Two years ago, I posted a status update that I was basically cancer-free.
Before you read any further, please note that I’m not saying that I’m not cancer-free. THIS IS NOT A POST TO SAY THAT MY CANCER HAS RETURNED, so please don’t worry. 🙂
It’s actually a post to say that now they’re telling me it may have never really gone away.
Nobody seems to know the real answer to that question.
I’m posting this not as a means of being dramatic or whiny, but because it’s indicative of how confusing the medical industry can be…I’ve been working in healthcare for 18 years, and have had a complicated medical history, yet with all of that, the terminologies and explanations that healthcare providers give can be very misleading…
At this appointment, I was made to believe that I was done with this whole cancer thing…I even looked at my doctor and asked, “So, does this mean I’m done here?” He said, “Yes, but we’ll still need to see you every 6 months for ultrasounds. Cancer-wise, though, you’re in the clear.” I knew at that time that thyroid cancer, particularly when it’s as complicated as mine was, has a high chance of a recurrence, and that stays in the back of one’s mind.
So, here we are, 3 years after my initial diagnosis, and I’ve been a good girl; I’ve taken my meds, gone to Barnes every 6 months, and had my ultrasounds. I’ve dutifully supplied my blood tests on time, and I religiously maintain a spreadsheet of my results. My lymph nodes in my neck have finally started to shrink, and that’s a positive change since my biopsy in January of this year (when they actually suspected that I might have lymphoma, which was terrifying; turns out that I was still dealing with the after-effects of having mono the summer before). However, I continue to have something called, “residual activity” that shows up on my ultrasounds. It showed up on my PET scan in 2016, and it’s never actually resolved. So, how can I be told that I’m “cancer free,” when in fact. that’s not necessarily accurate? There should be NOTHING in my thyroid bed, yet there’s that stupid thing, boppin’ around on my ultrasound. I don’t have cancer, according to my labs…BUT my labs never said I had cancer in the first place–that’s the anomaly of my particular case of thyroid cancer. I never registered as having cancer, via labwork or biopsy, even though the cancer cells broke through the capsule and went into my lymph nodes. We didn’t know I actually had cancer until I was in the process of having my thyroid removed, when the surgeon biopsied me on the table. Now, however, according to my surgeon and the ultrasound (AKA, “anatomical scan”), I’m not totally clear, and I’ll need to see my oncologist again for follow-up scans (functionality scans, AKA, another PET scan).
I know everything is fine, but you mention the word, “oncologist” to me, and my anxiety skyrockets. I’m not sure why it freaks me out so much; I’d rather never see an oncologist again. Thyroid cancer is a SUPER-slow growing cancer, so even if my tests are positive or questionable, I really have nothing to worry about. It’s just a stupid mind-game, and I hate how it affects me (and everyone I care about).
When we lived in Kentucky, I had an accident with Holly, and wound up tearing a tendon in my wrist. I didn’t COMPLETELY tear the tendon, and as a result, instead of a simple surgery to repair the damage, I had 6 weeks in a cast, 6 weeks in a brace, and 12 weeks of physical therapy. Something relatively simple became extremely complicated; what sounds like the better version of the injury was actually worse than the reality (Partial tear vs. Complete tear). I feel like thyroid cancer is like that. It’s the “good” kind of cancer–it’s “easily” treated. You remove the thyroid, and we’re good, right? Not really…My dad had a kind of cancer where they removed it all with surgery, and everything was fine–no meds, no radiation, and no chemo. You’d think that thyroid cancer was like that, based on the whole, “just remove the mass and the thyroid” thing. No one talks about the chances of recurrence, the residual activity, and the extreme difficulty in balancing the medication that replaces your thyroid. No one tells you about all of things that are affected by your thyroid–the energy levels, the hormones, the immune system (in my case, because of lymphatic involvement). They don’t tell you that when you catch a basic cold, you’d better call your doctor, because it’s gonna mutate and turn into bronchitis or pneumonia or whatever, because your immune system’s compromised. I just started my 3rd or 4th round of antibiotics this year, and my 2nd round of steroids…over a dang COLD.
My nervousness/drama over the thought of additional testing/seeing the oncologist is admittedly stupid. I’m being WAY overly dramatic, especially when I think about all of the people I know who have dealt with “real” cancers…the ones that require multiple rounds of chemo and radiation, the ones that incapacitate people and take lives…Thyroid cancer is often treated by the medical community as the “good” kind of cancer, so the issues that we deal with are not treated with the seriousness or compassion that I believe they should entail. Thyroid cancer is, by definition, “easy” to treat in comparison to every other kind of cancer, based on the previously stated premise that you just remove the organ, give the patient a replacement med, and send them on their merry way. It’s not like I’ve had a breast removed or lost a kidney…I’m not visibly scarred (unless you know where to look). I didn’t lose my hair (well, I did, but no one really noticed, and it’s all grown back). My issues have all had to do with regulating the thyroid replacement medication, and that’s a process that will go on for the rest of my life. If I gain weight (huge struggle) or if I lose weight (ha!), the dosages have to be recalibrated. Right now, I’m actually medically slightly hyperthyroid, but the consequences of re-calibrating the medication are worse than dealing with the effects of being hyperthyroid (sleeplessness/heat intolerance/anxiety) so we leave it as is for now.
Ask anyone in my family, and they will tell you that my life after having the “good” kind of cancer is very different from my life before.
