The last 10 days or so have been a doozy.
My thyroidectomy went well. After the procedure, I was in Recovery for about 6 hours – much longer than anyone else who was in the surgical unit for other procedures so I watched a lot of people come and go. A few others in Recovery weren’t pleased to see my incision and requested things to block their view of me during their recovery time. Because yeah, it did kinda look like some rando had slashed my throat and the docs had slapped surgical tape over it.
An inch or so isn’t a lot until you see it on your neck. The neck doesn’t have a lot of real estate, so it looks much bigger than you expect.
This past Monday was pathology results day – and when I found out that I actually had thyroid cancer.
The brain kindof freezes when you hear the C word. Of course it does. The thoughts in your brain swirl around chemo, hair loss, nausea, fatigue, the epic battle for your body and will to live. Which is why I was so thankful to hear:
“The important take-away from this conversation is that you will live a long and healthy life.”
Thyroid cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the US, with the number of cases rising each year. No one is completely sure why there is an increase in cases (better technology to identify the cancer early may be a contributing factor) but the death rate has remained low – virtually unchanged since 2002.
- being female
- a diet low in iodine (rare in the US)
- exposure to radiation (radiation was used widely before the 1960s for an array of ailments; nuclear accidents; etc)
- family history (Having a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with thyroid cancer, even without a known inherited syndrome in the family, increases your risk)
There are four main types of thyroid cancer:
- Papillary, which accounts for 70-80% of all thyroid cancers
- Follicular/Hurthle cell, which accounts for 10-15% of thyroid cancers
- Medullary, which accounts for 5-10% and is usually hereditary
- Anaplastic, which accounts for less than 2% and is the most aggressive and unfortunately deadliest
Treatment for thyroid cancer includes surgery (got that out of the way!), radioactive iodine, external beam radiation, and chemotherapy. Most thyroid cancers are cured with surgery and radioactive iodine. Thyroid cancer is actually pretty great for targeted treatment such as radioactive iodine because no other cells in the body soak up iodine like the thyroid does – so the thyroid cells are killed while the rest of the body remains healthy. (pretty neat, right?)
The 5 year survival rate for anyone diagnosed with thyroid cancer today is 97% – and the 10 year survival rate for those who are younger than 45 and the cancer is localized (has not spread to other parts of the body) is 100%.
The good news is that I am young (under 45), relatively healthy (outside of this bump in the road), and the cancer was localized (according to my surgeon). I have my post-op follow-up in a few weeks with my surgeon and then a conversation with my new endocrinologist a few days later to discuss the appropriate next steps. I’ve started writing a list of questions for him because I tend to forget to ask while I’m at the appointment.
If I’m being totally honest, I was a bit numb after hearing my thyroid pathology came back as cancer. I immediately latched onto the positive points and rehashed those as my narrative publicly. I received a tsunami of support and messages of love from my friends and family while I tried feabily to pass it off as Not A Big Deal. The next morning though I started doing my research and started to panic. OMG this is serious, but thankfully not deadly so. I don’t even know which kind I have/had. Radioactive iodine requires an isolation period. How is that going to work? And there’s a million follow-ups while they get the dosage of levothyroxine correct plus following up to make sure the radioactive iodine worked …. what about work? We’re already swamped – I can’t be taking off time for all this!
I had to put down the internet and go busy myself with what’s really important: my family, my friends, and living life. Work is important too – I’m the primary financial contributor to our family – but I can’t work if I’m not healthy. I am incredibly thankful for the support my boss and company have given me.
Yesterday I went out for a bike ride and made some determinations:
- Yes I have/had cancer.
- No it doesn’t define me.
- But it’s OK to feel like it’s a big deal – because it is. It’s a part of my life story now.
I can ask questions at my next two appointments to get more clarity on what I had and what we can do next.
I will always need to be on top of my medication and communicate with my doctors.
I will live a long and healthy life – and look forward to rebuilding my base miles and bicycling strength soon.
See you on the road!
Internet Reference Sites (in case you want to learn more!):
ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association