One woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime. – The American Thyroid Association
January is thyroid awareness month and I thought it would be a good time to share my story. Not to scare anyone, but to make them, well…aware. The truth is, I never even knew what a thyroid was until my twenties and even then, I never realized how common thyroid issues were in women. According to the American Thyroid Association, “Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.”
Thyroid cancer is among one of the most diagnosed forms of cancer in the US and cases have tripled since 1974! Researchers and doctors are not sure what accounts for the rise of thyroid disease and cancer but the statistics are alarming. So what is it like to face a thyroid issue, or even cancer? Here’s my story…
Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. – The American Thyroid Association.
In my twenties I started to lose weight, a lot of weight. I thought it was due to a break-up and just the stress of trying to “find myself.” But then I stopped getting my period regularly and I knew something was wrong. When I went to my doctor, she immediately sent me to an endocrinologist after my labs came back abnormal. My thyroid levels were so low, they ordered all kinds of blood tests and even an MRI. It was a pretty scary time. All of a sudden I realized I was not invincible.
The MRI showed a spot in my brain and my family and I immediately went into panic mode. After many more tests, I was diagnosed with Graves disease and a Pituitary Adenoma. I was in shock. I thought that I must have had a brain tumor. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
It turned out, the diagnosis wasn’t as bad as it first seemed. After consulting with some of the best doctors in NYC, it was concluded that the tumor in my brain was actually a cyst, that I was most likely born with. It had just happened to be found through all of my thyroid testing. The brain tumor diagnosis sort of trumped the Graves disease diagnosis at first. But little did I know, it would be my thyroid that would cause the most trouble in the long run.
I was put on medication and learned how to live with this new normal and went about my life. I got married, had both of my sons with no complications. After my second son was born, I was happy to watch the baby weight fall right off of me. Again, I was losing weight at an alarming rate and consulted my endocrinologist. He did a routine neck check and felt something he didn’t like and sent me to get a biopsy.
A thyroid biopsy is not something I would want to wish on anyone. I had been through the birth of two children, many tests and blood draws and multiple MRIs in my twenties, but none of that compared to getting a needle stabbed into my neck to extract fluid from my thyroid. That was by far the worst experience through all of this.
I remember getting the results to my biopsy the day my husband and I had returned from an impromptu couples-only trip to Mexico. We were tan and relaxed. When I got the call from my doctor that I had a possible tumor on my thyroid that needed to be further tested for cancer, I felt as if all of the blood drained out of me as I stood there going over the paperwork. My husband and I immediately put a plan in place and knew we had to face this head-on.
When someone tells you you may have cancer, time literally stands still. My mom had passed away from lung cancer only two years before this and I had a four year old and one year old at home. I walked around in a fog for days, just going through the motions. However, I still had to schlep into the city each week to meet with my doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
It turned out, the biopsy of my thyroid showed a 90% chance of cancer cells and the best route of treatment would be surgery. I knew this diagnosis was coming, but hearing it from my doctor, hearing him say 90% chance of cancer, made my decision all that much easier. I just wanted this to be over. We booked my surgery before we left the city that night.
I had my thyroid removed on December 4, 2014. It was one of the scariest days of my life. The surgery itself was pretty easy and uneventful, but the whole experience was frightening. It started with me checking into the cancer center at Sloan Kettering and being surrounded by family members and cancer patients. It ended with me waking up in my hospital bed, distraught, nauseous and scared. My doctor was amazing. My surgery was a success. They removed the whole thyroid without issue, meaning I did not need any further treatment, such as radioactive iodine therapy. I stayed in the hospital for one night and went home the next day.
The months and now years after my surgery have been a trial and error period, working with my endocrinologist to get the perfect dosage of the medication I would be on for the rest of my life. The scar on my neck healed up nicely and within a few weeks, I was back at work and feeling like myself again. Everyone says, thyroid cancer is the “best” cancer to get. I don’t think any cancer is better than others. I think no matter what, hearing that diagnosis changes your life forever.
Women, especially moms are so consumed with worrying about others all day long that we often forget to take care of ourselves. Let my story be a wake up call to you if you’ve been experiencing any symptoms that you feel are out of the ordinary – fatigue, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, heart palpitations, constantly cold or hot. These are just some of the symptoms of an under or hyper-active thyroid. Many women in their 30’s attribute symptoms like this to the stress of motherhood, but it may not always be that simple. It’s amazing how many things the thyroid controls in your body.
The moral of my story is that we need to take time to take care of ourselves.
Your health should be a priority and if a simple blood test is all it takes to rule out anything more severe with your thyroid or hormones, make that appointment. Now that is is thyroid awareness month, it was important for me to tell my story and to put a face and a name to thyroid cancer. I hope that my story serves as a narrative about what it is like to experience thyroid cancer and not as a warning. Us moms are important people and we need to stay healthy, not just for our families, but for ourselves.