Drishti Patel, Health and Fitness Coach
Meet Drishti Patel, a health and fitness coach and thyroid cancer survivor. Drishti lives in Indianapolis with her husband and loves the outdoors, traveling and watching movies. She shares with us her story of fighting cancer, finding love, and rebuilding her path with authenticity and appreciation for what’s to come. You can find Drishti on Instagram @journeywithdrish.
“Prior to my diagnosis, I was at nursing school in Chicago at Loyola University. I’d had thyroid issues since my childhood, but I wasn’t on medication at the time and any issues usually figured themselves out. My family practitioner had told me a few times to get my thyroid checked, but there wasn’t really any urgency behind it.
In my third year, I went home for fall break with one of my best friends. My dad told me he set up an appointment for my thyroid as a routine check, so we went over to the doctor’s office on a Sunday morning. We got an ultrasound done, and then two days later, the doctor called me saying they found some nodules in my thyroid.
I went back in to get a biopsy, which involved sticking a few needles in my throat. The doctor looked a little concerned during the procedure and he told me that there would be a 50% chance I had cancer. I looked at my parents who were sitting in the room and told them ‘there’s no way I have cancer’ after the doctor left to check the results. My grandmother survived thyroid cancer when she was in her 40s but I never saw her go through it so cancer was unknown territory for me.”
“The doctor came back into the room with a bunch of colleagues and confirmed what I didn’t want to hear. I had papillary thyroid cancer and we’d caught it in its early stages. Holy shit, it was real. The doctors were happy because according to them, thyroid cancer was one of the ‘best’ cancers to get. They kept telling me that I would be fine. But I was freaking out because what did ‘fine’ mean with cancer? It was frustrating to hear their positivity in a moment that was incredibly scary and unexpected. My parents and I didn’t really know how to process the diagnosis. I was 19 years old and an undergraduate student. This was about change my life.
I canceled my flight back to Chicago. It was nice to have my best friend with me when all this happened, but it was just as weird. On Tuesday, I dropped her off at the airport for the flight I was supposed to be taking back with her. That’s when it hit me - she was going back to school, and I was just going back home. A week later, my dad and I took a road trip to Chicago and picked up my stuff to move back home for treatment.”
Treatment: The Real Talk
“Once I came home, I started working as a medical assistant at my aunt’s family practice to take my mind off of things. Thinking about having cancer all day wasn’t good for the mind, but working 8 to 5 every day was mentally and physically exhausting as well. I was so lucky to have a huge family who was close by, and they became my best and biggest support system.
After working for two months, I had surgery in December 2015 to remove my entire thyroid. I then went through radioactive iodine treatment to make sure all the cancer cells in my body were gone. I had to go on a special diet and get full body scans.”
“The recovery process post surgery was tough because I could barely swallow or eat. I was basically lying in bed for three weeks. I still remember the first night after my surgery when I threw up a little bit because of the medication I was on. That was one of the worst pains I’ve ever felt. My parents were in the bathroom with me, and I just started cussing (which I never do in front of my parents) as I was so mad about the pain. My parents were so sad for me, and it’s something I vividly remember to this day.
Prior to my diagnosis, I had booked a Global Medical Brigades trip to visit Guatemala at the end of December, three weeks after my surgery. I still really wanted to go on the trip, but my parents were worried that it would be too much after my surgery. However, my doctors were on board and I was so convinced that I had to go, so they gave in. I had to wear bandages for my scars, and I did get tired easily, but it was worth it. The trip was all about taking care of other people, and it helped me feel incredibly grateful for my journey.”
Finding her Love
“One of my friends texted me in November, a month before my surgery to introduce me to a friend of her boyfriend’s she thought I’d like. It was kind of random and unexpected, but the next morning, I received a text from a stranger.”
“Enter Rajan. He texted me Friday morning asking what I was doing that weekend. My friend had only told him that I was in nursing school in Chicago. I remember freaking out and texting my friends to see what I should reply to him. I ended up telling him I was at home in Virginia (which didn’t make sense because it was a random weekend) and then texted him that I was diagnosed with cancer and was back home. He said ‘I’m glad you’re going to be OK.’ If someone I had been set up with told me they had cancer, I would’ve definitely not reacted that positively. It felt like a breath of fresh air to hear that, and he became a big part of my recovery. We’d FaceTime every day, even when I couldn’t physically speak. We’d just sit there and watch TV together. It was peaceful.
Everything happened really fast from there, and I knew I’d found the right person in Rajan. We met in person in December before I went to Guatemala. We just knew then that this was it and told our parents we wanted to get married. I remember some people thinking I was crazy to get married before finishing my college education. It was a rollercoaster of emotions, but we knew we would figure it all out together. We really went from the lowest of the lows with cancer to the highest of the highs in starting our life together.”
Shaping her Career
“Post cancer, I started working as a nanny and started online school. I received my Bachelors Degree in Healthcare Administration at Grand Canyon University. It took two years, but the great thing about online school was that it gave me a ton of flexibility. I was able to work, plan my wedding and study at the same time.
Around the same time, I started taking my health and fitness more seriously. My thyroid cancer was more due to my genetics than my health, but I’d started working out a bit more before I got married to get a little toned. My husband is very into fitness and health, so I finally decided I’d stop making excuses and become more consistent in working out. I saw an Instagram ad about becoming a fitness coach eventually decided to start posting publicly about my own fitness journey.”
“I’m now a fitness coach and part of a program with hundreds of streamable classes I can access from home and at the gym. This is the first time in my life that I’ve committed to working out multiple times a week. I’ve even created a ‘Desi Girl Fit’ team, where I’m recruiting women who are trying to find a balance between working out and eating healthy to motivate each other and keep each other accountable. It’s been really cool to meet other women and encourage them through their own journeys. I’ve also been able to help guide some women who have thyroid issues which affect their body weight. I definitely don’t have the perfect body, but I’m doing this to be healthy - not just for the six pack or huge biceps.”
“I had a lot of faith throughout my cancer journey that things would work out. I really do believe everything happens for a reason, and I was lucky because everything ended up like a fairytale! Rajan and my family gave me a lot of strength in terms of seeing the bigger picture and knowing that it would all be okay.
However, things continued to be challenging after cancer because of the unknowns and not really knowing what I was going to do with my life. I was an undergrad student one day and the next day I wasn’t. Going through such a dramatic shift very quickly was hard, especially for me as I’m a huge planner. But I had to slow down and learn that I can’t plan everything. Life just does its own thing sometimes and we all have to adapt.”
“Going through such a dramatic shift very quickly was hard, especially for me as I’m a huge planner. But I had to slow down and learn that I can’t plan everything. Life just does its own thing sometimes and we all have to adapt.”
“Cancer has helped me appreciate life in a new way. I value my friends and family in an even deeper way now, and I’ve come to appreciate the moments we have with the people we love. Take advantage of the good times because there will be curveballs you just can’t anticipate.
I’ve also learned to have more open conversations and be authentic. There’s nothing wrong with having cancer or any health issue. We need to talk about it and be there for each other, and listen as we seek advice or just need to vent.
I now have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life, and it’s a daily reminder of my cancer. Remember the battles you’ve fought and appreciate what’s to come.”