Last week, I had the misfortune of learning I might have cancer. At a routine check up, my doctor felt a lump at the base of my throat. He said, "I want you to have an ultrasound done. Let's get a look."
The ultrasound lead to a biopsy, and the biopsy diagnosis read, "Suspicious of Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma."
"Are you kidding me?" I asked.
"No," my endocrinologist said. "But let me tell you, if you're gonna have cancer, this is the one to have!"
Never in my life did I think I would ever hear the word "cancer" in reference to me. After all, I have devoted my life to fitness, healthy living and nutrition. Turns out, you can't always outsmart genetics. They actually have something to do with it.
When I was a child, people barely even said the word "cancer." Saying "cancer" was as much of a taboo as talking openly about sex. People just didn't. Adults would talk about "down there" and nod somberly in acknowledgement. As a child, I learned quickly that "down there" was not the same as "Down Under." Once I got that straight, I actually did pretty well in geography.
Cancer was the same way. Lovingly referred to as "the C-word," I remember my grandparents talking about their friend who died from "the C-word." From a child's perspective, words are always a very powerful thing, but to actually "die" from one, well, that put an entirely different spin on things.
Times have changed. Thankfully, when it comes to cancer research and medicine, time is on our side. What has now become a common procedure, thyroid removal is the primary treatment for all thyroid cancers. In the case of Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma, chemotherapy is frequently not a part of the treatment plan.
According to the American Cancer Society, "The chance of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer has risen in recent years and is now more than twice what it was in 1990." This may partially be due to the use of thyroid ultrasound in detecting smaller nodules that otherwise would have gone unnoticed in a traditional palpation done in a doctor's office.
There are at least four known types of thyroid cancer. Papillary is considered to be the least aggressive.
I didn't have to dig very deep in order to find anyone among my family or friends who had thyroid cancer or knew someone who did. In fact, after my first biopsy, I discovered my uncle had his thyroid removed due to a thyroid cancer.
It is interesting to note that thyroid cancer is on the rise in the South Pacific, Italy and Iceland, areas with high iodine diets. Growing up on the Chesapeake Bay, I often joke that my family alone depleted the bay of its oyster population. I think crabs, clams and oysters were my first food after formula. I am not joking.
I cannot generalize and say, "Hey, it's obvious I got this from all the seafood I have ingested," because the truth is not that simple. Though cancer research has advanced, our understanding of what causes certain cancers is still speculative. Carcinogens have been identified, yes, but why one person develops cancer over the next is still a mystery.
In a few days, I go for a second opinion at John's Hopkins Medical Institution. Why? Because I want a conclusive read if possible before I have a perfectly-functioning thyroid removed. Yes, the function of my thyroid has not been compromised from this... yet. And I am wondering if there is anything I can do before I have part or all of my thyroid removed and become dependent upon the pharmaceutical industry for the rest of my life. As a healthy, athletic individual who currently is not dependent upon medication, it is hard to cross over into that population whose daily life depends upon it.
The silver lining is my doctor found this, and the treatment plan is not complicated. Life isn't predictable, but with regular health check ups and early detection, we can become a pro-active part of our well-being.
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