I do not believe in luck, but I do consider myself to be incredibly fortunate. I have a good family, great friends, and I’ve had opportunities to travel and learn new things. Most of all, I am fortunate to be in good health, as I have a rare genetic disorder that has programmed my body to develop tumours. I know that hearing someone has this kind of disease doesn’t make them sound particularly lucky, but trust me, I am.
At four years of age, I was diagnosed with a genetic condition called Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Type 2a, or MEN2a. This is a rare disorder caused by a mutation in the RET gene and is characterized by the occurrence of cancerous tumours in the thyroid gland, and noncancerous tumours in the adrenal glands and the parathyroid glands. The tumours associated with MEN2a can develop at any time, and are not always easy to detect. Two years after being diagnosed, I had my thyroid gland surgically removed to prevent the eventual development of thyroid cancer. While the surgery was a success, and I am no longer at risk of developing thyroid cancer, I continue to have symptoms from post-operative complications due to swelling in the area where my thyroid gland used to be. However, with the help of my doctors and medication to replace the hormones missing from my lack of a thyroid gland, I’m able to live a happy, healthy, cancer-free life.
It was during the long and painful recovery from my surgery that I first decided I wanted to be a doctor. I loved my doctors, nurses and physiotherapists who helped me heal mentally and physically. Six-year-old me decided that I wanted to be just like them when I grew up. As strange as it may seem, having MEN2a and being sick as a child has given me an incredible amount of opportunities to start pursuing that goal. For nearly five years I’ve been volunteering with the geneticist who diagnosed my family members and I with MEN2a and I’ve also been volunteering at my local children’s hospital, where I spent time recovering during the early years of my illness. I currently work as a research assistant for the doctor who managed my care for thirteen years. Along with these amazing opportunities, I have also been able to share my experiences with others who have MEN2a and related conditions from all over the world, thanks to a charity that supports patients with these disorders.
I consider myself lucky to have MEN2a because it has helped to shape me into the person that I am today. It has made me more resilient, and better able to cope with stress and difficult situations. I hope that one day, I’ll be able to sit across from a patient struggling with a condition and be able to use my own experiences to help them cope with their diagnosis and treatment.
When I think of luck, I tend to think of the people like me who have life-threatening conditions that are in remission or are under control. We are truly lucky because we are able to live healthy lives, free from the worry felt by those who are dealing with an active disease. Despite the fact that my life hasn’t always been easy, at the end of the day, I am one of the lucky ones, and one day, I want to be a doctor, to help those who are not.
About Lauren Winsor
Lauren Winsor is an undergraduate student at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, Canada. She is currently in her third year of a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree with a major in Psychology and a minor in Biology.
Lauren works as a research assistant in the Cognitive Aging and Memory Lab at Memorial University’s Department of Psychology, and at Memorial University’s Faculty of Medicine.
Lauren holds top positions on the executive committees of four student societies, volunteers at her local children’s hospital, her university’s Department of Genetics, is a soprano in the university’s Festival Choir and holds a first degree black belt in Kenpo Karate.