THE THYROID IS A GLAND IN THE HUMAN BODY WHICH CONTROLS MANY OF THE FUNCTIONS OF YOUR BODY INCLUDING YOUR BODY TEMPERATURE AND METABOLISM. IT IS LOCATED IN THE FRONT OF THE NECK BELOW THE “ADAM’S APPLE” WRAPPING AROUND THE FRONT OF THE WINDPIPE. IT HAS TWO LOBES CONNECTED BY A THIN PIECE OF TISSUE IN THE MIDDLE GIVING IT A SHAPE SIMILAR TO A BUTTERFLY. BECAUSE THE SHAPE OF THE THYROID IS SIMILAR TO THE SHAPE OF A BUTTERFLY, THE BUTTERFLY HAS BECOME THE SYMBOL OF THYROID DISEASES INCLUDING THYROID CANCER. THIS IS THE STORY OF HOW MY “BUTTERFLY” DIED, HOW I SURVIVED, AND HOW I CONTINUE TO THRIVE. I HOPE MY STORY INSPIRES YOU TO THRIVE.
Losing My Thyroid: Part Two
Cancer: I felt the word more than I heard it. My doctor had just told me I had cancer. My doctor was always telling jokes, but today neither of us was laughing. He sat on a stool facing me; his face kind, but serious. My husband sat silent and motionless in a chair to my right. Processing: my brain tried to process the information, but it was working at the speed of Internet Explorer on dial-up. I looked into the face of my doctor. He was talking. What was he saying? He said he wished I didn’t have this, but if I had to have cancer this was curable. I knew he was right, but I felt …what did I feel? Shocked. I never thought the diagnosis would be cancer.
The diagnosis was cancer. I had heard it and I was trying to accept it. Now, I had to share the news with my family. This was hard. My dad died from cancer, a recurrence of renal cell carcinoma less than 2 years earlier. My family, especially my mom, was still grieving. How could I tell them I had a cancer diagnosis? I did tell them and they rallied around me with love and laughter.
I also found a great deal of support from my church family. They rallied around me and prayed. At the end of one Sunday morning service, I was called down to the front of the church and the members of the church gathered around me putting their hands on me and we prayed together for my well-being. I must admit I was skeptical about the need for doing this, but I felt I needed to do so in order to be obedient to my Heavenly Father. I’m glad I did. The congregation prayed for my healing. I prayed for a correct diagnosis. God blessed me with an amazing sense of peace and courage.
That peace and courage carried me through the weeks which passed between my visit with my primary care physician and the visit to the otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose and Throat(ENT) doctor). In the interim, I was busy selecting a new bicycle. My husband had decided and I agreed it was time for me to move from my old Cannondale hybrid bike to a road bike. I went to Phoenix Cycles in Carbondale and tried a Giant. I went to Big Shark and Maplewood Cycles in St. Louis and tried a few more bikes. I went to the Trek Store near St. Louis and fell in love with a little periwinkle Trek road bike. I took it for a test ride and couldn’t believe how free I felt. I wasn’t quite ready to buy, but I was happy. I wasn’t thinking about cancer while I was thinking about bicycles.
I did need to think about cancer again. My appointment with the ENT was about to happen. We headed to Barnes in St. Louis, navigated the madness of the North Parking Garage, made our way through the busy CAM building and headed to the 11th floor via the overcrowded elevator. I always appreciate that the architects designed the CAM building with many windows. The view from the 11th floor was magnificent. It was time to turn from the view of the clear, blue, February sky and look inward. We opened the heavy, glass doors and entered the otolaryngolgy department.
As we waited, I tried to read. I tried to calm my nerves and breathe. I did not know what to expect. I waited anxiously until finally my name was called. I jumped up and followed the medical technician with Jeff close on my heels. She took me to a small alcove where she weighed me, rehashed my medical history and took my blood pressure: 140/92, a little on the high side. My nerves were getting the best of me. Then she led me to an exam room where she left us to await the next step.
While I waited I had plenty of time to inspect the exam room. I always am curious about other doctors’ exam rooms. The exam chair was very similar to the exam chairs I use on a daily basis; except much uglier. It was a color somewhere between orange and melon. It struck me as odd, because over the course of my career I have seen many exam chairs and never have I ever seen one in this obnoxious color: not even in the pre-clinic of ICO. The walls were a pleasant French blue, the floor was tiled in white tile with teal, yellow and orange specks. The counters were a melon color and there were many interesting pieces of medical equipment which roused my curiosity. Some I knew and expected like the Welch-Allyn ophthalmoscope. Others were new to me and soon I would learn to loathe them.
Before long a young, fit, energetic, blonde woman came in sat on the stool in front of me. She shook my hand and introduced herself as Mandy, Dr. Diaz’s PA. She fixed her gaze on me and inquired as to why I had stated on my patient history that I had cancer. I responded that I had been told I had cancer. She then snapped, “Who told you, you had cancer? You don’t have cancer. You have never had cancer.” She then wheeled the stool to my side and began explaining the lab results to me. There is a type of thyroid cancer that is called Hurthle cell cancer. My report said the cells from the biopsy had Hurtle cell qualities, but did not call them Hurthle cell cancer. The biopsy results had been re-examined by the Barnes group and they felt they were benign. I could tell Mandy was a fighter and she was on my side. I liked Mandy and felt much more relaxed after speaking with her. She left me and we awaited Dr. Diaz’s arrival.
Dr. Diaz arrived. He was young, energetic, friendly and handsome. He explained that there was often confusion among primary care at the difference between benign cells with Hurthle cell characteristics and Hurthle cell cancerous cells. He went on to explain that my whole thyroid was greatly enlarged and the nodule size had not been documented on the earlier tests. He examined my neck, he looked inside my ears and throat and then did the most thorough exam of my mouth I had ever had. He did a neurological screening having me smile, frown and stick out my tongue. Then he attempted to examine my vocal chords by placing a small mirror down my throat. NOPE! It didn’t happen. I gagged, and coughed and had tears in my eyes. He was patient. He left the room and returned with another device of torture; that is to say, medical device. He took what looked like an air hose and put it up my nose and then sprayed anesthetic up my nose. Pleasant, it was not. After waiting a few moments, he took another hose which had a light on the end of it and placed it up my nose. I felt it go into my nose and then curl around and snake its way down the back of my throat. He instructed me not to swallow. I was terrified wondering what would happen if I did swallow. Would I die?
I did not die. I made it through the exam unscathed. I had an enlarged thyroid with a benign nodule of undetermined size. Our plan was to repeat the ultrasound of the thyroid and determine the size of the nodule. Any nodule over 4 cm would need to be removed. Even a benign nodule occupying that much valuable space in your neck is not a good thing. We were hopeful I would not need surgery at this time and made an appointment for the next ultrasound. The good news was that I did NOT have cancer.
We were happy: I was happy, Jeff was happy, Mandy was happy, Dr. Diaz was happy. We were all happy. Jeff and I left the 11th floor with huge smiles on our faces. We ran into a patient of mine near the parking garage and shared our good news. He hugged me and celebrated. Jeff and I left him and ventured on to the Macaroni Grill where we continued our celebration.
I learned that you must celebrate every good moment in this life. Feel all the good feelings and enjoy them without question. This life is about change and good moments don’t last as long as you want them to last. I was on top of the world now, but soon the world would change.