Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Celebrations were a bit premature

Last I left you, I had half my thyroid removed and no cancer was found.
Just four days later I received a call a phone call from my ENT surgeon.
(In my experience, when I've had good or neutral news coming my way, then a member of the doctor's administrative staff or perhaps a nurse would call me. When it was bad news, then the call would come from the doctor himself.)

The ENT told me that although they were initially unable to find any malignancy in the tissue they removed during my surgery, after further examination, the pathologist was able to indeed find thyroid cancer present. The recommended solution was further surgery to remove the remaining lobe of the thyroid.

Bonus cancer!

This was pretty discouraging news to say the least. I had been given odds of cancer being found of only 15-25%, so when none was discovered during the initial tissue review, I easily forgot about the doc's caution against celebrating too early. Given the year I've had, I figured that I deserved a relatively easy win. This of course goes against my usually cautious, skeptical nature.

In order to prevent issues due to scarring, surgery was quickly scheduled for last Thursday (just one week after the initial procedure). Everything went quite smoothly, and I recovered rapidly enough to go back to work the next day. The only disturbing side effect was numbness and tingling in the hands and feet which is likely due to the inability to process/regulate calcium. This can be caused by the parathyroid glands (four small glands that rest behind the thyroid itself) functioning improperly or the glands having been removed. I'm still waiting to hear back from my surgeon as whether any of them were even removed, but fortunately the numbness has reduced significantly. In the meantime, I'm taking significant amounts of supplemental calcium.

Of course, the calcium may just be temporary. I will be taking, however, some form of synthetic thyroid hormone for the rest of my life (currently prescribed Liothyronine). The thyroid naturally regulates metabolism, so I'll be playing a life-long game of keeping my levels steady and possibly coping with a host of various side-effects of being either hyper- or hypothyrodic. From my research, it's a "your mileage may vary" situation, so I'll hope for a best-case scenario while preparing for a pain in the ass.

Speaking of inconveniences, I've also been informed that a regimen of radioactive iodine will be in my future (in perhaps a month or two). The I-131 isotope will be used to wipe out any remaining traces of thyroid cells that may be lingering. I won't exactly be a weapon of mass destruction, but I will technically be dangerous to those around me for a few days. I'll be sure to let you all know how that goes.

In the mean time, life goes on. When I look back at my experiences so far this year, I've been in much worse shape morale-wise, but I'm not exactly over-the-moon these days either. Two forms of cancer this year...and it's still only September. I won't be upset if some of you start pools to guess what I'll get hit with next. Just be sure that I get a cut, too, because all these insurance copays are seriously cutting into my fun money.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I've got a Hemi! (and some observations)

Yesterday was my hemi-thyroidectomy. That's fancy language for surgical removal of approximately half my thyroid gland. The final, official results should come back next week, but the good news is that the pathologist didn't find any malignancy in the section of the gland they removed. Apparently cancer was too chicken to show up to the fight this time.

The surgery went smoothly, and of course the worst part was the anticipation. Due to the all the repeated chemo treatments over six months, it took the nurse three tries to tap a good vein for the IV. I'm still glad I didn't get a port installed though -- it just would have slowed me down all these months.

I started the journey this year fighting Hodgkin's, and just when I had it up against the ropes, this thyroid thing came up. Fortunately, things went my way. I owe so much to all of you who have been supporting me along the way. I've never been used to so much attention, so some interactions may have seemed a little awkward at times. You all can know with 100% certainty that no "Good luck" or "Stay strong" went unnoticed by me.

A lot of attention is being paid to healthcare in the news right now. Regardless of your political views, there are two things that I've learned are necessary to living a healthy life and getting through a serious illness:
1) Maintain responsibility for your own health. You need to remain vigilant over your own symptoms before they get out of control. This goes for the old and the young. That's right all you young people (especially males). I was ignorant and stubborn too. Staying INVINCIBLE isn't about pretending that nothing can happen to you. It's about knowing your body, respecting it, and keeping yourself educated. Get yourself a doctor (and a dentist) and visit him or her at least once a year. Discover all you can about your family's medical history and make sure you get all the regular tests and scans performed (recommended for your age, gender, risk factors, etc.). If something doesn't feel or look right, tend to it. If your doctor seems a little too conservative or aggressive in his recommendations, then seek out another opinion. It's not about a doctor's hurt feelings (because they really don't mind anyway), it's about your life. Whether it's smoking, drinking, unsafe sex, red meat, laziness, sword swallowing, donuts.... we all have our bad habits, but take responsibility for their possible immediate and cumulative effects. Practice moderation where possible so that you can get quality and quantity out of your life. Don't blame others for your own choices, and recognize how your choices may affect others today or forty years from now. You may not think anyone will miss you if you disappeared today (I used to think that), but I guarantee one day you'll have people dependent on you in some way or another.


2) The other thing to help you get through it all? Easy: the support of family and friends... even ones you thought were gone or you didn't know you had. I've often heard that my attitude is inspirational, but I didn't really see a choice. You had a choice in your attitude and words with me, and I guarantee that I'm the one who remains truly inspired.

Today - Life

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

One month out: Thumbs up

It's been one month since my final round of chemo (time flies!), and today I visited the oncologist for a check-up. We reviewed my latest labs and all of the indicators (including my white cell count) are back to normal/pre-chemo levels. No enlarged nodes either, as far as we can tell. I also feel pretty good. It's nice to make it through the day not looking and feeling like a zombie. I still have some mild neuropathy (numbness) in my fingers and toes, but they say most of that should go away. I'll continue to have some more scans and checkups, but from here on out, no news is good news as far as the Hodgkin's goes.

There's still the matter of the mysterious thyroid. I have surgery next Thursday to remove half and possibly all of the gland depending on what they find. Until then (and after, of course), I'm just living life.

September 10 - Thyroid surgery
December 2 - PET-CT scan