- Posted March 22, 2014 by
By a Lake, Minnesota
This iReport is part of an assignment:
First Person: Your essays
Cancer?! Not AGAIN!! Out with the thyroid....
But, I don't want another cancer! [said in a whiny high-pitch].
Yet, despite my petulant protests, I got one anyway.
I was diagnosed with a Desmoid tumor in June, 2009 and had a major surgery to remove it on July, 17, 2009. Never having heard of that 'thing' before, I did a lot of research about them – probably more research than most surgeon's have done. My Desmoid was extremely rare, very unknown, and has an amazing (yet small) support group of people who have also been diagnosed with one. Even though most surgeon's will never come across one in their lifetime of practice, the amount of information I gleaned from other Desmoid survivors gave me enough knowledge to feel pretty solidly informed. And after my first surgery, as of July 25, 2011, that horrid tumor is still gone and showing no signs of recurring.
But, wait – thyroid cancer? What? Um, WHAT? Yessiree – in December 2010, I was diagnosed with Papillary Carcinoma of the thyroid. Kidding, right? Nope..... not kidding. I'd had a cancer-free (as far I had known) 18 months before this diagnosis; moved my family back across the country; was enjoying a new job and our house on the lake........ things did not stay quite that easy for long.
I'd been convinced that I'd had thyroid problems for the previous 10+ years, yet was never really given the time of day since my blood-work always came back 'normal'. Isn't it incredible that many physician's sadly lump us into categories of being fine or not-fine? If one seemingly 'looks' ok and nothing is glaringly problematic, then we are dismissed and given the “Shoo, fly – shoo!”. It wasn't until I met this incredible endocrinologist in California who was as determined as me to find out what was going on. Thank God for her. My blood-work was done and an ultrasound scheduled for my neck. Interestingly, my blood-work was not completely normal and indicated an issue with my pituitary gland. I had the ultrasound and was then told that I had a nodule on the right side. No biggie – just going to biopsy it though, just in case. Fine-needle and core-needle biopsies are really uncomfortable, yet it truly was fascinating to watch this all on the U/S screen. Results: inconclusive. Of course, it's never easy with me.
We were getting ready to move back across the country, so I was told to find a new endocrinologist when we got to Minneapolis and have another biopsy six months later. I found a woman who was apparently one of 'the best' in the cities. I'm sure she is a lovely woman, and is able to truly help a lot of people, however, I was – as usual – dismissed. She begrudgingly gave me the go-ahead for another biopsy and told me that she really thought things were just fine. In fact, when she called me with the results, she again said that it all looks good, but was going to forward it to a fellow surgeon. Another – thank God – for that newest doctor. He read my scans and promptly called me saying that I had Papillary Carcinoma. Maaaaan, I told YOU, Dr. So-n-so! Surgery was scheduled for 2 weeks later where I was told they would take out my entire thyroid and maybe some lymph nodes. Wow. While I was happy to finally have the diagnosis, I was reeling a bit ... TWO different CANCERS within18 months? Leave it to me.
My husband was able to take a couple weeks off from work while I went in for surgery to care for our boys and me afterward. I distinctly remember waiting for my surgery to begin and playing Scrabble on my phone – boy, was I grateful for technology. My surgeon was delayed by an earlier surgery, so the nurses were so kind and apologetic while I reassured them that I was fine. If I could play my word games with warm blankets atop me, well then, I was quite content.
Wake up. Ouch. It hurt to move. More painkillers? Yes, please.
Three days later. Relatively alert, watching numerous episodes of Japanese Silent Library and trying not to laugh. My surgeon also came that day with the great news that it seemed he got all the cancer out! He even took four lymph nodes and had those tested. All clear! They put me on a somewhat low dose of Synthroid after a couple days. Ick. But, I know I needed it. I did request some info about the Pig thyroid supplement, but was told that not enough was known about that. To put a man-made chemical in me as opposed to something more natural (albeit pork) was not the route I had wanted to take, however knowing zilch about thyroid hormones, I went with it.
Day five: I could finally go to the bathroom without a catheter and was told I could go home.
Home. I slept for five days. Seriously. FIVE DAYS. It was glorious. Until the pain meds ran out – and as tempted as I was to continually refill them, I made the decision to go the more mild route with over-the-counter stuff. During that time, my husband couldn't have been more amazing. For the first time since my oldest son, Duke, was born 9 years ago did I allow myself to be carefree in thought, physical, mental and emotional space. And trust me, I made up for lost time. Plus, the husband is a much better cook than myself and I fortunately got to devour his concoctions.
It is now almost 6 months post-op and I look back on these last two years with incredulous awe. I never thought I would be a cancer survivor, much less a TWO-TIMES survivor within 18 months. My next appointment is in two weeks and at that time we will take a look at my chart to reevaluate the path we're on. I opted to not have the Radioactive Iodine Therapy – mainly because I had no where to go and no one to watch my boys. So, there is often that niggling fear in the back of my brain that tells me I'll need further evaluation. My husband is deployed overseas right now, so I think I oddly 'will' myself to not need the RAI treatment at this point. I also now have a 'spot' on my liver that is being watched – it's been diagnosed as a hemangioma at this point, but I'm feeling that urge to push the diagnosis further.
In rereading this, I feel it sounds glib and as though I am making light of my cancer's – which I am not. Maintaining a positive outlook in the face of extreme adversity is my coping mechanism; it is what helps me wake-up in the morning with a smile for my kids. It helps me to power through my husband's 14-month deployment in Afghanistan (10 months left to go); a messy house; difficult finances; and constantly trying to find care for my boys during my numerous doctor appointments. I do allow myself certain 'indulgences' though – being on Facebook too much (I have found an incredible support system there); staying in my jammies all day periodically; fulfilling my love of fashion through bargain shopping. Yet, there are a couple things I do which I know are not the healthiest: I like cheap beer, some junk food, being mildly lazy, and detest doing laundry .... thankfully, I'm aware of these and know they are items which ought to be addressed.
I just realized something. I haven't even allowed myself to go down that path of 'what if?' for fear of an answer that I will dread. The vast unknowns within my body are such that I keep my feelings on a pretty surface level......worried that if I let some unspoken fear in too deep, it would cripple me. Ugh - now that makes me wonder when the thing will actually come out and I will HAVE to process it. I guess another story will need to come out at that point......stay tuned, folks.
I wish I had an exact definition for the term 'survivor'. In fact, I view the word as an ever-changing description of the life of a cancer patient. To survive something is very personal; it's a road that brings to the surface every emotion possible; a journey that is constantly moving, never stagnant and when we allow it, can bring about drastic change (both good and bad). Being a survivor is defined solely by the person who adopts the term - it is an outlook on the ebb-and-flow of life. But, may I add that I'd like my ebb to stop flowing a bit, and just let me rest a while in who I am now.