August 6, 2010 was a life-changing day for me. I had every last bit of cancer removed from my body on that day and became a survivor. What's even stranger is that I didn't know for sure that I even had cancer before that. I've never shared much about that part of my life on this blog, but I'd like to start sharing more with all of you, my sweet blog friends.
I plan to gradually share a few more stories with you in the next few weeks about being a cancer survivor and how it's affected my life and family. Below is a post from my family blog shortly after I received my diagnosis...
I purposefully have neglected to post on this blog about the elephant in the room, but I was sort of ready for that elephant to exit and we could have our nice little life back and just forget it all ever happened. I truly thought that we would go to the doctor today, get a clean bill of health with a benign thyroid sitting in a lab somewhere and a prescription for a lifetime of Synthroid. That way, we could happily begin this exciting new school year with our kindergartener and preschooler and go back to "normal" (whatever thatreally is).
Several of you have asked me how this all began, so I thought I would share the nitty gritty of it all. The bottom line is that this was a somewhat neglected problem and I hope that by shedding a bit of light on it, maybe there will be fewer neglected problems for all of you out there in the blog-o-sphere. Because even the smallest neglect of a health concern can lead to much more.
I have actually had thyroid "issues" since I was a pre-teen. My pediatrician sent me on to an endocrinologist early and we got a handle on hypo-thryoidism early. I was told that I would be on Synthroid my whole life, which was no big deal to me, and I took my pill daily from then on.
Sometime when I was in Abilene, ten or so years later, a doctor I was seeing took me off of Synthroid. I still to this day don't remember what the reasoning was, but it happened. And kind of sent me on a very slow downward spiral that, up until this point, I have not really shared with too many people, except my very close friends and family. I am now certain getting off of Synthroid was a huge mistake.
Truthfully, I have been a bloomin' mess for the last few years. I have also been pretty meticulous about trying to disguise it and make everything seem just fine on the outside. But, in the last year or two, it has really started to interfere with our quality of life.
I have been in a complete fog of absolute exhaustion. I have used weekends to "catch up" and sleeping hours upon hours to just wake up more exhausted while my sweet husband entertained our precious boys. I have neglected my family, our home and let things keep slipping away. While we may have seemed pretty okay on the outside, our home life was not quite the dream we wanted it to be. The lack of a functioning thyroid contributed to me putting on a good deal of weight, and I even have a nagging skin problem on one foot that we now know was a thyroid culprit as well.
David had started suspecting it was all related to my thyroid quite some time ago. While I thought, well, maybe...I also just thought it was maybe a bad case of post-partum that just wouldn't go away. . . (hello, my "baby" is three and a half)! So, I put off going to the doctor. And then when my gall bladder came out in December, I figured we solved the problem and that was that.
But, things went back to being pretty gloomy again. And this summer has just been a beating to me. It got to the point that in the mornings I was so tired (after eight or more hours of sleep) that the boys would grab a Nutrigrain bar or Pop-tart and jump in bed with me....watching their cartoons until I could drag myself out of bed.
So in late June, while en route to visit friends and family, we pulled over the car and made a doctor's appointment for me for the day after we returned from our trip.
At my appointment, my doctor immediately starting putting all of my numbers from lab work together from my gall bladder incident. She thought they may indicate a thyroid problem, so she sent me for more blood work and an ultra sound on my thyroid. I made a follow-up appointment for July 20th.
When my doctor's nurse called me on July 12th and said they wanted to see me quicker and wanted to rush me in the next morningbefore they even opened, I started seeing red flags and got a bit panicked. I remember that I called David to tell him about it while I was driving the boys to their first day of swimming lessons. I got so flustered that I missed a turn and was a hot mess by the time we actually arrived at the pool. I was thankful to see my sweet friend Jana at swimming lessons and I started telling her everything. Jana is a cancer survivor and she immediately knew that it didn't sound great that they wanted to see me the next morning.
So, at 7:30 am on the 13th, we saw my doctor. This was the first time the C word was dropped and my eyes were probably as big as saucers. She told me about the calcifications that were all over my thyroid and that I was going to be referred on to a specialist, "Dr. S" (his name is so long that it's just easier to type/say Dr. S....everyone does it.)
Dr. S was great from the get-go. Very patient with me and all of my weird questions. He went over the different tests, including what a thyroid biopsy would be like (um, 15 needles...yikes). My first test was on the 20th. I was soooo thankful to have Lori Callaway, one of my best friends in the entire world, drive down from McKinney to go to all of my appointments for this first test with me.
The iodine uptake scan was pretty easy actually. It was just in three parts and the last part I could have done without, but apparently, that's the main thing so I had to just go along with it. : ) The first part is swallowing a radioactive pill that you're not allowed to throw up. Easier said than done. It's like blinking and swallowing, when someone says you can't blink or swallow, that seems to be the only things you want to do. So, all morning, after being told no throwing up, I thought maybe I needed to? It's not that you couldn't throw up. It's that if you did throw up, they have to call the radiation police to your house to examine your potty for radioactivity. I couldn't make this up if I tried. Lori and I both had our eyebrows raised when the guy told us this. But I made it through the day sans-barf to return that afternoon for a simple little x-ray of my neck. And permission to resume puking if necessary....what a relief to not have to worry about the potty police. The next morning was the part where you lay at a crazy angle on a table that tilts and moves until all the blood rushes to your head, all the while a big white contraption is moving about an inch away from your face taking scans of your thyroid. It was a long jaunt on that table, but I made it through unscathed. Just a little wobbly afterward.
