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Thyroid Cancer and Me

By Shani

It was a few weeks before my 23rd birthday that I found myself in a doctor’s office being told that I had thyroid cancer. I was in shock. When I went in that morning for the appointment I had a feeling it was going to be bad news but I wasn’t expecting the ‘C’ word.

Two weeks later I was being wheeled to an operating room and when I woke up I had no thyroid. It had been removed along with some lymph nodes. It was surreal. I didn’t even know what a thyroid was.

About a year earlier my uncle, who is a physician, had noticed that my neck was slightly swollen and suggested that I get it checked out some time. Eventually I decided to go to my doctor and was referred to an endocrinologist who did a fine needle biopsy right there and then. Two days later she called me with the news.

Everything happened so quickly that I didn’t really have time to absorb what was going on. I was given a prescription for thyroid replacement hormone medicine and told that I would be on it for the rest of my life.

As a followup to the surgery I was scheduled for radioactive iodine therapy. This involved stopping all my medication for six weeks so that my body would be in its natural state. I was also put on a low iodine diet (no salt, no dairy). The thyroid absorbs iodine and so if there were any thyroid tissue/cells left in my body they would absorb (and be killed by) the radioactive iodine (which was administered by swallowing some capsules). 

Because I was ‘radioactive’ I had to be in isolation in the hospital for about three days. I had to drink lots of liquids and eat sour candies. I was told this would help my salivary glands work and flush my body of the radioactive iodine. I remember that it was hard to watch TV because all the commercials seemed to be about salty foods that I was craving.

The radioactive iodine therapy was followed by a whole-body scan that would show where the iodine had collected in my body and in turn indicate where the thyroid cells were. It showed some problems (a collection of too many cells) and I was scheduled for a second surgery to remove more lymph nodes and my thymus gland.

After that I went back on the thyroid replacement medicine and was monitored regularly. It took time to find the right dose – sometimes I experienced symptoms of underactive thyroid (extreme tiredness, weight gain, sluggishness) and other times it was overactive (heart palpitations, shaky hands, anxiety). I started to learn what a thyroid was and how important this little heart-shaped gland is in terms of controlling normal body activity. I also started to hear about other people who had gone through similar experiences and realized that thyroid conditions are actually very common.

Through the years I’ve gone for annual checkups, neck ultrasounds, body scans and LOTS of blood work. I still don’t know how I got thyroid cancer and my thyroid condition is always in the back of my mind. Sometimes I’m scared that the cancer will come back but it’s been 13 years now and everything has been clear and normal. I know I’ll be on thyroid replacement medicine for the rest of my life but now it is just part of who I am and my daily routine.

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