One night seven years ago, I woke up in the dark completely terrified and–long story short–ended up in the emergency room. (The most memorable part of that experience was when, in response to the 911 call, several gorgeous firemen burst into the bedroom and carried me out to the ambulance. If I were writing a Rom Com, hello meet-cute!)
Turned out to be the first in a long line of terrible panic attacks. I also developed a persistent cough, a painful ache around my ear, and an unnerving swallow problem. Sometimes I had the odd sensation that I wasn’t breathing in enough air. Other times, my voice was inexplicably raspy. Yet tests with an array of specialists over the next six years didn’t identify any specific reason for the assortment of mysterious ailments.
It’s anxiety, they inevitably concluded. Note: once “panic” or “anxiety” is in your medical record, it can perform like a catch-all. One doctor even insisted that my other symptoms weren’t real. It was all about the anxiety: my anxiety about my anxiety was making my anxiety worse. I should just stop worrying so much (he said). So I spent a lot of time afterwards sternly instructing myself not to worry, which only made me feel guilty about worrying.
Then last summer, my fantastic PA found a neck bump during my annual physical, and after a new batch of tests, I finally had a diagnosis: thyroid cancer. I learned that every single one of my seemingly unrelated issues was on the symptom list and that thyroid problems can sometimes manifest as…wait for it…anxiety. With the mystery solved, we raced to the surgery phase. I had a total thyroidectomy as well as some lymph nodes removed (and am now sporting a cool throat scar that my sons advised I should say came from a knife fight.)
That was followed up in the spring by radioactive iodine treatment, which I imagined would be like that episode of The Simpsons where a glowing Mr. Burns floats through the woods with a bright green aura saying “I bring you peace! I bring you love!” to everyone. (Much to my disappointment, I did not float or have a shiny aura.)
The initial full-body scan showed no spread; I dared to hope we were done. But a few weeks ago, a new bloodwork-ultrasound-biopsyfest revealed that I have cancer in some other lymph nodes, which means another surgery+RAI combo is ahead. (My sons have advised me to say that the soon-to-be-much-bigger scar is from a shark attack.)
The first time around, I was in shock. Cancer is a big word to process. Talking about it was scary and overwhelming for a variety of reasons, plus I didn’t want to bother anyone, so I mostly kept it quiet (though the kindness/support of those who knew has been extraordinary, and I will be forever grateful). But it started to feel like a secret, which was demanding in its own way.
Now that I find myself facing round two (it’s like Groundhog Day but with cancer!), there has been a shift. I feel compelled to do something positive with the experience if at all possible, like trying to raise awareness about thyroid cancer; maybe it could help someone else. As my doctor reminded me, this is my life now. It’s okay to talk about it.
Did you know?
- The thyroid is an endocrine gland in the neck that regulates essential functions in your body.
- There are four kinds of thyroid cancer: papillary, follicular, medullary, anaplastic.
- In the past few decades, thyroid cancer diagnoses have increased dramatically.
- You are called a “survivor” from the date of (any) cancer diagnosis forward.
- The ribbon for thyroid cancer has three colors: pink, purple, and teal.
- The butterfly is a symbol for thyroid cancer because your thyroid is shaped like one.
Learn more here! > https://www.cancer.org/cancer/thyroid-cancer.html
Also participated in the Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society, which I highly recommend!
If you have any of the symptoms on the list, please talk to your doctor as soon as you can—and make sure that every annual physical includes a #neckcheck.
Peace and love, everyone! 🦋
Question of the day: have you solved any mysteries or had any surprises lately?