioactive Iodine Therapy during one of my school's 3-week breaks between quarters. This meant that I could relax during my treatment, which was simply a radioactive pill that was targeted to bind to and destroy any remaining thyroid cells that were hungry for the iodine I had been starving them from for the three weeks leading up to treatment.

Unfortunately, after a recurrence scare a few months later, I ended up being off the thyroid medicine that I now have to take to replace the functioning of my missing thyroid. Because the thyroid controls many different functions of the hormone system, I was very miserable the two months I was off my medicine. And I was due to start a two-class quarter that threatened to drown me.

My first #NationalCancerSurvivorsDay! It was very scary to be diagnosed with cancer and then to have surgery and radioactive iodine therapy to treat that cancer but I got through it all! (June 2nd, 2019)
My first #NationalCancerSurvivorsDay! It was very scary to be diagnosed with cancer and then to have surgery and radioactive iodine therapy to treat that cancer but I got through it all! (June 2nd, 2019)

Disability Services Helped Me So Much

I am extremely thankful that my school offered disability services for students who needed just a little bit of extra help to get their work done and turned in. I was set to begin my medicine three weeks into the quarter with two courses, but I knew I needed help for the first few weeks of the course, so I asked for it.

I felt a little awkward about it in the beginning but I finally realized that I had been through a lot and was currently going through a lot physically and mentally. It would not hurt to ask for a little bit of help. To this day, I have only gotten disability services for that quarter alone as I have not needed it since, thankfully.

I haven't done as much work on reducing my scar appearance as I should have but I don't feel like I need to. I wear this scar as a badge of honor for the battle I fought. (February 29th, 2020)
I haven't done as much work on reducing my scar appearance as I should have but I don't feel like I need to. I wear this scar as a badge of honor for the battle I fought. (February 29th, 2020)

Top Scholar

To this day, I have completed 7.5 courses as a grad student (.5 for my current course, that I am over halfway through). In each of those courses, I have received the highest grade (an A). Some of the courses might have cut it a little close, but all received the highest grade. In my current course, I have a 100%. I have not been late on an assignment and have received top marks for demonstrating my knowledge of the subject.

It is possible to succeed when battling cancer. It takes a great deal of patience with yourself and an understanding that you can't always do everything you think you should be doing. But if you make an effort, you can make progress on your goals.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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    © 2020 Addy Jaye

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