Twenty three months ago, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 papillary thyroid cancer. I had a feeling before I was diagnosed, even though the odds were only 1 in 10, the nodule on my thyroid was cancer. I can’t explain why, but in the back of my mind, I knew.
A month later, I found out the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, and not only was I going to have my thyroid removed, but an extensive neck dissection removing cancerous lymph nodes.
Reading back on these posts brought back a lot of emotions for me; uncertainty, fear, sadness, and the unknown. As I faced the surgery, I did the only thing I could do, and that was deal with everything. My surgeon, Dr. Peter Schmid, was able to save the lymph nodes in the right side of my neck. The biopsies he performed during surgery on those lymph nodes were not testing positive for cancer, so the surgery was not as invasive as originally thought. It was still as he warned me though, “brutal.”
The recovery from surgery was a nightmare, because of some mistakes made by my then endocrinologist’s office. I went for three months without Synthorid and was extremely hypothyroid.
After the radioactive iodine treatment (RAI) was complete and I could start on Synthroid in August, 2009, things started to improve. I felt better every day. I started running. I felt like the cancer was gone, but as I’ve written before, cancer changes your outlook on life. What seemed secure isn’t, what you take for granted before, you don’t. It has always been there I could still have cancer, or it could come back. I started the recurrence tests two weeks ago, having had to delay them several months due to insurance issues.
Last week I had numerous tests including a full PET body scan, and blood labs work done. I have felt poorly for the past week, from side effects from Thyrogen, used for the tests. At the scan, I received initial good news- the tech performing the scan, along with the radiologist said my thyroid area looked good.
But nothing could prepare me yesterday for the official results with my new endocrinologist, Dr. W. She confirmed the scan had come back clean, and looked great. Dr. W. told me my thyroglobulin level (Tg) which measures for thyroid cancer had come back undetectable. It should be at zero if there is no cancer. Before my surgery, Dr. Schmid had told me my Tg level was 37, which was very high for someone my age, indicating cancer had spread from the thyroid. With the Tg level undetectable that was the proof in my blood, the cancer was gone-for now. Then Dr. W. told me the words, I was not expecting, “…I’d say the cancer is cured. You are cured.”
I got through the rest of the appointment, trying to listen to what is next. Dr. W. told me I don’t have to do the recurrence tests again. She suggested since I’ve met my insurance deductible for the year, to have a neck ultrasound done now, and then I won’t have to have one for two years. I will need to come in for blood work once a year. She needs to adjust my Synthroid down slightly, because there is risk of side effects developing later in my life if I stay at the dosage I’m on. But other than that- it’s over. I’m cured.
It seemed surreal as I walked out of her office, which is across the street from the hospital where I had my surgery two years ago. I sat in my car, and started to shake. And then I started to cry. I cried tears of relief, tears of joy, and I cried all the uncertainty and doubts away I’ve carried with me for the past two years. This ordeal was over. I beat cancer, and I was officially cured.
The first person I had to tell was my dad. I don’t know how I would have survived that summer after my surgery without him. When I was so sick from not having thyroid medication, he did more than I ever could have asked him to do for me. He took care of the boys and I, when I couldn’t. I didn’t have to ask, he just did. When I was scared, he wasn’t. When I couldn’t drive myself to my doctor’s appointments, he did. I only found out later, how scared he had been for me too. I called him first and told him. I could hear the relief and happiness in his voice.
Then I called Dr. Schmid. I left him a message and thanked him for his skill and expertise in my case. He had promised me I would live to see my boys grow up, and he was right. Throughout this entire process, every doctor who has worked with me, has remarked how amazing it was that Dr. Schmid had been able to get out so much of the cancer from just the surgery. Even yesterday, Dr. W. made that comment again, that he did a magnificent job. She also confirmed there were no traces at all of cancer in the right lymph nodes- the ones Dr. Schmid had left in place. He had been correct about that as well. I feel so grateful to him. In a sense, he gave me my life back, and I don’t have to worry about cancer because of his thoroughness. He also always treated me like a person first, and a cancer patient second. Two years after the fact, I wanted to thank him again for the crucial part he played in my hearing those words, “You are cured.”
I called my very good friend, Amy, next. Like my family and so many of my other friends, Amy’s been there every step of the way for me. She went with me last week to my scan, just so I wouldn’t have to be there alone, while another friend, Heather, watched her kids, so Amy could come with me. She texted me before and after the appointment yesterday. She was in the hospital visiting me after the surgery, and organized help for me. She entered and we were finalists in a contest for a trip to New York, because I missed going to Chicago with her after I had surgery. Whenever I needed anything, Amy either did it, or asked another one of our friends if they could help me.
Then I called my family. Like my dad, they did whatever they could to help me out and the boys. They were all terrified for me, but were strong and told me I was going to beat this. They believed in the outcome, when I didn’t. When I found out I had cancer, I had to leave them a message to call me back, and some things never change. No one answered their phone yesterday. :-) They all called me back throughout the evening, and I was able to give them the good news.
I sent messages to my friends- the ones who have been my extended family, and did whatever I needed from cooking meals, to cleaning my house, to watching the boys during my doctor appointments, to mowing my lawn. I am still so thankful for all of their help and support.
I didn’t call one person though right away, I wanted to tell him in person. When I was at home, quarantined after my RAI treatment, he would send me happy, funny, normal, run-of-the day messages. He talked to me as his friend from school, not as though I was sick. He’d joke my super power was now being radioactive. When I wrote him back, I didn’t feel like I had cancer, and my neck had just been dissected. I felt like myself. I didn’t have to talk to him about being sick, cancer, and all my fears. It was a sense of normalcy, and it was a beginning. A beginning that showed me I was still the same person with or without cancer. Our conversations brought out the healthy, happy side in me, not the scared and sick side. It wouldn’t matter to John if I had been told yesterday I wasn’t cured. He’d still be there, but I was very happy to tell him I didn’t have cancer anymore.
The two little guys I want to hold, hug, and kiss, will have to wait. They went to their dad’s for a week for Spring Break. They gave me so much strength-strength I didn’t know I had. When I was at my lowest and weakest points, unable to even walk up a few stairs at my dad’s house, I’d see them playing outside, and knew I had to make it up the stairs, so I could see them play. They deserved a mom who could watch them play. And I would find a way to walk up the stairs- something that had been impossible to do, until I saw them.
I told my friends other than the boys being born; yesterday was the happiest day of my life. I was wrong. When I can hold Ryan and Cole and tell them Mommy’s cancer is gone- that will be the happiest day yet. I get to see my boys grow up, and I can finally give them that reassurance.
To all my family, friends, and blog readers, thank you all for being here with me. Thank you for helping me fight and beat cancer. From the day I was diagnosed with cancer through yesterday the support has been overwhelming. I feel like you are all a piece of the puzzle and you all fitted in to help me exactly when and how I needed it.
To all my blog readers who are battling thyroid or any cancer currently, don’t give up. All the fears, pain, and doubts, you currently have are only temporary. Draw on whatever gives you strength. It is easy to lose your spirit with cancer. It took mine for a while, but it only wins when you give up. Some days you have to fight with everything you have and then some. But at the end, when you beat it, and you hear the words, “It’s gone,” or “It’s in remission,” or the sweetest one of all, “You are cured,” it will all be worth it and then some. I promise.