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Partial Thyroidectomy: Removing The Demons We Harbor

I think I am still in shock that my body betrayed me last year, but that experience was the catalyst for important changes in my life. Some nights, as I massage my scar, I almost want to cry remembering how scared I was.
The summer of 2012 I started having issues swallowing liquid and eating comfortably. I felt a bulge in my neck and kept thinking I was maybe just being paranoid. I even asked other people if they could feel it and they couldn't. Over the summer I started having odd symptoms like super oily skin, swollen legs and feet, terrible anxiety attacks in the morning, no appetite, manic-like energy, and in general I did not feel like myself at all. I don't know if thyroid growths can cause all those symptoms, but those signs led me to further investigate my medical issues.
By the beginning of fall, the lump was visably noticable to me, I was losing 2 pounds a week because I felt too sick to eat, and I couldn't deal with this any more. My boy friend at the time didn't believe me or support me. I was so scared and felt so alone. My wonderful doctor immediately saw the bulge, and I wanted to hug her! SOMEONE BELIEVED ME! It was a whirlwind of appointments and confusion after that visit.
I had an ultrasound and there was a golf ball sized mass on the right lobe of my thyroid. I met with an amazingly suportive endocrinologist who walked me through every aspect of what was to come.The next step was a biopsy, and I must say the idea of needles going into my throat absolutely terrified me. I again, didn't have a lot of support. People assumed it would be like a flu shot (it is nothing like a flu shot) and that I shouldn't be worried. Shouldn't be worried???? This test was going to tell me if I had CANCER or not. I cannot tell you enough that all these concerns or fears are normal and warranted. I had a very kind 3 person team who performed the biopsy in a lowly lit room. I layed on a little exam table with a pillow under the back of my neck only. This allowed my head to hang back and expose my vulnerable neck. They explained there were 5 hollow needles. Each needle would be poked into my neck at different locations and guided by an ultrasound. Each needle was plunged up and down about 5 times to gather tissue in the "tube", then the nurse put it on a slide for examination at a lab. They numbed the area with a local anesthesia and started the process. It was very uncomfortable and one sight was so painful my eyes filled with tears. You are told to keep completely still, do not breath deeply or swallow while the needle is in your neck. I was embarassed I got upset in front of the staff, but they were so gentle and kind which was exactly what I needed at that time. I had a little bruising and very minimal pain afterwards. Then I waited. And waited for the results.
I got the call at work. It was an abnormal result and could be mildly invasive follicular cancer. Cancer. Cancer. Cancer. Cancer. That word haunted me, stunned me, and the world paused for a moment in time. Would I have cancer at age 33? I hadn't gotten married yet or had children. How would this change my world? Then the doctor told me they wouldn't know until they performed the surgery, got to see the growth, and then several days later they would have the results. Several days AFTER the surgery. So if it was cancer, they would reopen the incision in my neck and remove the other half. I just sat with that fact: I might have to do two surgeries in one week.
I then waited about 4 weeks to have surgery. I walked around in a daze not having any answers. December 14th, 2012 at 7am, I finally got to face my demon. I was wheeled away from my loved ones in my hospital bed, arms came from everywhere while preparing me for surgery. One nurse looked me in the eyes and said she knew how scary it was to have all these people descending on me and that it would be okay. Then it was over. I was waking up in a large recovery area with other patients. Mumford and Sons was playing on the radio and blinding florescent lights assaulted my eyes . As I woke up I heard a nurse proclaiming there was a school shooting and people had died. Nothing like waking up in terrible pain, hearing children were dead. I was wheeled to a room to recover and my loved ones surrounded me. I woke up with a migraine, which I was told can be common with neck surgeries, and in excruciating pain. I was repeating swear words over and over. I've had surgery before and it was a breeze. THIS was terrible. I was too sick to my stomach from the anesthesia to take the pain pill (why I couldn't have morphine in my IV, I don't know). They gave me jello, and I threw up a lot. Finally I could keep the water down and was able to take the pain medication. I knew I had to prove I could walk, urinate, and keep food in me in order to go home so I pushed myself. The nurse said I was a tough cookie. I put on my game face and hid the pain. I was able to go home that afternoon.
