I've spent the past five years of my life learning to love myself and striving to be at peace. After being in a constant state of learning and unlearning, I was ready to breathe. I was ready to be free and live. So, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last July, I didn't know how to feel.
In early 2019, I got a yeast infection that wouldn't go away for three months. After trying several over-the-counter remedies and being prescribed a few Diflucan pills, I stopped believing my problem was untreatable yeast. I went to a women's clinic that happened to perform routine thyroid ultrasound exams during their gynecological visits. They found a nodule on my thyroid during the ultrasound and referred me to the radiologist. The doctor told me thyroid nodules weren't uncommon, but I should visit the radiologist as a precaution. She looked slightly concerned and kept asking me if I felt a lump or pain in my neck, but I didn't. I also didn't think much of it because I didn't know anyone in my family with thyroid issues, and I was focused on treating the uncomfortable yeast that wouldn't go away.
The radiologist confirmed that there was a nodule on my thyroid—in fact, there were three. He requested that I get them biopsied and urged me to get my blood work done because he was worried my thyroid wasn't functioning correctly based on what he saw on the ultrasound. When my primary care physician reviewed my tests, she told me my thyroid levels were normal, but I was anemic. My body was running on its reserve iron levels, which had gotten dangerously low. My doctor put me on an iron treatment plan because I didn't have enough white blood cells to fight my yeast infection, even when I was on medication. With treatment, my yeast infection went away, and I felt great. Then my neck started hurting.
It was a dull pain that would shift from the left to the right side of my neck. I thought my years of sleeping without a pillow finally caught up to me, but the pain wasn't surface level. My doctor told me that I could have developed allergies, and the pain was likely due to swollen lymph nodes. The pain continued for the rest of the year, but I tried my best not to scare myself. I had a habit of assuming the worst-case scenario and driving myself into a panic. This time, I wanted to do things differently. My blood work was "normal," and the pain in my neck wasn't constant, so I told myself there was no need to fear the unknown.
But the pain in my neck returned and I was concerned. I called my doctor and told her I wanted to check on my thyroid. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was meant to visit that women's clinic and discover those nodules. Though my blood work showed normal thyroid hormone levels, I couldn't stop thinking about a woman who shared her cancer story on YouTube. Her labs also looked "normal" before she was rushed into emergency surgery a few weeks later.
So, when I went to the radiologist in July, and they confirmed I had cancer, I was sad, but I wasn't shocked. I was diagnosed with Metastatic Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma. For the first time in my life, I truly understood what the adults around me meant when they said, "If it ain't one thing, it's the other." The diagnosis explained my feelings of fatigue, inability to concentrate for long periods of time, low white blood cell count, and dull pain in my neck.
I'd go into exam rooms, and the doctors would share a lot of information and then try to comfort me by saying, "Of all the cancers to get, thyroid cancer is the best because it has a treatment plan!"
Or, "You're not going to die!"
Or, "You didn't do anything to end up with cancer. It's not your fault."
I never knew how to respond. Part of me felt guilty for being sad because of the constant reminders that my diagnosis could be worse. Part of me felt like my biggest fear of dying young was going to come true. The doctors would say their speech and wait for me to cry or ask questions, but I had nothing.
I was diagnosed with something I couldn't control, and I felt defeated.
For most of my life, I felt like if I was in control, bad things wouldn't happen. A few years ago, I realized trying to control everything was impossible, and trying to was making me unhappy. So, I started unlearning the harmful habits that kept me stuck in self-sabotaging patterns. I was focused on getting my life together and trying to improve the relationship I had with myself. I moved back to DC. I was making new friends. I was going out more and became more consistent with my writing. I was probably the most at peace I had ever been.
And then, I was presented with something I couldn't control, and I went numb. I googled everything, but I couldn't find it in me to research my diagnosis. I didn't want to overwhelm myself with information because I knew I couldn't change it. I couldn't fix it. I couldn't read, cry, vent, dance, talk, learn or journal my way out of cancer.
