A month ago, to the date, my life changed.
A month ago, I was being wheeled into the surgical room at Rhode Island Hospital, about to undergo a thyroidectomy. Prior to that date, I underwent a fine needle biopsy and two ultrasounds to figure out what exactly was going on under the lump that I felt in my throat. The verdict was suspicion for thyroid cancer.
This whole shebang started in June, when a CAT scan for my heart condition (that regularly gets checked out) came back with a notation that my right thyroid was enlarged and there was a cyst on my uterus as well. My former doctor didn’t order any tests for me, but noted that it was something I should follow up on. I figured if it was THAT big of a deal, she would have had me checked out for it. I forgot about it after the appointment, having to go to the cardiologist instead. I occasionally felt the lump in my throat and had my boyfriend and mom feel it. They both said it didn’t seem that big, maybe a lymph node that was swollen.
A month ago, I learned just HOW important it is to trust your gut.
Throughout the summer, I started to get sore throats. By the end of the work day, my voice was hoarse and my speech felt thick – almost like it was hard to get the words out after a while. And I was exhausted. Like, “run-over-by-a-truck-,which-pushed-me-in-front-of-a-train, omg-I’m-so-tired-I-need-to-take-a-nap-under-my-desk” exhausted.
By the end of September, I noticed one day while getting ready for work that it appeared I had grown an Adam’s apple.
“Holy CRAP. Has that always been there??” I couldn’t figure out if it had been there and I didn’t notice it, or if it had grown that large over the summer. “How could something just appear out of now where though. This can’t be good.” I made an appointment that week with the same doctor, and asked her to feel it. She ordered me an ultrasound for that Thursday.
The ultrasound tech did the procedure on my stomach and looked at the screen. After about five minutes, she said “Well, there doesn’t appear to be anything here, so it could have been related to your monthly cycle. We’ll move on to your throat next.” She lubed up my throat and stared at the screen, the buttons making clicking noises as they captured the images. She asked me to turn my head one way to start, and then turn my head and neck towards her after what seemed like forever. Then I saw it.
It was BIG and oval and greyish. It had black spots in it and a white ring around it. “Holy s*%$, what is that.” I thought. There was something there.
“All finished!” the tech said, in a sing-songy voice that sounded as if she were trying to sacarine away the gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach. “You should get a call from the doctor in a few days to let you know the results.” I left my 6:30pm appointment to go to yoga, to try to forget about it. The next day, I got a call from my doctor.
“Erin, this is XX from Dr. XX’s office. We got your ultrasound results and I’d like you to call me as soon as you can to go over the results with you.” (I changed my doctor after this – but that’s a tale for another day.)
A month ago, I realized how FREAKING lucky I am. I realized how sometimes you have to advocate for yourself, and sometimes people who love you will advocate for you too. Sometimes, it’s fate. Or destiny. Or reallyyyyy good luck. Whatever. There’s a reason for everything that happens.
After the ultrasound, I was referred to an amazing endocrinologist by my boyfriend’s stepmom (who just so happens to be a doctor and knows some really, really good doctors herself. Coincidence?). That endocrinologist did a fine needle biopsy and a week later the results came back as suspicious for thyroid cancer. I always wondered how I’d react to news like that. The “C” word. Now I know. The endocrinologist referred me to the best thyroid surgeon in the state. I got off the phone with him, sat on my bed in disbelief. I called the Dude while he was at work and immediately started crying on the phone. He left work to come over, and we went out for chinese food.
Cancer is always better with wonton soup.
A month ago, I always knew I had amazing family and friends, but I didn’t know how many people would help me, ask about me, send me thoughts, cards, gifts, and make sure I was getting what I needed.
The day of the surgery, I couldn’t eat or drink anything before we went in (arguably the most annoying part). My appointment was at 11, and I had to go with the hospital administrator to check in. She asked me questions about things I hadn’t considered before – would I consent to blood transfusions if I needed them, did I have a end of life document, what was my religion and if a member of the clergy was available, would I want them to visit with me. “Uhhhh…Um…”
I had to say goodbye to my parents and my sister who went to the surgical waiting room. Talk about surreal. The Dude stayed with me in the pre-op room, where we watched people rushing by in the hall, at the nurses station. He helped me maneuver to the bathroom fifteen times after they started my IV. We met at least ten people who were either assisting or would be in the room during the surgery. I have never felt so popular.
A month ago, I knew that my boyfriend was amazing, but I was still blown away by the patience, compassion and love that he showed me.
