Partial Thyroidectomy: Removing The Demons We HarborI 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 la
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.