I learned they took 70% of my thyroid and would know in 2 days if it was cancer or not. I recovered in a drug haze at home. I had to write down when I took my pain meds because I was forgetting. It hurt to turn my head, to breath, to swallow, to sleep, to sit. I didn't have any vocal cord damage thankfully, but even today I have a raspier voice and it effects my singing voice a bit. After waiting several days I got the call that the pathologist wasn't certain if it was cancer or not. They had to send it to an expert at the Medical College for another opinion. I was so devastated. No one knows what it's like to fear cancer until it happens to you. None of my friends understood it, and I felt so alone.
A week after surgery I finally got a call, and they left a message that my biopsy results were back. Call them back. I froze. I didn't want it to be bad news. I texted my best friend and she gave me the strength to call back. She said her mother was with her and said if it was cancer they'd tell me to come to the office. She was right. After all the turmoil and fear I found out it was benign.
That chapter of my life was suddenly complete. It was like someone shut the heavy book with a slam, and that sound echoed in the stillness of my relief. Just like that it was all over. I made all the celebratory calls and posted on Facebook. So why do I still feel so lost and traumatized sometimes? At night I gently massage that scar with vitamin E oil and flashes of my experience cut through my mind and sometimes I shed a tear. A tear symbolizing my fears, pains, and worries. Because of the lack of support from my boy friend I often felt I had no reason to grieve what happened to me. I didn't have cancer so why was I still upset? One night I found a surgery of a partial thyroidectomy on Youtube and watched the whole thing. Silent, warm tears spilled down my face. The first incision- a slice through my skin, then layers of muscles seperated, a vein tied off, and more and more work done to remove that nasty abnormal growth. I felt empowered after watching this. It wasn't a mystery any more of what happened in my body. I then believed I had every RIGHT to feel a little traumatized. I could justify to myself and to others that this was very real, painful, and scary. I could feel what ever way I wanted to about this. It was my body, my story.
I am not the same woman. I ended a near 10 year relationship after that surgery. I moved into a new apartment while broken and broke. I met a man who looks lovingly into my eyes and sees my scar as a beautiful reminder of how strong I am. This health scare put life into perspective. Thinking you might have cancer slaps you into clarity. I started healing my incision and healing my heart. The scar reminds me of all the ways I changed. In the beginning I covered the 3 inch scar with scarves. For Christmas I got bundles of beautiful scarves in all shades of the rainbow. People wanted to comfort me and I wanted to hide my ugliness.
Today, April 29th, I wear no scarves. I am proud of my scar and my story. People tell me it adds character (which I think I already have plenty of) and have created hilarious stories I can tell strangers regarding how I earned this scar (one involves a ninja attack and the other a terrible snake attack in the church of a cult...don't ask...my friends are very imaginative).
I am on a hormone replacement medication and get blood work done every 6 to 8 weeks as we adjust my dose. It will take a while to get to the level that my body needs so I am being patient. I gained about 4 pounds, my skin and hair are very dry, and I do not feel quite right yet. My hair used to fall out a lot, but it isn't as bad now. It's amazing how resilient our bodies are!
Everything happens for a reason. This surgery was a catalyst to end a failed relationship and a toxic friendship. Life is so precious! It caused me to be more understanding and to have more empathy for others. This cancer scare was an absolute blessing once in disquise and now fully exposed to remind me to not take life or health for granted.
amyhoj amyhoj 31-35, F 5 Responses Apr 29, 2013

