"What really matters in life is that we are loved by Christ and that we love Him in return. In comparison to the love of Jesus, everything else is secondary. And, without the love of Jesus, everything is useless." -Blessed John Paul II

Monday, December 9, 2013

Thyroid Cancer Part 1

Hey Kiddos -

So I have debated back and forth the benefits of documenting this recent health scare, and I have come to the conclusion that seeing that you all come from my gene pool, one of you might find yourself in a similar situation and it might be helpful to know that your mama has been there too. Proceed with caution, this might get emotional for me as I try to describe my own thoughts and fears :)

Shortly before Halloween of this year, 2013, I was brushing my teeth and looking in the mirror and I noticed a lump to the left of my esophagus, right above my collar bone. I figured it was just a swollen node, as we had all had recent head colds, so probably just related to that. But I kept my eye on it for the next week and it didn't go down. I emailed my doctor, to see if it was anything worth making an appointment for, and he replied that he would see me the following day. He too felt and saw the lump so he set me up for an ultrasound of my neck. I watched the screen out of the corner of my eye as the technician focused in on the mass. I knew I couldn't ask her what she was seeing, as only the radiologist can confirm the findings. But I knew, having worked in the industry, that her focusing in on the lump and taking that many pictures, that something wasn't quite right.

The radiologist called that afternoon and said that there were "some concerning findings" and he wanted me to go see a Head & Neck Oncology surgeon the following week. So on a Thursday I went to see him and his initial thought, due to the fact I was newly postpartum and so young, was possibly Hashimoto's disease, which could be ruled out by a simple blood test. He said that there were indications from the ultrasound that it could possibly be a benign or cancerous tumor, and suggested we also do a biopsy to rule those out. So we did the biopsies right then, where they stuck needles in my neck 4 times, wiggled them around a bit to make sure they got cells, then gave the samples to the lab tech. (I'll give you something to tease your dad about, after the doctor was finished, I hopped out of the chair because I was in the middle of my work day. When I went to tell Josh to come along, even though he hadn't watched or felt the needles, he was white as a ghost and said "I don't think I should stand right now". hehe) That was a Thursday and the following Monday we would hear the result.

So all weekend I tried not to fret or stew on what the results would be. By nature though, I am a planner. I ward off fear with planning. So I had to hope for the best but plan for the worst. I have a full time job, 3 children, and a husband who is about to defend his dissertation.... I have a lot of bases to cover if I potentially have cancer. Monday came and I was on my way to pick up the big kids from daycare and take them to swimming lessons. The surgeon's PA called me and said "the results came back consistent with papillary thyroid carcinoma". "Oh, okay, sounds good!" I said. "Um.... that's cancer" she said after a shocked pause. Then it sank in. I had cancer. I had prepared myself to hear the words "Oh it was nothing, everything came back clear." so my response was what I had prepared beforehand. Then I struggled to absorb those words "I have cancer", as the PA continued to talk on the phone. She said the surgeon wanted to see me the next day to make a plan of action and I agreed and hung up the phone.

I don't think it really hit me that I had cancer. I still don't think it has hit me completely. It is a weird concept complicated by a few factors. First, this type of cancer has a 20yr 99% survival rate. So as they say, it's an "ideal type of cancer to have if you're going to have some". Yet, at the same time, it is cancer. There are mutated cells in my body that could be lethal if not addressed. It took me two days to say the phrase "I have cancer". And that was only when Joseph laid a bomb of a diaper and Josh said "Mama's turn!" and I said "Hey! I have cancer!" in a sarcastic tone. It made us laugh. I found myself when talking about it though, saying "It's cancer" as if it were not a part of me. And in a sense it wasn't. I didn't want it to define me. I didn't want my friends, coworkers, and family look at me with pity. I don't like being seen as weak or damaged. Second, after meeting with the surgeon the next day, we planned surgery for 6 days later. I had daily labs and pre-op physicals and scans to do every day as well as work until surgery. I also had a lot of other stuff to do. So it was such a whirlwind that I didn't really have time to think about it. Which is probably a good thing.

I didn't want to be morbid, but I wanted to be realistic. I was about to have surgery. That carries risks, even little ones. I know that I have a higher likelihood of dying in a car accident, especially with my lead foot, but at this time, I am the main provider for this family and I have 3 children and a husband in grad school. I need to make sure my bases are covered, I need to be realistic. So I spent the next few days making sure bills were paid, paperwork gathered, babysitting covered, insurance taken care of, and then I sat down and completed the hardest task, I wrote you kids letters. I didn't want them to be sappy "goodbye letters". I just wanted something physical that you could hold onto, if ever, whenever anything happens to me. You are all so young right now, I wanted you to have some personal message from me, letting you know that your mama loves you. So I wrote you each a letter and left them in the filing cabinet for if ever they are needed. They are more "thinking of you" letters instead of "goodbye".

I'm splitting this story up before the post gets too long.


  1. Hey Jenna, thanks for sharing this. My mom, her mom, and her sisters all had thyroid cancer (!!) and I feel like, with my genetics, it's just a matter of time for me. They were all successfully cured. Best wishes and prayers for a quick treatment and recovery!

    1. Thank you! Prayers for your family as well! It is so scary how common it is, and I had no idea until my own diagnosis. Be vigilant!