“What are we going to do about your thyroid?” – a statement my primary care doctor said to me on March 30, 2015 and the statement that totally changed my life! The past 10 weeks I have been through a lot, but I am glad to say I am going to be ok and I will get past this! My faith is strong and I know God will take care of me; I just have to lean on Him and continue to trust in Him!
My primary care doctor asked me about my thyroid and I was like, “what are you talking about”. She said she felt a lump in my neck and that an ultrasound was recommended. I let her know that I would be going home to research this and she offered to give me some material to read on the thyroid. She let me know then that there is no need to automatically assume the worse. So a couple of days later I got an ultrasound on the same day I got a mammogram. And in case you are wondering the mammogram was perfectly fine! A few days later I got an email that she wanted to discuss the ultrasound, I still didn’t think anything about it because after all I read that thyroid nodules were common and cancer never once crossed my mind! When I did talk to her she recommended a biopsy because of the ultrasound results. I then went to an ENT doctor and had a biopsy. Again, I still didn’t think it was anything major. I ended up having the biopsy and waiting about a week for the results. Again, I didn’t think it was anything major. I went back to the doc and he explained the biopsy was benign and that I had nodules that were fairly large and he recommended removal. OK, cool, let’s get them removed and I will be fine, or so I thought! I had the surgery, I removed the right lobe of my thyroid and I thought great I will be back to 100% in a short while and life will be good.
Friday May 22, 2015 everything changed, EVERYTHING!
I went to the doctor to have my stitches removed and I was in good spirits, I was on a work conference call and got off briefly just to have the stitches removed. Once he took them out I casually asked if he had gotten the pathology report back, knowing that even if he did he had already told me everything looked good and he would be shocked if it came back as cancer. Well guess what, it was cancer!! Everything he said to me was truly a blur, other than the words papillary thyroid cancer and I needed surgery. That drive home was LONG!! But I knew I had to not think about it because I had a call in an hour with my boss for work that I needed to focus! I kept saying; let me get through this call without breaking down! I don’t know how I did it, but I did! That Friday night Deep Eddy and I got to know each other pretty well!!
Thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer, but please know it is still CANCER! – When some people find out I have thyroid cancer the look on their face is comical really, the “is that all you have” look; you know that look! Some of the comments I’ve heard are:
- “Oh, it’s thyroid cancer?” – As if it’s not really a cancer.
- “Well it’s not that bad, it can be treated” – yes it is one of the most treatable but it still isn’t “good”
- “Oh” – as if because its thyroid cancer it makes it “better”
I have been very positive about all of this because I know this can be treated, but at the end of the day, I have cancer. But please let me tell you about this “treatable thyroid cancer”, how its impacted me and what I have faced and continue to face; this is not everything, trust me:
Let’s start with the 1st surgery – removal of the right side of my thyroid/nodules
- The initial shock of the cost of the surgery alone bought me to tears, and I have insurance!
- The amount I have spent on medical bills I am still paying is humbling.
- I had to wait in the waiting room at the hospital alone for about 2 hours because the doctor’s office gave me the wrong time to arrive for the surgery and my friend that was with me left because I thought I was being called back to surgery soon.
- The IV was done in my arm and I had to keep that arm outstretched until I was wheeled back to surgery, trust me this is not a normal position of your arm for an extended period of time.
- As the doctor is going through the risks of the surgery, your life flashes before your eyes
- When you wake up and can’t talk, you worry if the risk factor of losing your voice is happening
- You have a drainage tube extending from your body that requires you to drain and measure what is coming out of the wound.
- You are in pain and the pain killers won’t work fast enough.
- You get released from the hospital when you aren’t fully coherent and still in pain.
- When you get home you wonder if you will be able to sleep through the night and wake up if you did sleep.
- You worry that if you don’t keep the compression stockings on you will get a blood clot and die.
- When you get the drainage tube removed, you feel it being removed and it’s not a pleasant feeling.
After being told you have thyroid cancer –
- You begin crying as the doctor is explaining it to you, only to realize you need to focus because there is no one there to help remember everything being told you.
- Getting in the car and on the drive home realizing your life is changed forever.
- Calling your aunt, who’s like a mother and telling her, to be greeted with silence because she just doesn’t know what to say?
- Scared to tell your boss at a job you have had 4 months, and thinking how you can have the surgery and be back at work in a couple of days , worrying you will be let go for having to take off again for this to realize my job has been and continues to be amazingly supportive!
- Not knowing what the next steps are, other than surgery, because the doctor didn’t take the time to fully explain and answer questions – not that I had any but not even offering to answer ones he thought I might have.
- Having to tell you daughter that you have thyroid cancer and having to say everything will be ok, not fully knowing if everything will be ok.
- Using the internet as your doctor because you just don’t have the answers from the doctor that gave you the diagnosis.
- Trying to get your medical records sent to another doctor for a 2nd opinion only to become frustrated and break down in tears.
- Asking for a pathology report so you can take it to the doctor with you only to be sent 1 page of a 2 page report not realizing it.
- Being told you should see an oncologist but not knowing of one, and then when you decide where you want to go being asked do you want a medical or surgical oncologist – how would I know???
- Because you are less than 3 weeks out of the last surgery, your energy level is so low by the end of the day all you want to do when you get home is sleep.
- Not having the energy to work out and afraid you will regain all the weight you have lost over the past 2 years.
- Having to put on a brave and strong front when having to tell people, but deep down you are a little scared.
The 2nd surgery – removal of remainder of my thyroid with the new surgeon
- The drainage tube – again
- Arriving at 1pm for a surgery that didn’t start before 7pm due to another surgery running over, but only having 8oz of water the past 18+ hours.
- Because I was so dehydrated by the time they started the IV it hurt so bad it felt like pins were sticking in the top of my hand.
- Spending 2 nights in the hospital.
- Not being able to breathe and gasping for oxygen when I woke up from surgery and having to use oxygen overnight to breathe.
- The IV was positioned in a way that if I moved my hand the monitor went off – this happened VERY often.
- Having to have bloodwork done every 6 hours to check my calcium levels to ensure my parathyroid was functioning.
- A resting heartrate of below 60 that kept setting off monitors, requiring additional nurses to visit me to ensure I was OK.
After the 2nd surgery –
- Unknown – I am still trying to get more information, so it’s truly an unknown at this point
- Radioactive iodine therapy
- Regular blood work
- Thyroid hormone daily
- Regular follow-up appointments
I am still learning about thyroid cancer and have found that not everything on the internet is probably the best information! I am also happy to say I have the best support system! The love and support from my family, friends, coworkers, sorority sisters, church members, everyone, etc. has been unbelievable. From being there when I waited to go into surgery, there when I was wheeled to surgery, there when I came out of surgery and there to visit me at the hospital and at home, I was bought to tears! Some have asked why I shared and continue to share this on social media and the reason is that being able to share is my way of coping, and possibly helping someone else!
I will chronicle my journey which allows me to share my experience and possibly help someone else going through this. Please feel free to reach out to me!