I am a thyroid cancer survivor. While undergoing a routine physical, my doctor noticed a lump in my neck and ordered an ultrasound. When the ultrasound showed a nodule greater than 1 cm, she ordered a fine needle aspiration (FNA). Going into the procedure, I was comforted by the fact that more than 95 percent of thyroid nodules are benign. Mine came back suspicious for papillary thyroid cancer. A second FNA confirmed that I was in the 1 percent of the U.S. population diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Both my doctor and my surgeon assured me that my cancer was "the best cancer to have," as there is a five-year survival rate of over 97 percent. I was told that I needed surgery to remove my thyroid and then I would have to take a pill a day for the rest of my life but that I would be able to lead a normal life. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast! Since I underwent my thyroidectomy five years ago, I've experienced a number of complications:
- Vocal cord paralysis resulting in the loss of speech;
- Decreased lung capacity due to the paralysis;
- Difficulty swallowing;
- Calcium deficiency as my parathyroid glands were touched during surgery;
- Pregnancy ban for 1 year;
- Allergy to Synthroid, my life-saving thyroid medication;
- Fast pulse and heart palpitations;
- Fatigue and brain fog;
- Dry mouth;
- Burning mouth; and
- Dry eyes.
Thyroid cancer patients have to be placed in a hyperthyroid state to keep the cancer away, but it is difficult to get the correct dosage that also minimizes the myriad of side effects. So, instead of one pill a day, I currently take 15 pills daily! In addition, my cancer had spread outside of my thyroid; so, I had to undergo radioactive iodine treatment. Under quarantine, I took my radioactive pill and engaged in a nuclear war with my renegade thyroid cells! However, at the one-year mark, my endocrinologist told me that she may never be able to declare me in remission.
Sounds horrible, right? How can any doctor say that I have the "best cancer"? Looking back on the last five years, I could easily have become depressed, but instead I chose to be happy and find ways to thrive.
- When I was told that my vocal cord paralysis was permanent after a year with no voice, I used visualization techniques daily for six months, believing that I would one day speak again. According to my ENT, it was a one in a million chance to be able to speak normally and scream with a paralyzed vocal cord. I did it!
- When my endocrinologist told me that I may never be in remission, it could have devastated me, but instead, I simply said, "I am in remission. You just don't realize it yet!" I never stopped believing, and at the four-year mark, she finally agreed with my assessment!
- When I take my thyroid medication upon waking each morning, I give thanks that I am alive and have a beautiful life! It's a daily reminder to start the day out right!
- I stay in tune with my body, exercising regularly and striving (though not always achieving) to get eight hours of sleep a night. I've recently begun taking a kundalini yoga class to help build my lung capacity and reduce stress.
- I embrace laughter. My domestic partner takes his job of making me laugh seriously. He has me in stitches every day! And my 91-year-old grandmother is a riot! Laughter is truly the best medicine!
- I created a bucket list. My list stretches me to get outside my comfort zone, to try new things, and to live life to the fullest. One of my goals is to run a 5k, which has been unattainable to date because of my decreased lung capacity, but I've set the intention and know that I'll be successful even if I have to crawl over the finish line wearing an oxygen mask! And after that, I want to go hiking in Nepal!
Yes, I face challenges in my life as a result of the vestiges of thyroid cancer. There are days that I don't have the energy to get out of bed, but I do anyway. There are days that I can't think clearly, but I laugh about it and keep trying. Why? Because every day is a miracle to me. That I am alive without my thyroid, the organ that regulates the body, is a miracle! That I regained my speech is a miracle! That I am in remission is a miracle! Yes, I live with the vestiges of thyroid cancer. As a result, my life is so much richer!