I tried to revert to my favorite habit of finding escapes, but it wasn't the same. Spending money I didn't have made me anxious. Having sex with men I don't like and who don't like me was underwhelming. Being drunk wasn't fun. It made me feel irresponsible, and it triggered migraines. I tried to fill the silence with random TV shows and YouTube, but the lack of quiet moments made me feel ungrounded. None of it was the same because I knew the only thing I could do that would ultimately make me feel better was surrender.
I've done everything to avoid writing about my diagnosis, and It's made me struggle to write anything for the past year. I'm not ashamed of having cancer and I don't feel sorry for myself. I know I didn't do anything wrong, and this isn't punishment from God for any "wrongdoings." But being sick is hard. Having a chronic illness is hard. Feeling like your body is betraying you at 30 is hard—I get anxious anytime I feel a random ache or pain.
I had surgery to remove my thyroid a few weeks after my 30th birthday last October. Since the cancer spread to a few of my lymph nodes, I had the infected ones removed as well and then had a radioactive iodine treatment (a form of radiation therapy) to remove any residual thyroid cells in January. Now that I don't have a thyroid, I take daily medication to prevent the cancer from returning and treat my hypothyroidism. I get my bloodwork done every few weeks to ensure my medication works and ultrasounds twice a year to monitor any growths in my neck.
It's an adjustment.
In her book When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron writes, "Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy."
I think about those words every day. Things come together, and they fall apart. My life as a person without a chronic illness is over, but my life isn't over.
After my diagnosis, I promised myself I wouldn't stop going after the things I wanted in life. I've gotten a better job, added two great people to my friendship circle, developed some new creative outlets, had many fun nights dancing awkwardly in DC, and made many memories with dope people. Good things are happening. And every time they happen, I lean into them. Fully. When joy is present, I reach out and grab it. When grief is present, I try to let myself sit in it. I have to have faith that I can make it through the parts of life that will be beautiful and the parts of life that will be terrifying because this is what it means to live a full life.
Being diagnosed with cancer didn't give me any major life epiphanies. But it did make me value myself more and have a stronger desire to protect myself and care for my well-being. I try not to lament over things I can't control. I feel less inclined to spend time with people who don't make me feel seen and loved. I give less energy to thoughts, opinions, and beliefs that don't serve me. I'm more focused on living my life for myself and not for the approval of other people. The whole experience has made me more appreciative of life. I don't have everything I want in life, and my life isn't as I pictured it would be at 30, but I have a good life. And I'm grateful.
Each year an estimated 44,000 adults in the United States get diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men, and those with cancer are likely to be diagnosed at a younger age. You know your body best. If you feel pain in your neck or anywhere in your body, get it checked out.
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Featured image by Mario Arango/Getty Images
How Content Creators Hey Fran Hey And Shameless Maya Embraced The Pivot
This article is in partnership with Meta Elevate.
If you’ve been on the internet at all within the past decade, chances are the names Hey Fran Hey and Shameless Maya (aka Maya Washington) have come across your screen. These content creators have touched every platform on the web, spreading joy to help women everywhere live their best lives. From Fran’s healing natural remedies to Maya’s words of wisdom, both of these content creators have built a loyal following by sharing honest, useful, and vulnerable content. But in search of a life that lends to more creativity, freedom, and space, these digital mavens have moved from their bustling big cities (New York City and Los Angeles respectively) to more remote locations, taking their popular digital brands with them.
Content Creators Hey Fran Hey and Maya Washington Talk "Embracing The Pivot"www.youtube.com
In partnership with Meta Elevate — an online learning platform that provides Black, Hispanic, and Latinx-owned businesses access to 1:1 mentoring, digital skills training, and community — xoNecole teamed up with Franscheska Medina and Maya Washington on IG live recently for a candid conversation about how they’ve embraced the pivot by changing their surroundings to ultimately bring out the best in themselves and their work. Fran, a New York City native, moved from the Big Apple to Portland, Oregon a year ago. Feeling overstimulated by the hustle and bustle of city life, Fran headed to the Pacific Northwest in search of a more easeful life.
Her cross-country move is the backdrop for her new campaign with Meta Elevate— a perfectly-timed commercial that shows how you can level up from wherever you land with the support of free resources like Meta Elevate. Similarly, Maya packed up her life in Los Angeles and moved to Sweden, where she now resides with her husband and adorable daughter. Maya’s life is much more rural and farm-like than it had been in California, but she is thriving in this peaceful new setting while finding her groove as a new mom.