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Had a partial thyroidectomy in March. I, too, spent months wondering if I had cancer or not. My nodule was indeterminate after the two biopsies I had. Reading your post brought tears to my eyes because I really know how you felt - you do feel alone even though people say it will be alright. No one knows what you are going through - you become locked in your own little world wondering day after day what your fate will be. Thankfully, my nodule turned out to be benign -- I do not cover up my scar because it is a constant reminder, to me, of all the pain and silent suffering I went through before my operation and afterwards leading up to the final diagnosis. Thank you for being so honest - I really felt what you were feeling and I mean that. I hope you are doing better - Sincerely, Susan

Your comment came at a time when I really needed it the most:) It means so much to know I was able to connect with someone who went through the same situation. In many ways I am feeling better physically. Mentally and emotionally I am still sifting through the rubble. I'm at a point where I feel like I am on the peak of a vast mountain, trembling as I look down at all the aftermath of a horrific battle...the debris scattered about me, but I am safe. I am love. I am a warrior. I survived all the challenges set before me. I think I'm just letting that settle into me now. It's soothing to know I wasn't the only one on this side fighting ;) I also hope you are doing well and feeling better!

Thank you for sharing your story. I had a partial thyroidectomy last week and have been feeling the same. I'm glad to hear that I'm not alone. Sincerely, Casey

It really will get better! It took about a year to really feel healed, but I saw improvement each month and it was encouraging. My scar is minimal now (2 1/2 inches across and now a faint white line) and it's not as sensitive to touch. I'm still struggling with continual weight loss and anxiety but I can't prove it's related to my medical condition. I'm engaging in holistic nutrition and trying to surround myself with healing thoughts and self-compassion. It's okay for us to have "bad" days, but we can remind ourselves how strong we are to have made it this far and look forward to all the great days. Thank you for writing! I'm sending healing energy your way:)

I can completely identity with this persons experience. I too have been through this exact scenario. With 3 kids under 7 I was petrified! Luckily after surgery my tumor was benign after coming back with strong indicators of hurtle cell carcinoma. Yes, you're right about people just wiping all the pain away when they find out its benign . But, the pain and recovery is still there, the scar is still the same. I had one vocal chord completely stop working and had no voice for 4 weeks, now it is 90% back, but a little raspier still, and goes when I raise my voice at the kids. I couldn't sing for weeks, and that was so disheartening, people would say oh well, yet that was a huge part of me gone. Yes, I also ended a friendship, you realise who is important in your life, and you focus on that. I decided within reason of course to enjoy life more, have that glass of wine, eat that bit of chocolate, walk along the beach, play ball with the kids, and treasure your family. I am very lucky to have a very wonderful husband of 10 years who is always there to support me. He appreciates everything I do and I felt very lucky to have him by my side. He even got a new tattoo of a lotus flower with my name on his hand symbolizing my battle and surgery, and recovery. I'm also needing bloods and scans regularly. Only 7 weeks post surgery so will find out if meds are needed. I've noticed my skin has become oiler and I'm finding my muscles feel heavy, put on a little more weight too which is a bummer and a struggle I've had for years. Hopefully this will settle with time. I'm just happy to be alive and cancer free at this time.

Thank you for sharing your story too...almost a year and a half later and I am in absolute awe of how strong I was to overcome this and so are you!

This is very well-written. There are few positive experiences shared on the internet. Honestly had I not had the internet, I would not have made such a rash decision to have this surgery, based 99% on fear. I just had a thyroid lobectomy 4 weeks ago and it is all still so very raw for me. I am anxious and depressed. It was thankfully benign, but I still don't have my upper range of my singing voice back, and even though I have my speaking voice, it is not so powerful and doesn't transition well from chest to head voice, which is right at the point my normal speaking voice is normal most comfortable and powerful. Thankfully, my right side has stepped-up and my levels are normal and my calcium is very good. I am, however in a pretty severe emotional state, and that is so unfair for my family. My husband and children need me, and although I function, pick them up from school, feed them, do laundry, take them shopping, etc. I feel like I am not fully experiencing anything. I am the leader of two organizations and my emotions have not allowed me to return, and I have just sort-of checked-out. I am a public speaker and am now afraid to be away from my house for too long. I can run and work-out, but have insomnia and rarely sleep well. I wake-up in panic mode and have become afraid of sleep...which I used to LOVE. I almost feel like I have PTSD since the surgery. I just want to feel normal and happy again...like I used to. I want to feel there is hope, that a person with this surgery can be completely normal as before...not a new, less than before normal, but a full, happy normal again. I just want hope I can get my life and my voice back. I hate what this has done to me.There

I sincerely hope you are starting to feel better since you wrote this. I am also living with terrible panic attacks that wake me up, inability to sleep, and trouble eating. I wonder what link this has to our medical conditions? It's been 17 months since surgery for me and I am seeking treatment for my anxiety called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. It's a really great program that you can even find workbooks for on Amazon.com. I felt like it was PTSD too but I can say it's been sooo much better for me this year and I hope it is for you as well. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Sending positive healing energy your way.

Cheers! love the way you took a challenge and created a new life! Bravo!

Thank you for your comment! It's been a rough year, and I wrote this to remind myself how far I've come and to hopefully connect with other people who have gone through this. Thank you again!