While Lori was here, we went to see Inception and I decided that this entire thyroid issue was probably just a sordid dream that Leonardo DiCaprio concocted to extort my amazing blogger hacking secrets. Just sayin'.
David & I returned to Dr. S the following week to find out not much at all. Except that my thyroid was probably the size of an elephant's (do elephants even have thyroids?), that it lacked...well, function, and that the calcifications on the left side of my thyroid made my doctor really nervous. Let me tell ya, if the doctor is nervous, so am I. He was nervous since calcifications were a cancer indicator.
After talking about that 15 needle biopsy that sends me into a panic-attack every time I think about it, Dr. S realized that it would be useless since no nodule was present in any of the scans. If a nodule isn't present, it's hard to determine where to biopsy and there is slim chance you'll actually biopsy the correct spot. This would render a useless result.
Rather than putting me through that (it seriously is an ordeal, so many people have told me how awful it is), Dr. S was ready to remove the thyroid. It didn't function at all, so not a whole lot of point to keeping it.
My surgery was August 6th. Dr. S said when he got to digging (this was the word he used and then realized that I kind of made a face and he sidestepped a bit...I think it was the drugs talking on my part). Anyway, as he was "digging" he said the thyroid just kept on coming and coming. It was HUGE. And wrapped around my voice box. He nicknamed it Super Thyroid. Fabulous. He also noticed there was an actual nodule on it on the right side that had not been picked up in the scan. He said that was a good indicator. I kind of hung my hopes on that nodule and let myself think I was cancer free. Lesson learned.
My incision was bigger than he originally thought it would be...but he did a good job of tucking it into the crease on my neck. And I have a little poofy swelling part that still won't go away. It's so ugly. I think it looks like I swallowed an egg whole. Ugly. And I can't wear my jewelry yet to cover it up. Seriously. Ugly.
But I already feel a bit better...we think the Super Thyroid was cutting off oxygen as well. So even without Synthroid, I already feel more human.
While I was supposed to get my results back on the 18th, we all know that didn't happen. And I've totally made peace with it and am now happy that I didn't. I think it would have put a cloud over our special day yesterday with Benjamin's Meet the Teacher at kindergarten. I also found out today that it truly was an emergency that Dr. S was called out for. He had to drive to another city to operate on someone who was already on the table. Whoever that poor person was on that table is probably pretty thankful the 32 year old thyroid patient didn't go postal on the Surgery Center demanding results.
Today we went and did get our results. David knew immediately that something was off when Dr. S did not come in with a spring in his step and his usual smile on his face.
His actual words were "I am soooooo thankful we took that thing out. It was cancerous."
While I tried to just hold it together and not turn into a sloppy mess in Dr. S's office, I felt my face get hot and wanted to crawl out the window behind me. But, I pulled it together to listen and ask plenty of my never-ending questions that Dr. S is probably quite accustomed to.
They found cancer in both the left and right sides of the thyroid. The cancers were small...1 mm in the right side and 1.5 mm in the left side. And there was even another nodule that was discovered in the Pathologists' lab...on the left side. There was definitely good news, too. While indeed it was cancerous, it was small. And seemed contained. My lymph nodes were clear of any cancer which is a really good sign.
The part I hate is that I am headed to the oncologist (at least I will be once they call me). An oncologist is the last doctor this gal wanted to see. I mean, what person does? Especially at 32. With little kids and a great life. Sigh.
The oncologist will assess my situation and probably run another iodine uptake scan or 2 or 3. Yay. More radioactive potties to worry about. They will decide if I need to proceed with radiation or if they truly got everything out and I am clean and not in danger of more cancer.
And then will I finally get on that Synthroid. Hoping I won't totally fall apart before then from exhaustion, but so far it's not too awful. The timeline is a little yucky, though. We wait on the oncologist to call us (it will take them a week or two) and then they will set up my first appointment for a week or so after that.
The most amazing thing about all of this is the love and prayer that has surrounded us through this. We are so incredibly humbled by our Facebook family of friends. And of course, our incredible church family can't be beat. While we may have seemed like hermits the last few weeks, there hasn't been a single instance that has gone unnoticed. From cards, calls, flowers, emails and some seriously yummy food....we are humbled beyond words. Thank you for loving us. Thank you for babysitting our kids and cooking us casseroles and holding us up in prayer. We feel it. There is no way we could go through this without the amazing prayer that has covered us and continues to cover us.
There are several verses that have been so close to my heart through all of this...
"I will make all My goodness pass before you. . .Behold, there is a place beside me, and you shall stand upon the rock, and while My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away My hand and you shall see My back; but my face shall not be seen." Exodus 33:19, 21-23
The night before my surgery, I was amazed to open my devotional and read the following verse (which I also found a few days ago on an online cancer-patient Bible study as their key verse):
"And there was a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years, and who had endured much suffering under [the hands of] many physicians and had spent all that she had, and was no better but instead grew worse. She had heard reports concerning Jesus, and she came up behind him in the throng and touched His garment." Mark 5:25-27
We sincerely appreciate your prayers and love. We look forward to the day where we can indeed put all of this behind us in a neat little package and move on full speed ahead.
Again, the above was a post I wrote (on my family blog in August of 2010). I feel like I've done a lot (health wise/cancer wise) since then and can't wait to share all of that with you as well in the upcoming weeks!
I have just registered for my very first Relay for Life. My goal is to raise $500 in support of the American Cancer Society. If you would like to contribute, please click here.
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