"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

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Thyroid Cancer Part 2

So 7 days after receiving my cancer diagnosis, I went into the hospital to have my thyroid removed. Josh was to have his PhD defense the next day. It was a big week. My parents came up to take care of you kids. I still was in a whirlwind, so it was all business to me. I was familiar with the hospital, familiar with health histories, the questions doctors and nurses would be asking, the process of everything. I was all business, let's get in there, get this thyroid and cancer out, and get home and back to life and work. So we went to the OR and a few hours later I woke up in the recovery room. I remember everything here after waking up, I started having some bleeding complications and we had to go back to the operating room. That part was slightly overwhelming, but I won't linger on it here. I was discharged from the hospital the next day and Josh went to defend his dissertation. He did a phenomenal job (I heard) and he passed! It ended up being a very successful week!

Because of the complications, I had quite a bit of bruising from my chin down onto my chest. I was very sore. When the kids got home from daycare Tuesday and saw me, Joseph didn't seem to notice anything strange. But Miriam, you seemed very unsure of why mommy looked funny. And you kept staring uncomfortably at the incision on my neck. My mom had offered to take you guys to Hastings for a few days, and at first I didn't like the thought of missing you, but after realizing I wouldn't be able to snuggle you and my incision was scary to you, I thought it might be a good distraction for you to have some grandparent time. So Gianna stayed here with Josh and I since I was breastfeeding her and you two big kids went to Hastings until Saturday morning.

The following week I met with the surgeon again and found out that they had removed the whole thyroid as well as 2 lymph nodes. The pathology came back showing the nodes to be clear of cancer and that the tumor was all contained within the thyroid gland, so I was cancer free! I still have to have followup visits with lab work and scans every 3 months for the next year at least. And I will meet monthly with an endocrinologist until we get my thyroid supplement medication dosed appropriately. But I am cancer free :) Josh said that I "kicked cancer's butt", but I don't see it that way. I let them cut into me to remove some cancer that I only knew existed for 7 days. At this point they don't recommend radioactive iodine treatment, which is good because I wouldn't be able to breastfeed anymore and I would have to spend more time away from children and work. But if my tests indicate any remaining thyroid cells in my body then I will have to have the treatment at a later date.

At this point it has been 5 weeks since my surgery. I'm still feeling pretty wiped out. They checked my labs and my thyroid levels are within the normal limits. The endocrinologist says sometimes your labs normalize before your feelings do so hopefully they catch up soon. Since my diagnosis, I have completed quite a bit of research on thyroid cancer. Rates have increased more than 274% since 1997. Middle age women, ages 20-45 have a 3 fold increased diagnosis rate. I updated friends and family with a post and recommended that everyone assess their own necks. One of my old coworkers contacted me a couple weeks later and said that after seeing my recommendation, she found a mass in her own neck and she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer a week later. She's 28 and has twin 9mo old girls. Her husband just battled testicular cancer 3 years ago. And I had a patient at the hospital whose mother also found a mass in her neck after hearing my story from another coworker of mine. She is having half her thyroid removed next week after also receiving a thyroid cancer diagnosis. It is scary how common this has become.

All I can say is that you need to be your own advocate. You need to be vigilant, but don't be obsessive. There is not a lot of sense in being overly paranoid, but you do need to be aware of yourself. Having worked in the healthcare industry, doctors (and nurses for that matter) are not experts in everything. They are not gods. Find a physician you can trust that will admit when something is out of their scope of practice and refer you to someone who specializes in the information you need. Be aware. Be curious. Don't just read a pamphlet or take a doctor's word always. Do your own research. With the internet and access to research journals and databases, you can educate yourself.

I hope that this is the end of my personal cancer story. And I hope that my children never have their own. But if any of you find yourself with a cancer diagnosis, know that I have been praying for you since I typed this post. I have been praying that you have strength, wisdom, courage, and humor and that those carry you through your situation. Know that you are loved so very much and that I will always be thinking of you my loves.

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