The nurses escorted me to the operating room. I noticed how the paint in the hallway was gold. The nurses kept asking me how I was doing. I made some jokes about liking my outfit. They moved me onto the operating table. I looked up to see those big, giant surgical lights, ones I’ve only ever seen on TV before. They put special socks on my legs and hooked up these machines that keep the blood flowing to prevent clots. It felt like a mini massage. The movement helped take my mind off of the nurse in the corner who was preparing surgical tools, the resident who was adjusting my gown, the fact that I had NO idea what they were going to find during surgery. The last thing I remember thinking was telling myself to breathe.
A month ago, I took my health (somewhat) for granted.
I first felt pain. There was something wrong with my throat. It hurt. I couldn’t talk. I heard someone say, “It was a thyroidectomy, we took the parathyroids too.” What time is it? I remembered. Right. Hospital. How long did my parents have to wait? I heard the nurse tell me it was okay, what was my pain on a scale of 1-10? “5, I croaked.” I thought, I don’t want too much morphine, it makes me barf. It was more like an 8, really.
The nurse said my family would be coming up to see me. I saw my boyfriend out of the corner of my eye, and my sister with him. I told them to stand at the foot of the bed because it hurt my neck to move it. They both came over to kiss me, told me how I looked pretty good, said my scar was really small. My boyfriend took a picture of it with my IPhone so I could see it. They told me the surgeon had come down to see them. “It was cancer,” the Dude said. “But he thinks its papillary and he took all of it out. Your parathyroids too.”
A month ago, I was concerned with weight and zits and what color I should dye my hair.
My parents came up after my sister and the Dude went back to the waiting room. They kissed me and asked how I felt. They reiterated what my boyfriend said, told me there was a malignancy but the surgeon was positive. They told me he had to take the parathyroids because they weren’t getting enough blood, that he chopped one up and implanted it back in my neck and hopes it will work again. Cool, I thought. I had no idea they can do that. They started talking to the recovery nurse about teenage boys. She had one and he was driving her crazy. My parents had one in my brother circa 5 years ago.
I listened to them talking at the foot of my bed, comforted by the sounds of their voices. I felt like Frankenstein, or a Barbie who’s head was ripped off and plopped back on. Swallowing was terrible. I hadn’t eaten or had any water since 11pm the night before. Chapstick became my savior.
A month ago, I took chugging water for granted.
The rest of the evening and the next day was a blur. I was brought to my room and my family left a bit after that. They couldn’t stay overnight because I had a roommate and I would be pretty out of it anyway. I tried to sleep but every hour or so a nurse or CNA would come to take my stats. My blood pressure was the lowest it’s ever been. I had to remember to press the call button to use the bathroom. I felt shaky and nauseous and lonely and spent. I gave myself pep talks, reminded myself it would be okay, it wasn’t that bad, just go to sleep.
A month ago, I didn’t know how strong I was.
I was cleared to go home the next afternoon. My calcium and vitamin D levels were low, I’d had my blood drawn 4 times to check. I was given 3 different medication scripts, including levothyroxine (my new BFF). Other than that, I was okay to go. My mom, sister and the Dude took me home. I immediately took a long nap, blissfully uninterrupted by nurses or needles. When I woke up and came out into the kitchen, the three of them were simultaneously making chicken soup, mashed potatoes, applesauce, and cookies.
Cancer is always better with cookies.
This is the first time I’ve written about the surgery since then. This blog post is definitely the most intense post I’ve written on my “new” blog. Big Girl Feats encompasses more than just the recipes I’m making and the food I’m eating (though I’ll still be doing that.) I wanted to start blogging again because there is so much I have to process, so much I want to get out there, and so much I appreciate (that includes anyone who reads this.) I thought about returning to blogging but knew that I wanted to change the name of the blog because 2010 has brought me interest and experience in so many things.
Don’t worry, the blog won’t always talk about the cancer. They won’t be all Natalie-Portman-Black-Swan intense.
More than a month ago, I started doing research about thyroid cancer. Wouldn’t you know it, the internet is full of CRAZY people! People that write about this experience like they were going to the chair. I want to write about it from a (somewhat) normal, ordinary point of view. It won’t consume my every waking moment, but it will probably be incorporated into many things in the next few months as I prepare for a radioactive iodine treatment, follow up appointments, blood work and scans. If you are squeamish, I promise to always give a warning prior to information. If you don’t want to hear about medical things, I suggest you skim. If you don’t like it and it’s too intense and serious, that’s okay, you don’t have to read it. But I want to talk about it and it will be my first of many feats. I promise to still include sarcasm, music videos and my obsession with guacamole.
A month ago, I never would have expected all of this to happen. Every day is a learning experience, a chance to be grateful. I’m grateful for the chance to learn, move and blog all over again.
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Hi! I'm Erin. Welcome to Big Girl Feats! I'm a 28 year old New Englander who loves running, yoga, avocados, sarcasm and self improvement. I started this blog to remember my recipes - and now I chronicle my feats! Contact me at biggirleats AT gmail DOT com with questions.