I’m celebrating 10 years of being cancer free! Ten years ago I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. At the time, the question I was asked most often was how I found out. Here is my story.
I moved back home to Chapel Hill the summer after I graduated from college and was living with two of my close friends, Matt and Erica. Like most healthy college-aged kids, it had been a while since my last regular checkup and I’m not sure how long I would have gone without making an appointment if not for my Mom’s nagging to do so.
My doctor had a strong Brooklyn accent and wore, what I considered to be, too much make-up for a physician. She also had on a great pair of black boots even though it was the middle of the summer. My mind was mostly on shoes as she checked out my neck, so I was only half paying attention when she told me that she felt a “huge lump.” She tried to reassure me that, given my family history and my age, it was unlikely to be anything serious, but it still had to be examined. She scheduled a thyroid ultrasound for the following day and told me she would be in touch with the results.
Thyroid Ultrasound - At the time, I barely knew what a thyroid was and didn’t care enough to look it up. So having a thyroid ultrasound was more of a hassle than something I was actually worried about. The next day my doctor called and said based on the ultrasound results she suggested having another scan and referred me to a specialist.
Thyroid Scan - A thyroid scan determines the size and shape of the thyroid gland and identifies areas that are over- or under-active using a radioiodine tracer. Thyroid nodules that absorb the radioiodine are usually benign whereas thyroid nodules that do not absorb the radioiodine have a 5% risk of being cancerous. My thyroid did not absorb the tracer.
Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) Biopsy - My first appointment with the specialist was uneventful. He biopsied my thyroid but treated the process like a “just to be on the safe side” test rather than a “you might have cancer” test. The biopsy itself was a little painful but the procedure was over in a matter of minutes.
A few days after the biopsy a nurse from my doctor’s office called and asked me to come in to discuss the results. Everyone knows that doctors deliver good news on the phone and bad news in person, and although I knew that, I don’t remember feeling nervous about the appointment. Instead, I was annoyed that it was going to force me to delay a previously planned trip to visit Kate in Richmond. Before hanging up the phone, the nurse told me to bring my Mom or Dad to the appointment. In hindsight, that should have been the moment when I realized something was wrong. But I didn’t realize it. Maybe I just didn’t want to think about it, or maybe it was because, at this point, no one had even mentioned the word cancer to me yet.
My mom came with me to the appointment and was sitting next to me when the doctor came in. He opened with “This is the part of my job that I hate,” and followed with some other stuff I don’t remember, but eventually he said the word “cancer”. I didn’t cry. I just remember wondering if I was going to lose my hair.
The doctor went on to tell us that he scheduled a CT scan for Monday morning and my surgery for Wednesday. Then he asked what my plans were for the weekend, which caught me off guard. I told him about my plans to visit Kate and, surprisingly, he urged me to keep them and have fun. He also said that whatever I do, do not go home and Google. I’m so glad I took his advice because I had a great weekend and cancer barely crossed my mind.
People say that if you have to have cancer then thyroid cancer is a good one to have. And while that is true, it’s still cancer and it’s never that fun. But what made the difference for me was having the incredible support of my parents and friends through the whole ordeal. It’s hard to believe that experience was ten years ago!