“I wanted to make-out with this guy I had just met, but I couldn’t because I thought I had mono and I know it’s spread through saliva, and that would be a rude way to start a relationship, so I went to my doctor to get tested and learned I had Thyroid Cancer. The guy ghosted me soon after my diagnosis, but hey at least now I know why I’ve been sick for so long! Ah modern romance!”
The story of how I got my cancer diagnosis is pretty ridiculous! It all started with this cute guy I met at a dinner party in October of 2015 – we will call him John. He asked me out but I put him off because I was busy. Plus, I thought I had mono so I told him I was sick and couldn’t go out with him. I was exhausted and there were visible lumps in my neck which I assumed were swollen lymph nodes. It had been months since I had dated anyone, but I had just gotten back from a trip to South Africa, where I had hooked-up with this guy with an irresistible accent. So I was sure God was smiting me for my slutty moment overseas by giving me mono.
A few days after meeting John, he sent me a care package containing tea, cough drops, chocolates, and other goodies along with a card asking me out once I felt better. I thought that was a very sweet and thoughtful gesture so I broke down and decided to give him a chance. Since I am generally a nice person, I didn’t want to give him mono so I made an appointment with my allergists.
Ok, I know it doesn’t make sense to see an allergist for mono, but I had recently given-up on doctors and I no longer had a Primary Care Physician (PCP). I had been feeling sick for years and whenever I saw a doctor it went like this:
Me: “I think something’s wrong with me, I feel sick all the time.”
Doctor: “Your labs came back perfect. You’re young and healthy.”
Me: “But I’m tired all the time. I just know something’s wrong.”
Doctor: “Everyone’s tired. See the receptionist on your way out.”
My allergist was booked so instead I saw her Physician Assistant (PA). I asked for a blood test for mono and an anemia test. My periods had been coming every 10 days with a vengeance – so in addition to mono I had diagnosed myself with “early onset menopause resulting in anemia”. The PA noted that my thyroid levels had been high a year ago so she asked if she could test my thyroid. I said yes, even though I had no idea what a thyroid was.
My test for mono came back negative, so I made dinner plans with John, we kissed at the end of the night, and only a few days later we became a Facebook official couple. It was all very fast and exciting!
My test for anemia was negative, but my thyroid test came back hypothyroid. The symptoms of hypothyroidism were in line with what I had been experiencing – fatigue, weight gain, abnormal menstrual cycles, etc. The PA prescribed a daily dose of 50mcg of Synthroid to replace the thyroid hormones that were lacking in my body. While taking Synthroid I started to feel better but I wanted to see an Endocrinologist to learn more. Perhaps, feeling better was just a placebo effect. Perhaps, being hypothyroid was the root cause of my constant discomfort. Perhaps I would finally get a diagnosis after years of illness!
The Endocrinologist I wanted to see was booked until January, and she wouldn’t see me unless I had a Primary Care Physician. I found a very nice and very competent PCP who sent me to get a neck ultrasound and various blood tests so that the Endocrinologist would have more data about my condition by the time I got in to see her.
I called the Endocrinologist’s office about once a week to ask if there were any cancelations as I was anxious to get in to see her. I had an adorable new boyfriend and wanted my energy back. Finally, on December 8th she had a cancelation and I left work early and rushed in to her office. She told me that the neck ultrasound that had been ordered by my PCP, showed one lump on my thyroid and one suspicious looking lymph node.
“Don’t worry.” She said in a German accent, “The majority of thyroid nodes are benign, but I have an ultrasound machine in the next room and I’d like to take a look at your neck. I won’t charge you for this ultrasound since you just had one done.”
I always appreciate free stuff so I followed her into the next room and climbed up onto the table. The doctor put a pillow under my shoulders so that my head was bent backwards and my neck was extended. She turned off the lights, squeezed cold clear goo onto my neck and pressed down on the ultrasound wand. It was uncomfortable as it pressed into and over the lumps in my neck.
“Here’s one.” She said aloud. “Oh and here’s another one. This one is large. This one is shaped like a Mercedes logo. Here’s another one – it’s kinda shaped like a rod. Oh look here’s one. There’s one all the way down here by your clavicle.”
I stopped counting after she found seven suspicious nodules, but she kept going. “This isn’t good” I thought to myself, uncomfortable in the dark.
“OK, let’s just stop for now.” She said as she handed me a towel to wipe off the goo. She put her hand in mine and helped me sit up on the table. I swung my legs off the table so I was facing her. She turned on the light.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have cancer, and we are going to have to remove your thyroid.”
With tears welling up in my eyes, I said “But how can you know without doing a biopsy?”
“I just know. I’ve been doing this a long time and this is definitely cancer. But I could be wrong. We will do biopsies tomorrow to be certain. I have a lab tech who works in the next room so we will get your results within 5 minutes of the biopsies.” She said.
“If you remove my Thyroid, can I still have children?” I asked, which shocked me because I’ve always thought that if I ever had children I would adopt. Having biological children has never appealed to me, but I guess when you think you can’t have something you suddenly want it. I still think it’s funny that I asked about my fertility and not about my chances of survival. I mean John was nice, but I had no intention of having his children. Clearly I was in shock.
“Yes, you can still have children. Many women have successful pregnancies without a thyroid. When you decide to have kids I will be with you throughout your pregnancy to monitor your hormones and adjust your dose of Synthroid accordingly.”
John quickly disappeared after my diagnosis, but I truly believe people drift in and out of our lives for a reason. His was to motivate me to finally discover what had been making me feel sick all these years. I later learned that I had a highly aggressive form of metastatic papillary thyroid cancer. My diagnosis came in the nick of time, if I had waited any longer, this might have been a different story.
Thyroid Cancer Statistics:
The American Cancer Society’s most recent estimates for thyroid cancer in the United States for 2016 are:
- About 62,450 new cases of thyroid cancer (49,350in women, and 19,950 in men)
- About 1,980 deaths from thyroid cancer (1,070 women and 910 men)
- Nearly 3 out of 4 cases are found in women
- About 2% of thyroid cancers occur in children and teens.
- The chance of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer has risen in recent years and is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the US tripling in the past three decades. Much of this rise appears to be the result of the increased use of thyroid ultrasound, which can detect small thyroid nodules that might not otherwise have been found in the past.
Reference: American Cancer Society Statistics
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the base of your neck. It releases hormones that control metabolism—the way your body uses energy. The thyroid’s hormones regulate vital body functions, including: breathing, heart rate, central and peripheral nervous systems, body weight, muscle strength, menstrual cycles, body temperature, cholesterol levels and much more!
What is mono?
Mono or Mononucleosis is an infectious disease most commonly spread through the exchange of bodily fluids, especially saliva. It is mostly caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Symptoms appear 4-6 weeks after infection and include extreme fatigue, fever, sore throat, head and body aches, swollen lymph nodes in the neck and armpits, swollen liver or spleen or both, rash. There is no vaccine to protect against infectious mononucleosis. You can help protect yourself by not kissing or sharing drinks, food, or personal items, like toothbrushes, with people who have infectious mononucleosis. You can help relieve symptoms of infectious mononucleosis by drinking fluids to stay hydrated and getting plenty of rest. Reference: CDC
What is hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of thyroid hormones. Hypothyroidism signs and symptom vary and may include:
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Muscle weakness
- Elevated blood cholesterol level
- Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate
- Impaired memory
Hypothyroidism often comes on slowly and due to its unspecific symptoms it can be difficult to diagnose.
Reference: Mayo Clinic