It’s a fairly rare cancer, or so I am told. But I have it. I didn’t know anything was wrong. I had no idea anything was going wrong in my body. I felt great. I still do. But I have thyroid cancer. My story started at my yearly physical exam with my doctor. I love my doctor. I have always liked her, but I have an entirely new admiration for her now. She found my cancer. We were chatting like we usually do about kids and summer and life. She was feeling of my throat with her fingers when she said, “Hush and swallow”. I did both. “What?” I asked. “Hush and swallow again”, she said.
“You have a nodule on your thyroid,” she told me. “No I don’t.” I said.
She put my fingers to the spot and told me to swallow again. Yes I did. I did have a nodule. Even I could feel it. She asked me if I had been having trouble swallowing. I had not. I asked her what this meant. I asked if I had a goiter. “Yuck”, I thought. She told me I had better hope it was a goiter, because the alternative was cancer. Ouch. The thyroid is a gland at the base of your neck that has sort of a butterfly shape to it. It makes thyroid hormone which regulates your metabolism.
She booked me an appointment for an ultrasound of the suspicious nodule. That was easy and painless. Yes I had a nodule. As a matter of fact I had several. I have since found out that women over 40 commonly have nodules on their thyroids. Great. Just turned forty and my parts are wearing out. Okay, so the ultrasound confirmed what my doctor already knew. What now? She wanted me to have the nodule biopsied.
“Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that means a needle in my neck?” I asked.
I was right. Back to the radiology department at the hospital for me. They had me to lie down on a table with a rolled up towel behind my neck. The doctor came in and located the nodule in question with another ultrasound. Then he used some medication to numb the lower middle part of m neck. Okay, it burned some. Well quite a bit, but only for a few seconds and then the burning was gone. Next he stuck a really small needle into the same area and thanks to the numbing medication I felt no pain. It did, however, feel like someone was standing on my throat. I could breath just fine, but still that feeling was there.
He did this two times and decided he had enough cells to make a determination for me. He said I should know something in two or three days, but that most of the time these things are nothing. Great. I liked that. They placed a band aid over my neck and off I went.
Three or four days later I receive a call from my doctor. Confident she was calling with good news, I did not ask my son to leave the room. A decision I would soon regret. She read me the pathology report and told me it meant that I had thyroid cancer. Unfortunately they were not able to differentiate what kind of thyroid cancer it was from the tissue they had. She kept asking me if I was all right and if I had any questions. To be quite honest the entire conversation is a bit of a blur. I do remember her telling me that if I had to have cancer this would be the kind to pick because with surgery this was a curable cancer. She referred me to a surgeon in town who specializes in thyroid surgery. My doctor was going to let this surgeon make the decision for my next step.
I hung up the phone in a bit of shock. I had done my homework on thyroid nodules and discovered that only 5% of them are cancerous. I had conveniently placed myself in that larger, 95% group. I had fully expected my doctor to be calling with news to confirm this. But rational thinking would later remind me that your doctor rarely calls with good news. Usually the office staff has this privilege. Only when the news is not so good do they feel the need to call themselves.
My son had been sitting in the room and hearing the entire conversation. When I got off the phone he asked me what was wrong with me. I lost it then. Right in front of him. Not good. I called my husband who was thankfully on his way home anyway.
I was scheduled to see the surgeon a week later. By then I had gotten myself together and realized that this truly was a curable cancer when treated. The surgeon shared lots of information with my husband and me that day. I learned that she planned to take out my entire thyroid through a small incision on my neck. I learned that she would not know until the surgery just what kind of cancer I had. There are a few different kinds of thyroid cancer. I learned that depending on the kind of thyroid cancer she found, she may need to remove some lymph nodes in my neck, too.
I also learned that there was a possibility that I would need to take a few radiation pills if the kind of cancer warranted it. These pills are radioactive iodine or I-131. The thyroid gland is the only part of your body that uses iodine. It needs it to make the thyroid hormone that helps to regulate your body’s metabolism. So the radiation in the pill goes right to any thyroid tissue that’s left after surgery and destroys it. The only snafu with this treatment is that for the duration of the treatment (4-5 days) the patient is not allowed close contact with children (Due to the shedding of radiation), is not able to prepare food for or eat with others, and must sleep alone.
Following the surgery the surgeon told me I could expect to have a sore throat from the breathing tube that would be placed during surgery, and a moderate amount of pain at the surgery site. I would need to take one or two weeks off from work, and I would not be allowed any housework for at least six weeks. This was said tongue in cheek for my husband’s benefit. I like this surgeon.
So now I’m waiting a month for my surgery. For something that’s supposed to be so rare, I have talked to many people who have known someone with thyroid cancer. I am happy to report that I have heard of only great outcomes. Although I suppose no one would tell me the bad stories, if there are any. But I am encouraged. I have had lots of hugs and lots of prayers said on my behalf.
If you are over 40, and especially if you are female, let me encourage you to have a yearly check up. Have your doctor check for nodules on your thyroid and then if anything shows up, have it checked out. Most likely it will be just fine, but untreated thyroid cancer can spread to the lymph nodes, lungs, and the bones. Like with everything else, early detection and early treatment is best.