Jennifer Robinson is a warrior for joy. That her story includes imultaneous diagnoses of thyroid cancer and Lyme disease makes this statement all the more incredible.
After feeling unwell and chastising herself for working too
hard as a very busy high-end special events planner in Kansas
City, Missouri, Robinson knew she needed to slow down. But
her body couldn’t wait. While attending a New Year’s Eve gala in
2013, she told her husband she couldn’t feel the right side of her
face and wondered whether she was having a stroke.
By the end of March, she had seen about 35 doctors who were
all saying she was fine. She continued to insist something was
happening in her body, and she was eventually admitted at the
Mayo Clinic. There, they believed her, and after three days of
testing she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Although she soon had successful surgery to treat the cancer,
Robinson was certain there was more to be discovered. She
could hardly walk, was rapidly losing weight, had to stop
working completely, and found herself in a crisis. She was nearly
blind in her right eye and sleeping only two hours each night.
“We’re so programmed not to ask questions,” she says. “But
the thing you cannot do when you’re fighting for your life is to
Additional blood tests showed that Robinson also suffered
from chronic Lyme disease. Using her medical history,
doctors created a path to trace her earlier health issues (a
gallbladder that abruptly shut down, a severe iron deficiency, a
hysterectomy) and determined that she had probably contracted
the disease from a tick during a breast cancer awareness walk
through wooded areas 10 years earlier.
“My body was trying to tell me that something was wrong,”
she says, “and I didn’t listen.”
A Way to Get Through Anything
For one year and 37 days, Robinson thought death might
be the easier option. Every day she would wake up and think,
Today is the day I could drive into oncoming traffic. No one
would have to worry anymore, no one would have to spend any
more money on treatment. It would just be over.
Treatment for Lyme disease is not typically covered by
medical insurance, requiring families like Robinson’s to burn
through their savings. She also had to relearn how to walk, how
to read, and how to be engaged with her life again. But during
that 13-month period of depression, something always kept her
going just one more day: her teenaged son would be starting in
the next football game, there was an upcoming family birthday,
or she had a planned dinner with friends to look forward to.
She did not want to die, but she needed something to help her
survive while her body was struggling against chronic illness.
“There is a way to get through anything if you focus on the
joy,” she says, even though she forced her smile for a long time.