The story of my cancer is still in progress – I am told it always will be since now that I have had cancer, I will have to be checked very regularly for recurrence. But the road so far has been smooth, but eye opening.
In 2018 my general practitioner (Dr K) noticed a lump in my thyroid. It was not large enough to see, but if you pressed on the left side of my thyroid, you could feel it. He sent me to have an ultrasound.
The ultrasound showed I has a small growth that did not look too suspicious. We took a watch and see approach. Apparently thyroid nodules are very common, especially in Hashimoto’s patients [Read my Hashimoto’s Story Here]. I didn’t think about the nodule again until one year later when I had a follow-up ultrasound.
The second ultrasound revealed that the nodule had grown and was starting to look more suspicious. I was sent to an endocrinologist to review the results and again, we decided to watch and see. This time, we only waited 6 months till the next ultrasound.
Well this last ultrasound, proved the nodule was DEFINITELY suspicious. It had grown much faster this time and was showing signs that generally indicate cancer. Up till this point I had not been too worried, but that was starting to change. I try to take a “don’t freak out till you have to” mentality, and that somehow held in this situation.
Within a week of the ultrasound, I had a biopsy of the nodule. The biopsy itself was pretty straightforward, just unpleasant. They have to stick several needles into the nodule to collect samples – I was totally numbed, but it felt super weird!! Well, lo and behold, the biopsy indicated I had papillary carcinoma – the most common type of thyroid cancer.
When my doctor first told me I had cancer, I was not very surprised. My body seems to be trying to fall apart and this was in line with that. We scheduled me to see a surgeon at the Siteman Cancer Center here in Saint Louis to make a treatment plan to have my thyroid removed.
For the first few days after the diagnosis, I felt nothing. This would not be my first major surgery and probably not the last – so no big, right? After about a week, it hit me all at once while I was sitting in my car. I had cancer. I had made so many life changes recently to try to improve my body and prevent cancer in my family, and here I was with a diagnosis. Now, to be fair, thyroid cancer is very very treatable. So the threat it had to my life was minimal. But it was the idea that my body wasn’t just falling apart in theory like I would joke, but it ACTUALLY HAD CANCER. Suddenly like a rubber band snapping into place, I felt the weight of it. I felt my mortality. I felt scared and sad. And it all brought into sharp focus what my priorities needed to be – my family.
Within a week, I started making changes to my life and the things I had previously thought were important. I stripped away anything I could that was not essential. I had no idea how long recovery would be and needed to clear my plate if possible. I had bought a horse at the start of the pandemic so that we could all ride and have an outdoor activity. Well, having a horse is like a full time job (I learned after I had bought him) and it was preventing me from spending time with my daughter. That could not continue, so I sold him to one of the kindest people I know and poured any extra time into my little Emma. We can still ride him anytime we want too 🙂
Surgery day came quickly. I wasn’t scared of the surgery, but I was worried about how my neck would feel after. Surgery went very well – my thyroid was removed and my parathyroid glands were removed, then put back so that I would not develop a secondary issue called parahypothyroidism (yes, that is a thing!). The pain after surgery was intense – especially when swallowing. I stayed overnight at the hospital and was released late the next night. During the hospital stay, my calcium levels dipped super low and we had some trouble getting them back up (which happens when your parathyroid glands are angry). Once that was resolved, I was sent home to continue recovery.
Being a small business owner, I don’t get a lot of down time, even if I need it. So, I had planned to go right back to work when I got home from the hospital – and I did (I am stubborn like that). Despite not taking a break, my recovery went very well and the incision healed nicely. The surgeon cut a pretty wide line on my neck to get the thyroid out – it’s still very red and looks like someone slit my throat.
The surgeon believes he was able to remove all the cancerous tissue, but I will still need to be checked regularly. If there is a recurrence, we will have to take a whole different avenue to treat it since there is no thyroid to just cut out. So we will see!
The biggest hurdle now is that I don’t have a thyroid. The Hashimoto’s was an issue before, but it went into overdrive after surgery. I have been struggling with my weight more than usual, my hair is REALLY thinning, and I’m having more of the fatigue and brain fog than I used to. It kind of feels like I am starting my thyroid journey all over again. We will have to go through many rounds of blood tests to see what the correct hormone replacement dosage is until we get it right. But I have hope that we will get there!!! I have yet to really dive into researching the impacts that has on the body, but I am sure I will share as I learn more!