“I enjoy surrealism is art, movies, and books, but in real life…not so much! My experiences with thyroid cancer diagnosis and treatment have been quite surreal. I feel like I am Alice in Wonderland, faced with riddles with no answers which is comical, sad, and at times frightening.”
Disney’s 1951 cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland is the most terrifying film I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen quite a few suspense/horror films. Perhaps that’s why, when I think about my cancer diagnosis, I feel like Alice, alone on a dark and torturous trail, chasing after the illusive White Rabbit, (or in my case health and survival) while enduring a series of nonsensical events along the way.
“Curiouser and curiouser…” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
When I got my tumors biopsied (technically called fine needle aspiration) to check for cancer cells, my doctor stuck me with a needle to numb my neck so it wouldn’t hurt when she stuck me with a smaller needle.
“I don’t think…” then you shouldn’t talk, said the Hatter.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“You have thyroid cancer, but it’s the best kind of cancer. Plus, the meds will make you lose weight. Isn’t that great?!?!”
Yup, that’s what I was told. I was too shocked to react. How do you react to someone telling you, “Congratulations, you have the best kind of terrible!” Also, are you calling me fat? Because last time I checked my physique was average and my BMI is in the healthy range. I have no interest in being a skeleton (poor choice of words for a cancer blog, my bad). But the truth is, I like big butts and I cannot lie.
The myth that thyroid cancer is the “best kind of cancer” is perpetuated by the fact that most cases of thyroid cancer are papillary, which has a very high cure rate. It is cured by surgically removing the cancerous thyroid gland and any other cancerous nodules in the neck – follow that up with a dose of radioactive iodine treatment to zap any remaining cancer cells and ta-dah you’re cured. You don’t even have to endure chemotherapy.
“It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
But it’s never that simple, is it? Once you’re cured, you’re left without your thyroid – an organ which affects the function of almost every other organ in your body. But no big deal because you’ll just take a pill every day for the rest of your life – and we all know meds don’t have negative side effects (this is me being sarcastic).
“How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
I was told that I will eventually adjust to my “new normal”. Which translate to – you’ll be tired all the time, for the rest of your life, but suck it up and be grateful because you’re not dead (whoa that was dark, again my bad).
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“You have a highly aggressive form of metastatic thyroid cancer, which in any other type of cancer would mean stage 4 cancer, but since you’re young and healthy you’re only stage 2. Your prognosis is good.” Did you just say I am healthy and have cancer? How can I be healthy and have cancer? I couldn’t make sense of that riddle – and I still have a hard time with it.
So I flat out asked my doctor, “Am I dying?” and she said, “No, you’re absolutely not dying of this disease”. But the phrase, “you have a highly aggressive form of thyroid cancer” hung in the air like the smoke from the caterpillar’s hookah, and followed me as I continued my journey through Thyroid Cancer Wonderland.
“Off with their heads!” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
I had signed-up with a Jewish non-profit to volunteer in a hospital on Christmas because I thought it would be very sad to be alone in the hospital on such a family oriented holiday. I bought a Santa dress, Santa hat, and boots and I had asked to be placed with sick kids because I wanted to bring them some joy on Christmas. Sadly, I had to cancel my commitment to volunteer because my cancer surgery was booked on December 23rd.
In most cases, thyroid surgery patients only spend one night in the hospital and go home the following morning. In my case, my calcium levels were too low, so I ended up spending Christmas in the hospital after all – but as a patient instead of as Santa’s helper! The irony was real. When they removed the bandages, it became apparent that I had been sliced from ear to ear, and I was surprised that my head didn’t fall off when I stood up for the first time. It took me awhile to trust that that wasn’t going to happen.
“Have I gone mad?”
“I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Before I could get my radioactive iodine treatment, I had to sign a waiver consenting to get a cancer treatment that might cause me additional cancer. Wait…what?!?! The radioactive cancer treatment I was getting to kill my thyroid cancer cells, could in fact cause me to develop additional types of cancer. But what’s a girl to do, I wanted my cancer cells killed off, so I signed on the dotted line!
“I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
As Alice travels through Wonderland, she has a hard time deciphering what is real and what is nonsense – I must confess I have the same problem. I have been taking a high dose of Synthroid, for a very good reason. It suppresses cancer growth – and that’s good because I don’t want my cancer to grow – I want it gone. However, the side effects I am experiencing include racing heart, insomnia, and anxiety. Therefore, I can’t really tell if what I’m thinking and feeling is real or drug related. Am I anxious because I have cancer (a legitimate reason for anxiety), or is it me, or is it the medication. So when I worry about things at work or things with friends or life in general I am never sure if my thoughts are founded in reality or if they are simply a side effect of the treatment.
“The little girl just could not sleep because her thoughts were way too deep, her mind had gone out for a stroll and fallen down a rabbit hole.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Eventually, Alice wakes up and learns that it was all just a bizarre dream. My doctors say my prognosis is good, and therefore I have faith that I will “wake up” from this one day, I will be cancer free and will hopefully feel more like myself again. Although, the new me isn’t really that bad. Having cancer has prompted a lot of reflection and positive change in my life. Plus, the absurdity of it all brings me both laughter and tears. And true emotional responses like these makes me feel alive, and that my friends, is quite the blessing.
For more information about Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy of the thyroid see: http://www.thyca.org/newly-diagnosed/fna/
For more information on Papillary Thyroid Cancer see: http://www.thyca.org/pap-fol/
For more information about Thyroidectomy (the surgical removal of your thyroid gland) see: http://www.thyca.org/pap-fol/surgery/
For more information about Radioactive Iodine Treatment for Thyroid Cancer see: http://www.thyca.org/pap-fol/rai/
For more information about Synthroid, its uses and common side effects, see: https://www.synthroid.com/