Tag Archives: thyroid cancer

Look Man, No Thyroid!

I think thyroids are the next tonsils.

As in, “Well it’s your twentieth birthday. Time to get your thyroid removed.”

That leaves a year for them to get the Synthroid right before you start imbibing in other drugs. Ever since I had my thyroid removed a year ago, I’ve heard about more people with thyroid problems, or scars just like mine, even as recently as last night. I hate to admit that my first question is not, “how are you doing?”, it’s “who you getting to do the surgery?” or “wanna see my scar?”

At least in my head. Usually there’s a relay somewhere that kicks into place that prevents these kinds of inane questions from spilling out.

I had thyroid cancer, and Hoshimotos, plus hyperparathyroidism (the exact opposite of what Randy had on Home Improvement). My “very special episode” was a year ago this Sunday. The James Cancer hospital has been sending me mail, asking me to go to support groups, or a Cancer Survivor’s tailgate.

I’m watching the game at home.

As I talked about six months ago, I had a “brush with cancer“, lowercase c. I don’t feel part of this community. In fact I’m not exactly sure what community I’m a part of (all I know is Catherine Bell had pretty much the same thing and starred on JAG for eight years).

They said my scar would get better, and it has, but not as much as I’d like. It twitches, it’s uncomfortable under shirts, and it’s a little obvious when not under shirts. And the surgery it represents saved my life. I get a few more headaches than I used to, and if I don’t keep the synthroid steady I pay for it with tired sluggish days, but otherwise things are the same.

I’m certainly grateful, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t know what to make of having “cancer” at 26, or not really being able to call it cancer. I don’t talk about it much, but I think about it. But my thinking isn’t really going anywhere. I’m kind of in a loop, waiting til the day my scar fades enough that I can forget about it.

I feel like having thyroid cancer is a trial run for what a real crisis will be like. You have lasting reminders, the pills you take every day (green now instead of purple), and a scar that realistically will take years to fade. You have a fair bit of uncertainty that comes with any surgery. But you don’t do chemo, you don’t even usually have to do radiation (I haven’t). I didn’t lose my hair, my appetite, or miss much work. I do quarterly blood draws, and gets some regular checkups and that’s it. No real worries about recurrence, few daily physical impacts. You really should try it. It’s fun on the bun.

Sensed a bit of gallows humor yet? When I had the cancer I got a box of milk duds and joked that they were cancer bites, since they were about the right size. Very inappropriate I know.

Maybe in another six months I’ll have more to say, but I’m not sure. It’s hard to know in life which experiences you should just let fade away, and which you should hold onto, try to learn from. I am technically a “cancer survivor”.

Maybe one of these days I won’t need the quotes.

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Filed under Faith + Life

Forty Minute Story (“Daddy’s Smile”)

Jocelyn squealed with delight as I flipped her over my knees and onto my chest. My Dad used to play with me this way, lying down on his back with his knees bent and turning his body into a mini roller-coaster. I let out a grunt that was only a little bit for effect as she landed square on my chest. She’d tackled me on my way in from work, my laptop bag lay sprawled on the sofa next to us.

It was a hot summer afternoon and I’d unbuttoned the top two buttons of my shirt the first chance I could get, the hair on my chest poking through like an ascot. My wife says I’m not hairy, I’m furry, which delights my daughter to no end. As she sits up from her landing she digs her fingers into my fur and tugs. I yelp pathetically which prompts laughter, and my wife to poke her grinning face around the corner. She has done the same thing to me countless times, and with the same amount of glee.

Jocelyn’s laughter stops for a moment as her fingers trace the spot at the top of my chest where there is no fur. I’ve felt her fingers on that spot countless times before, even when she was a baby. I used to think about how the patch of skin that is my scar felt to the new pink skin of my baby girl. This time she isn’t just touching the spot, but tracing it, moving her fingers the three inches along the base of my neck. The scar twitches slightly and I have to resist the urge to scratch it. Even after four years it still itches.

“What is that, daddy?”

I’ve known this question would come, and even after all these years I am at a loss for an answer. My wife puts down the meal she has been preparing and walks into the breakfast nook. I don’t know how to tell my daughter about cancer, how the doctors had to remove my thyroid because of what was growing inside it. I don’t know how to tell her about the pill I take every morning to keep me alive or the checkups every six months to make sure the cancer hasn’t come back.

Her daddy is supposed to be around forever. Who am I to change that?

Before I can say anything Jocelyn says, “I think it looks like a smile.”

I laugh and sit up, folding my daughter into my chest. “You’re right. When Mommy first told me you were coming your daddy was so happy that one smile just wasn’t enough. I’m always smiling, because I’m so happy you’re my little girl.”

I looked over at my wife who I could just catch brushing away a tear and I smiled at her. My daughter hugged me back for a moment then pushed away.

“I want to go again!” She cried.

I tussled her red hair and lifted her back on the other side of my knees, then leaned back and flipped her onto my chest.

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Filed under Short Stories

Brush With Cancer

I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer four and a half months ago. My thyroid was removed on Sept. 30th and my cancer was gone. I lived with a cancer diagnosis for about two weeks, and then it was over.

I am a “cancer survivor” but I don’t really feel like one. Cancer is something disruptive. It requires surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, and regular follow-ups. I have known many people with Cancer, including my own family. Some won their battle, and others did not. I didn’t have a battle.

Talking about this with one of the members of my life group he called it “cancer with a little c”.  It’s not that thyroid cancer isn’t serious, it’s just very slow growing. I could have lived for 20 years or more with this cancer living inside me before there was an outward sign. As it is, this cancer was only discovered because of a blood test reading being slightly off. There was a whole series of dominoes that fell before an actual diagnosis, but that blood test was the start of it.

I’m lucky and I’m grateful for it. The only consequences of this brief period are a three-inch scar at the base of my neck which should fade with time, and I have to take a pill every day the rest of my life. That in itself is kinda cool, they took out an organ, and all that my body needs is a tiny purple pill to replace it. How weird is that?

I don’t know what to make of this experience, even after a number of months. It went by in a flash, relatively speaking. The thing I was most worried about at the time was my voice (I like to sing and the thyroid sits on top of the vocal chords). A day or less after the surgery I was speaking normally. Singing’s a little different, the shape of my throat has literally changed, but I’m getting used to it.

I was working on my third novel at the time of the diagnosis (trying to get it done before the surgery which ended up not happening). The last thing I wrote before the surgery was a prayer. My character had been through a great deal of trauma himself and was on the cusp of a final crisis. My character doesn’t really know how to pray, so his conversation is very informal, basically just saying what he’s feeling at the time, and asking what he should do. The specifics require more explanation than I’d care to go into here (this is at a point 90% through the book after all), but a lot of my feelings at that moment came out through my character. I read it back to myself for the first time today. It was a good reminder of how I was feeling, but it didn’t really have any answers, because I didn’t have any then.

I don’t want to obsess about this episode, but from time to time I think about it. Why did it happen at that particular time? How has the experience changed me?

Again, don’t really have an answer right now, but if I find one worth sharing, I will.

Have you had an experience like this one?

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Filed under Introduction