While Maya is steadily building and growing her digital brand as a self-proclaimed “mom coming out of early retirement,” Fran is redefining her own professional grind. “It’s been a year since I moved from New York City to Portland, Oregon,” says Fran. “I think the season I’m in is figuring out how to stay successful while also slowing down.” A slower-paced life has unlocked so many creative possibilities and opportunities for these ladies, and our conversation with them is a well-needed reminder that your success is not tied to your location…especially with the internet at your fingertips. Tapping into a community like Meta Elevate can help Black, Hispanic, and Latinx entrepreneurs and content creators stay connected to like minds and educated on new digital skills and tools that can help scale their businesses.
During a beautiful moment in the conversation, Fran gives Maya her flowers for being an innovator in the digital space. Back when “influencing” was in its infancy and creators were just trying to find their way, Fran says Maya was way ahead of her time. “I give Maya credit for being one of the pioneers in the digital space,” Fran said. “Maya is a one-person machine, and I always tell her she really changed the game on what ads, campaigns, and videos, in general, should look like.”
When asked what advice she’d give content creators, Maya says the key is having faith even when you don’t see the results just yet. “It’s so easy to look at what is, despite you pouring your heart into this thing that may not be giving you the returns that you thought,” she says. “Still operate from a place of love and authenticity. Have faith and do the work. A lot of people are positive thinkers, but that’s the thinking part. You also have to put your faith into work and do the work.”
Fran ultimately encourages content creators and budding entrepreneurs to take full advantage of Meta Elevate’s vast offerings to educate themselves on how to build and grow their businesses online. “It took me ten years to get to the point where I’m making ads at this level,” she says. “I didn’t have those resources in 2010. I love the partnership with Meta Elevate because they’re providing these resources for free. I just think of the people that wouldn’t be able to afford that education and information otherwise. So to amplify a company like this just feels right.”
Watch the full conversation with the link above, and join the Meta Elevate community to connect with fellow businesses and creatives that are #OnTheRiseTogether.
Featured image courtesy of Shameless Maya and Hey Fran Hey
Max And Maya Living: A Candid Look At Love Abroad Behind The Cameras
For Maya and Max, the cameras are always on. The YouTube duo famously chronicle their lives as partners in both love and work in front of an audience of more than one million across various social media pages, candidly detailing everything from the ins and outs of their relationship and traveling to more intimate moments including the home birth of their first child in the countryside of Sweden. The pair have carved out a digital path, each step symbolic of who they are individually and their union that refuses to shrink itself into traditional roles.
Side by side, the two shared with xoNecole, their lives prior to the creation of Max & Maya Living, their popular YouTube channel. Tracing back to when Maya, known as “Shameless Maya,” was a solo highly sought-after influencer with international campaigns and a million followers, and Max was a budding actor, student, and photographer exploring the world.
Now, three years later, as joint influencers, married, with a child, and living in a new country, the two take a walk down memory lane before an audience accessed their home, their dreams, and their family life with the click of a button.
With sincere smiles of adoration and affection and earnest candidacy, the two shared how one late night tucked away in a cafe in Colombia turned into a proposal nine months later. A friendship quickly transcends to become a story of love strengthened by cultural differences, long distance, and an age gap to build a foundation of both self-discovery and a forever partnership.
Take us to the beginning, how did you two meet?
Max: I was backpacking through Colombia, and I made a stop at a hostel where Maya was staying. I was living in London, and I was transiting to Berlin, and this was my trip just before relocating. We were staying in a surf hostel, but there were no waves, and at night it turned into a spring break vibe where people were shooting vodka through water guns, and I was not there for that. So I walked to this outskirts hotel, and there at a barista cafe, Maya was sitting there.
Maya: We began bonding over our history in the arts. We both went to drama school, so that was our first talking point and from there, we [talked] for hours and embarked on a beautiful friendship. Max and I hit it off and [spent] three days… laughing our butts off and just being able to relate to one another.
After leaving Colombia, where did the friendship stand?
