There Is No 'Good Cancer,' and I Have the Scars to Prove It
Angry. It’s interesting the emotion to describe my thyroid cancer journey is angry, as I’m not normally an angry person. I’m normally good at rolling my eyes, sighing very deeply, ignoring things out of my control or making a change and moving on. Yet I felt angry when I found out I had cancer, angry when I scheduled my first surgery, angry as I recovered, angry if someone said I had “the good cancer,” angry when I struggled to find the right medication dosage, angry when I found out my first surgery wouldn’t be my last. And while angry is what I feel most often, normal is something I don’t think I’ll ever feel again.
I honestly didn’t think much about cancer before my diagnosis. Now, it’s all I think about. Cancer. I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer on November 12, 2014. It was just days before my 40th birthday and my world changed when my ENT left me a message to call him as soon as possible. This was two months after my OB/GYN noticed my thyroid seemed enlarged and sent me for an ultrasound. And one month after the ENT discussed the two nodules on my thyroid. And one week after my ENT sent me for a biopsy even with less than a 5% chance of cancer.
My first thought after hanging up the phone was to be angry. I started researching thyroid cancer and found it’s called “the good cancer” by those who clearly don’t have it. In fact, thyroid cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women. Many people with this cancer will just have their thyroid removed. Or maybe a round of radioactive iodine (RAI) for leftover thyroid cancer tissue after surgery.
But then there is me. After surgery to remove my thyroid (my first surgery ever), I went back to work a week later, hiding the two-inch scar with scarves. A month later, I had RAI. Another month later, my thyroglobulin (the tumor marker that identifies remaining cancer) was 159, when zero means the cancer is gone. I waited three months and my oncologist found thyroglobulin (TG) only went down to 30. Angry.
Then I saw a surgeon who specializes in thyroid cancer, who confirmed surgery number two due to cancer in my lymph nodes. Just seven months after my first surgery, I had a right lateral neck dissection and central neck dissection to remove all lymph nodes in those areas. Two weeks off work this time, as the pain was intense. Initially, the incision was completely numb but gradually the nerves started to come back and then stopped. Angry.
TG goes down to 8 so round two of RAI is scheduled at a significantly high dose (from 30 mci to over 100 mci), just days after my one-year surgery anniversary. TG slowly goes down to 4. Less angry.
Now I want to take my life back and stop feeling so darn angry all the time. After 15 years of marriage, I realized that neither of us were truly happy. That wasn’t good for us or our son. After our divorce was finalized, I applied to a Master’s program and was accepted. I started dating again and met a great man. On our very first date, he asked me about the scar on my neck. I decided to be honest and told him that I have thyroid cancer. He told me later he was nervous to start a relationship with someone with cancer but decided I was worth it. And a few months later, my TG jumped back up to 6.5, two years after my 1st surgery. More tests and biopsies, then surgery number three was scheduled to remove lymph nodes left behind after my 1st surgery. Very angry.
Surgeon reopened the scar from surgery number one and recovery wasn’t too bad. A few months later, TG is lowest ever at 0.3! But, I know that doesn’t mean cancer isn’t still there. Little angry.
I completed my master’s degree in 20 months and got married to that great man. Five months after our wedding, an ultrasound showed something suspicious on the left side of my neck. I had a biopsy the following day as I was starting a new job and would be without insurance. On day one at my new company, my surgeon called and said the biopsy came back positive for cancer and I need to schedule surgery number four. Very angry.
It wasn’t easy, but I had to tell my new boss that I had cancer and needed a week off work for surgery. Thankfully, she was very kind and understanding. The surgeon did a full left lateral neck dissection to be on the safe side. I have almost no feeling on the left side of my neck, unless it’s touched and then it’s like I’m on fire. Angry.
I had an emergency appendectomy two months after surgery number four. It was scary to be rushed to the hospital via ambulance and not know what was happening. But after four cancer surgeries, this one was a breeze. Little angry.
I’m working on not being so angry. Recently, my husband, son and I went on an Alaskan cruise. The amazing sights, from the rainforest to glaciers to whales, made for a relaxing and impactful trip. My husband and I are celebrating our one-year anniversary this weekend and my son will graduate high school next summer. My TG is still 0.3 but that could be my baseline. I’ll test again in December and see where we go. I’m hopeful, slightly worried and ready for what may come. Only a tiny bit angry.
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