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 Four
Cancer: Multi loci papillary thyroid microcarcinoma was the diagnosis.
Once again, we left the Siteman Cancer Center with more questions than answers. Once again, we were awaiting a surgery date. Once again we held onto each other and prayed for God’s blessing on our future.
Surgery one had taken the left side of my thyroid, but left me with the knowledge that cancer had invaded my body. What was on the right side? We would find out in just a few weeks. I was taking longer walks, had returned to work, and had even done a shuffling jog around the track at the nearby high school. I was getting stronger.
Before I gained too much strength, it was time for my second surgery. We were at Barnes-Jewish Hospital once again. I didn’t draw as large a crowd for the second surgery as I did for the first; and yet, there were quite a few white coats escorting me to the operating theater for the completion of my thyroidectomy.
The completion of my thyroidectomy went well and the second half of my thyroid was sent for pathology. Dr. Diaz was happy with the success of the surgery; however, he was concerned about my calcium levels. They had plummeted. On the backside of the thyroid are four small glands called the parathyroid glands. The parathyroid glands control the body’s use and retention of calcium. Calcium does more than build bones and teeth; it helps to cause muscle contractions including those of the heart. Sometimes when the thyroid is removed, the parathyroids are accidently taken as well. Initial pathology did not reveal any parathyroid glands on the removed thyroid; so Dr. Diaz was hopeful that I still had mine. Oftentimes after thyroid surgery, the parathyroids go into shock and stop working for a time and then resume their function. Dr. Diaz was hopeful this would be the case for me. In the meantime, I would not be allowed to leave the hospital and would be required to eat 2 Tums every couple of hours. If the Tums didn’t raise my blood calcium levels then the plan would be to start calcium by IV.
I settled into my hospital bed, put on my headphones, listened to music, and relaxed. It’s easy to relax after having your thyroid removed. In fact, because I was extremely hypothyroid, all I really wanted to do was sleep. I had no energy for anything. I had no motivation to move. Even the needle being stuck into my arm every four hours to draw blood for calcium level checks didn’t create any great desire in me to leave my bed. Most people want to leave the hospital as soon as possible. I was content to sit like a lump of mashed potatoes.
While I was content to sit like a lump of mashed potatoes upon my hospital bed, my team was not content to see me turn to mush. I was “encouraged” to get up and move. I walked sloth-like up and down the hospital hallway. I kept eating Tums, Tums, and Tums. After a couple of days, my calcium levels increased enough to send me home. I went home with instructions to keep eating the Tums every couple of hours. So home I went and Tums I did eat. I ate so many Tums that I still get a little queasy thinking about them.
Back at home, Mom helped us while friends from church delivered meals to us. I continued working on my Tour de Cure efforts. Tour de Cure is a charity bicycle ride which raises funds for the American Diabetes Association. In 2010, I had started a Tour de Cure team which I named Team Eyecycle. That first year, it was just Jeff and I. We rode the 30 mile route. It was my first “big” ride. The next year we were joined by friends and family. This year we had a few more friends and family for a team of seven. I was optimistic I would be riding my new bike. I was still struggling to walk across the room without losing my balance, but I was looking to the future.
The future held healing but the next few weeks were about putting one foot in front of the other. I went on many walks, each a little farther than the next. I continued my fundraising efforts for the Tour de Cure ride. I watched my daughter sing with her college choir and then graduate from the local community college with not one, but two degrees, and learned she had received scholarships to the university of her choice for her voice and her grades. I had my stitches removed and was able to decrease the amount of calcium supplements (Tums) I was ingesting. The pathology report told us there was one spot of cancer less than 1 mm in diameter hiding in the right side of my thyroid. The choice to remove it had been a good one. The pathology report also told us there was no involvement of the lymph nodes. Things were looking up.
During this time, I was taking small bike rides and learning to balance my new Ruby. It was much more responsive than my old hybrid, and the loss of my thyroid had resulted in the loss of my balance. I was unstable. I was frightened and frustrated, but determined to ride this bike. The Tour de Cure ride was fast approaching and I was nervous about riding. There was no possibility of me riding the 50 mile route I had ridden last year. I wouldn’t make it on the 30 mile route I had ridden the year before that. I discussed my riding plans with my husband, my mom, and my doctor. My support team both encouraged and cautioned me in my efforts. We decided I should try the 16 mile route and my mom would ride it with me. It was a plan, but I had doubts and questions. Did I really have enough time to train? I wasn’t yet being given a full dose of thyroid hormones. Would I have enough energy to ride? Would I be able to balance on the skinny tires of the Ruby? Would I fall? Would I succeed in riding 16 miles or would I fail?
Check back for the next part of my story.