Maya: When I went back to L.A. I thought this would be over; I was like, wow! I really feel like I met such an amazing soul, but I couldn't see him as anything more than a friend. I'm 12 years older, and I'm this huge YouTuber in L.A., and he's a student transitioning to Berlin. So in my brain, I automatically put him in the friend category. But, he just kept reaching out, and he was so honest with everything, and a lot of guys put up a front… they see my nice home, my nice car, they won't say it, but they just look and start asking questions. Whereas Max he was like, "Omg! You live in this house? Are you rich, Maya?" Just very candid.
Max: I had a feeling that there was a slight mutual love potential, but I was afraid. I thought the stakes were very high, and I did not want to lose her as a friend. If I allowed myself [to think about how a relationship would work], it was just too complicated. But since our foundation was such a beautiful friendship, the obstacles of age and location, living on different continents, in different stages of our lives and careers, I [just] allowed myself to be grateful for our friendship.
Are you able to pinpoint when your feelings for each other transitioned from just friendship?
Maya: [Back in L.A.] I was reading my journal because I had written out what I was looking for in my ideal partner, and I remembered crying. What I had written was what and who Max is and what we did. I had written out an ideal date for us, and we had done that in Colombia, which was hiking, and that wasn't even a date. It was more like, "I'm going to this national park. Do you want to go with me?" So we were doing this long distance [friendship], and Max had no idea I was even entertaining this idea of us being together.
Max: For me, Maya was checking all the boxes, but I hadn't done anything but be myself. It was a strong feeling that I didn't even think of myself saying, I want it to be exclusive. It just came from the heart. I knew that I wanted to be exclusive regardless if it was going to be long distance. I think there's a tendency for men to put up a facade - you want to check all the boxes that person is looking for because otherwise, you might lose this person forever.
Just a few months after their initial spark in Colombia, Maya booked a job in Germany. Not exactly Sweden where Max was spending time with his family before his move to Berlin but still much closer to him than when she was in the City of Angels. Immediately after her job concluded, she decided to visit Sweden and visit Max.
Essentially, making the first move, for Maya, this was her chance to explore the feelings that constantly linked her back to Max. For Max, it was the time to show the dazzling YouTuber more than just another country to mark off on her passport but his home.
So Maya, tell us about your trip to visit Max in Sweden.
Maya: Love requires you to risk winning and risk losing, and you have to be okay with that. You can't be afraid. You have to keep taking steps forward, and I'm so glad I did. I made the first major flight to Sweden to see Max. Most women wouldn't do that; they'd think, "He needs to come to me." You just need to be honest with who you are and what you [want]. If that's very important to you, then that's your choice. For me, love required me to take a risk.
Since he was working in Sweden for a very short time period, it didn't make sense for me to request him to come to L.A. So, I was willing to take that first step, and you have to be open when it's a healthy risk.
"Love requires you to risk winning and risk losing, and you have to be okay with that,. You can’t be afraid. For me, love required me to take a risk."
Max: The day after Maya left Sweden, I could have asked her to marry me. I'm very traditional in that sense, where I believe in finding the one. Some people choose to commit to a relationship because of other values or interests. But I knew I needed that feeling, and I got that feeling with Maya.
At this point Maya you’re in L.A. and Max is in Sweden. What kept the spark alive despite being thousands of miles apart?
Max: The hardest thing was to say goodbye when you don't know when you're going to see each other again. So we came up with this idea where every time we say goodbye, we should have the next trip booked. By the time I left L.A., Maya already had her flight booked to visit me. So there was always something to look forward to, and you knew when you'd see each other again.
Maya: I think what was refreshing about Max is that he wasn't what I expected. In my mind, from society and social media. I feel like especially Black women are trained to idealize a certain kind of relationship, tall, dark, handsome, and six figures. You know, he has to have all these things. But with Max, he was in transition. [I had to ask myself] where were you at his age? We all start from somewhere? We're all on a journey. But the fact that he was disciplined and had a strong work ethic. So it's really looking at the qualities because I'm looking for a life partner, not someone to date for just a couple of years.
How did you two navigate cultural differences and being in two very different phases of your career?
