How to Find Thyroid Cancer
I wrote in the Cancer Candy post that I wouldn’t write about cancer all the time. But I heard from a lot of folks that I should write about it, that you want to come with me on this journey? adventure? fight? thingy?
For bearing the burden with me, for caring and speaking and reaching out. Thank you for your messages and empathy and understanding. Thank you for challenging me to write about it, which means I have to think about it, which means I have to face it.
One of the most common questions people have asked is how I found out about the thyroid cancer.
Did I have symptoms?
Did I pursue a diagnosis?
Did I suspect something was just…off?
Nope. Nope. And nope.
This came as a total shocker.
In April, I turned 40. 40 is when women are told we should start getting regular mammograms. I’m a rule-follower and health is a high value for me and I knew I would be spending more time in Minnesota this fall as I helped our twins transition to university.
So, being an obedient nerd with time on my hands, I made an appointment with my regular Ob-Gyn. (and from now on I will be forever telling everyone I care about, which means YOU, don’t skip the doctor appointments. Just don’t. I care about you. Other people care about you. GO.)
“Its a good time to go in,” I said to my husband, “because I’m here longer, so I’ll have time to schedule the mammogram.” (There is no possible way I would do any of this kind of healthcare in Djibouti. No way.) I was thinking about unwanted lumps down there and paid no attention to the beast on my neck. I guess I don’t spend much time staring at my neck in the mirror.
At the exam, the doctor noticed that my thyroid felt, “full.” She scheduled a blood test of my thyroid levels and an ultrasound.
I met with a thyroid specialist. He said these lumps are mostly benign, though there was a 5-10% chance of it being cancer. But since thyroid cancer tends to be genetic and there is not one single drop of cancer in my family history, my chances were even smaller. (side note, there are no twins in my family history either. Apparently, in my husband’s words, I am exceptional in so many ways).
Thyroid levels came back normal, ultrasound revealed a massive nodule on my thyroid. 3.5 cm, a little wider and thicker than my thumb, and about that long.
In other words, I have a perfectly functioning thyroid with a half-Twinkie-sized alien beast attached to it.
Thyroid doc ordered a biopsy, an FNA, fine needle aspiration.
Doctor said it wouldn’t hurt and I can’t say I cried or anything, but still. Of course they numbed up my neck and then, with three medical people in the room, jabbed needles into me. I can’t remember how many times, but in and out, in and out, until the doctor had sucked out enough of the tissue to provide a good sample for pathology testing.
My doctor is funny and was cracking jokes while he jabbed me. I tried not to respond. I kept thinking, “That’s my neck. There are important things in there. Like vocal chords and parathyroid glands and jugular veins.”
I made my own joke as I left the procedure room and all three staff laughed. The doctor said, “Well played.”
I walked out thinking, “I just had needles all up in my neck. There’s a chance I have cancer. But gosh darn it all, I’m funny.”
Then, the ache set in. It wasn’t pain, so I guess maybe writing that it hurt is an exaggeration. But I didn’t really feel like a “fighter” that day, the annoying term so often used to categorize cancer patients. I felt sad and scared and a little angry and channeled that into my neck.
Plus, I couldn’t drink from a cup for almost a week. At least not all the way. I had to lean my entire body back without tipping my head, like that girl in Sixteen Candles who has the neck brace and can’t drink out of the water fountain? You know who I mean.
I had to, like, quick-tip the water down my throat so that it partly splashed onto my face and shirt. Or, with coffee, since I didn’t want that splashed on my face, I sort of slurp-sucked it down.
That’s super awesome.
I sort of grimaced when I swallowed and it felt like there was a marble sitting in my throat.
I couldn’t do sit-ups, which I usually do while watching a show at the end of the day.
I woke up every time I rolled over at night because when I strained my neck, it hurt, like someone was punching me in the throat.
For, like, a week.
I took a couple of Ibuprofen.
What a wimp.
And I just had a feeling…
I’ve had those feelings before. Another major time I had it was when I was pregnant with those nowhere-in-my-family-history twins. I told people I was having twins, I told my husband, my best friends, my doctor. They all said no way.
We all know who was right on that feeling.
It was like that. Just a hunch, a gut reaction, a bracing of the spirit.
Still, I had to wait over a week for the results.
And when the doctor himself calls you up (interrupting the Kavanaugh hearings while I drove home from lunch with my son at UW-Eau Claire, I might add), it is never good news…