We chose to celebrate the life and work of Marie Curie forever ago, or at least that's what it feels like given that life seems to pass by in a flurry of activity. As always, I, Kristen, began to dig deep into her life as I prepared to write her story and prepare blog posts, etc. Sure, I was familiar with Marie Curie and knew that she was an important scientist. I knew her contributions were profound and had far-reaching effects. What I didn't know, though was just how much I would personally owe her. As this season of thanksgiving winds down, I wanted to take a moment to share who it is that I'm grateful for and why. I am thankful for Marie Curie and her work with radiation because without it, I might still have that insidious and evil thing called cancer burrowing inside of me.
As I said, we chose to feature Marie Curie months ago before I'd received my diagnosis. So I did what I normally do and I began to read. I poured over her life. I was fascinated by her drive, her confidence in herself and in the science that she loved so much. She was a woman who many would say was ahead of her time, but truthfully, I don't know many people even now who would sacrifice so much for their work, their passion. Did you know, for instance, that Marie Curie used to walk around with test tubes of radium in her pockets? Granted, they didn't know just how dangerous radium was at that time, but still. I so appreciated her deep rooted belief in herself and what she was doing. It's not that she thought she was better than anyone else. She was actually remarkably humble. She refused to take any money for her discoveries because she didn't believe they were hers to keep. Rather, they belonged to everyone. All of the prize money she earned from her Nobel Prizes went back into her research. That's humility. That's service. That's confidence that you're doing what you're supposed to. I was blown away by Marie Curie. This was, after all, a woman who so desperately wanted to continue her education that she took secret "underground" university classes because she couldn't attend regular courses as she was a woman. It's because of that confidence that she kept pressing on and that some 118 years later her work touched my life personally and profoundly.
Not wanting to bore you with the crazy details, but I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in July following a routine appointment to check on my already wacky thyroid. It was a good prognosis as "they"--who is this "they" everyone always mentions anyhow?!---say that if you have to have cancer, thyroid cancer is the "best" kind to have because it's so treatable and the survival rate is really high. While I appreciated that perspective, it's still cancer and that's a lot of weight to sit with. But, I digress. I had my thyroid completely removed at the end of August and my surgeon was confident that there wasn't any cancer left. My family and I breathed a sigh of relief and said many prayers of thanks. Those breaths and prayers kept me buoyed until my surgeon called a week later with the news that my surgical biopsy results had come in and there was still a small amount of cancer left in some of the surrounding lymph nodes. Well, that certainly wasn't expected. I think that news threw me a little more than even my original diagnosis did. I remember taking several more deep breaths and began to pray for peace, strength, and direction. From there, I did what I do and began to research the next step. Radioactive iodine or RAI. That was the next step.
I began to look into RAI, what that meant for me, what that would mean for me later in life, how it came about and well, that led me back to Marie Curie. It was because of her work with radium that science had developed the RAI treatment for my cancer. That radioactive iodine would attack the cancer with gusto and, provided it did what it was meant to do, would eradicate it from my body. I felt profound gratitude at that moment for Marie. She had discovered something that years later would allow me to fight off something that was attacking my body. She created a weapon for me to wield.
On the day of my treatment I found myself in the nuclear medicine department of my local hospital---that name couldn't have freaked me out more, truth be told, as visions of old-timey newsreels of mushroom clouds and children ducking under desks played on a loop in my head. The nuclear tech met me and took me into a small room full of radiation paraphernalia, laboratory stuff, and big ol' warning signs: Warning: Radioactive. Yikesabee! The tech explained what we would be doing, the process, and all that fun stuff he needs to go through with patients. Just before he gave me my RAI to drink down, he asked if I'd like to feel the lead container my small vial of RAI came in. Why not? He placed it in my hand and while I'm fairly strong, that little container caused me to stagger a bit. It was so heavy! Why was it so heavy? And why were they putting whatever was in there in my body!? We talked about it and again, I thought of Marie. I thought of all those times she worked in that tiny lab directly with the radium. She didn't have a leaded vest or coat. I thought of her walking around with those test tubes in her pockets or driving her "Little Curie" van around the battle fields in World War I. She didn't know the dangers, but still, she worked. I told the tech that we were featuring Marie in December and was able to share with him some of what I'd learned. Once more, I was in awe of Marie Curie and her dedication to her calling. She was everywhere for me that day.
And on the day that I got the call that said there was no longer any trace of cancer in my body, my mind once more went to Marie Curie. I am so thankful for her. I'm thankful for her tenacity. I'm thankful for her curiosity. I'm thankful for her confidence. I'm thankful for her life. I know too many who have struggled, suffered, won, and lost the battle against cancer. We have a long way to go in our treatment of that disease, but for me, that dose of RAI was what my body needed to kick cancer's butt. Certainly, I'll go back for scans every year for some time to be sure all's copacetic. But for now, Marie Curie's discovery of radium, well, it cured what ailed me.
I believe that we are all born for a purpose, for a reason. And I believe with all my heart, having studied Marie Curie's life and gotten to know her through that study, that she was born for the very thing that she did. So for that I will always be grateful to Madame Curie.