Maya: It's important to acknowledge social norms and the differences of what each person likes and dislikes and then having a conversation about what each person wants. So if you are dating outside of your culture, you have to understand differences and not to take things as an insult.
I remember Max didn't open a door for me. I knew he wasn't doing this to disrespect me. So I literally went on Google and looked into Swedish culture. And I found information explaining that Sweden is big on equality. In their culture, opening the door for a capable woman is an insult. So it's important to acknowledge your culture and their norms. As well as seeing your dynamics and having candid conversations about what you each want. And try to see through the person that you love. Look at the core values. Look at the fun you have together.
Engaged and making the decision to explore a life together was just the beginning for the pair that, on paper, was as far apart as the distance between the continents in the middle of them. Fervently wanting to close the miles between them, Max and Maya explored all of the options; Max even considered a student visa to attend UCLA to be with Maya. However, before a full plan could be realized, the pandemic hit, and the two had to immediately shift gears.
Ready for a change of pace from the fast-paced influencer lifestyle of Hollywood, Maya moved back home to Canada. From there, the two purchased a home in the place where love first blossomed, Sweden. Finally reunited, the two married, and the very next day following the ceremony, Maya had to leave the country because of visa requirements. But, she didn’t leave alone. Max was right beside his partner as they traveled from Canada and Mexico together until they could return to Sweden together.
Finally settled and in their home, the two merged their lives together with the birth of their child and the start of their relationship as partners.
How did you two create “Max and Maya Living” together? Especially with Maya’s already influential social media career?
Maya:[When we met] I was working on my YouTube channel, and because Max was getting into videography and filmmaking, it just seemed like the most convenient option is to work with your partner. So while we were living in Mexico together, I hired Max to shoot for me. But I just didn't like the dynamic of being his boss when we already have the layer of me being 12 years older.
In "Max and Maya," that was born out of the desire to create mutually. I wanted to see him grow, and my energy was kind of like waning at this point because I had been doing my YouTube channel, Shameless Maya, for ten years, and it was just more or less the same thing over and over again. I wanted to start something new and fresh that we could both be part of.
What was that transition like for you going from behind the camera to a partner on camera with Maya?
Max: I was never intimidated by Maya’s success, I was curious, and I went through insecurities, but I was never intimidated. At the time, I was an aspiring actor and videographer. Then, all of a sudden, I felt like I got so much for free just because it was Maya. But I had to accept I was still learning. Maya was a very great teacher, and I became a sponge. Eventually, we progressed into two different levels of expertise, and now we work as a team.
How do you balance the marriage of Max and Maya versus the coworker space of “Max and Maya” you occupy when creating together?
Max: The one thing that I find the hardest is to switch off work when you are working very close with your partner. Don't bring in the emotions from your private life into the workspace, meaning, if you're working on something, try to work towards some sort of neutral space where you can step in together and be like, okay, we'll deal with this private stuff at another time.
And really nourish the family identity together, like your privacy as a family. So when we're out, and we're actually vlogging. That's not family time per se. So make time for family without the cameras.
Why do you think your story as a couple, as coworkers, as social media influencers resonates with so many and continues to engage thousands?
Maya: I think it's because we are carving our own path and being honest with ourselves, and however that translates online is just a by-product. A lot of women especially subscribe to the ideals of someone else versus what they enjoy. I know what I want. I'm older. I take on what society calls masculine attributes. I don't find it that. I just know who I am and when I'm in a relationship. It's nice to not feel like I have to dumb down or ask for help.
Max: I'm a very emotional person, and this relationship allows me to fully embrace that and just be myself. I don't have to act as if I'm something else. I don't have to prove that I'm some sort of alpha male that has to provide according to traditional social norms.
Maya: Society tells you that when you're married and have a child, you're supposed to have stability. But for us, we've always been travelers. We've always been adventurers, so we've just adopted our daughter into our lifestyle. It's easy to lose yourself to your partner or your family. And I think it's important to hold on to your self-identity as well as sharing this new dynamic with children and partnership. In our channel, we just share who we are and try to inspire others to create the life that you want.
For more of Max and Maya, follow them on Instagram @mmhilding and @mayasworld. Subscribe to their YouTube channel here.
Featured image courtesy of Max and Maya Living