My son will never know the Mommy that existed prior to 2015, when I had issues, but I also had energy, and I could go outside in the summer and not feel like I was going to pass out (I thought I was heat-intolerant before this, because of my heart. This is another level). He tells my husband that he wants to “take Mommy home, so we can go to the park.” That hurts, I’m not going to lie.
But I’m being stupid. Aren’t just supposed to shut up and be grateful that I got the “good” kind of cancer?
I very rarely let my brain go down the rabbit hole of “why is this happening to me?” I’ve found that’s a very dangerous place to go, and I’ve learned to stifle that fire with a blanket of blind faith and self-control, per the whole, “blessed are they that have not seen, but have believed” verse in John 20:29. I could list the things David & I have been through that I just don’t get, but what point would it prove? We’ve been through hell? Yeah, but so has everyone to some extent. Everyone has their own definition of the worst thing they’ve been through, and my worst isn’t your worst, but that doesn’t mean one is worse than the other–who makes that judgement call? Life isn’t about comparing my life to yours, or your life to Kim Kardashian’s. Life is about doing all that we can to give glory to God in every situation. If the Apostle Paul can do it, so can we.
So, I try to avoid the “why, God, why?!?” Nancy Kerrigan-isms of my life. My life is GOOD!!!! I love my life! And I’m not defined by this stupid cancer thing, but it does take up an inordinate amount of space in my psyche, particularly when I’m told that I have to go back to oncology and have additional scans in the next 6 months (they’re not in a hurry. That’s the perks of having the “good” kind of cancer. Nothing has to be rushed, which is cool, even though my brain says, “DO IT NOWWWW!!!!” I can wait until my FSA has renewed, LOL). I’ve been pretty whiny with God all week (when I’ve even spoken with Him–I’ve been so dang sick that I’ve barely prayed, which is embarrassing to admit). I did actually say to Him on Wednesday that “I just don’t understand why I get hit will all of this $hit (I’m not gonna fake Him out with some kind of churchy-fake lingo)!!!” And as soon as I said it, I’m like, “Eh, never mind.” I don’t really need to know the definition. Grace tells me it’s not a punishment. Grace tells me that we live in a fallen world full of crappy chemicals and emissions, of hormone-affecting toxins and atmospheric garbage that affects all of us in different ways.
Grace also tells me that regardless of the confusing definitions and my internal/external comparisons, that the bottom line is that it will all be okay. Grace tells me to stop being afraid of words like, “oncology,” and to start saying things like, “stop being a stupid worry-wart, and chill the heck out.” 🙂 (Okay, Grace doesn’t say that. Mom says that, LOL. I love her. Everyone needs someone in their life to cut through their crap, and that’s my mom. She’s like a younger Judge Judy with a penchant for wedding-based reality TV). Seriously, though, Grace says that this is one more bump/hill/mountain in the road, and regardless of what happens, I’ll get through the other side of it. It really, truly is not serious, and it’s only because of the “C” word that it seems so scary. My surgeon actually once said that thyroid cancer shouldn’t even really be termed as a cancer, because it’s such a slow-growing, minor thing to deal with, and that word is so complicated and fearful. I tend to agree with him, even though I know that trivializes something with major consequences.
Seeing an oncologist is actually just part of regular follow-up care for any kind of cancer. I probably should have seen her a year ago, but because things were so well-maintained at my visits with my surgeon and my endocrinologist, it wasn’t brought up. In fact, my endocrinologist isn’t particularly concerned at this point, and I don’t have to see him for a year (yay!). Oncology is routine, even though in MY brain, seeing an oncologist isn’t routine for ANYONE.
Like I said a few (okay, a LOT of) paragraphs earlier, this post is not to say that my cancer has returned…or that it ever reallllly went away. It’s just showing how confusing the medical industry can be (“you’re cancer-free! Oh, wait, you have activity—oh, wait, it’s not enough to worry about—oh, wait, go see the oncologist–but you’re fine!”), and the emotional roller-coaster that goes along with it. I am fine–believe me, I’m as fine as I get. My levels are well-maintained, and if you don’t count the bronchitis/respiratory garbage I keep getting every few months, my energy levels are good. I’m doing a heck of a lot better than a lot of people I read about on my “Life After Thyroidectomy” forum on Facebook! Hoooo, those Facebook Groups!!!! “I stubbed my toe! It’s because I had a thyroidectomy!!!!! I hate my doctor!!!!” It gets DRAMATIC…and I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of entertaining. It helps me find out what I really need to be concerned about, and clears up a LOT of myths, particularly when I review some of the stuff with my endocrinologist.
Whether I do or don’t have a recurrence of this garbage, everything is fine, and it’s all going to be okay. Even though the thought of something as routine as a follow-up visit with an oncologist is scary to me, I know it’s a good thing to do. Ultrasounds can only tell doctors so much, and additional testing is a good thing. I just have to get over myself and the mental hang-up I have with that word. I don’t see myself as a “cancer survivor,” because of the type of cancer I have; however, I believe we probably all share a similar fear/anxiety of having to see an oncologist, and of the ensuing tests. It is part of the process we all deal with, regardless of the type of cancer. The mental aspects of the terminology are just as emotionally difficult as the physical processes, which is something I think healthcare would do well to address.
Any additional testing I have done will most likely not happen until next year (the perks of “non”-cancer cancers), so I’m probably not going to post anything else regarding my status until then. For me, just writing all of this out has been helpful; only so much can be said in phone calls and 10-minute conversations with spouses. Blogging is my way of having uninterrupted communication, so it’s completely selfish, and I’m not sorry. 🙂 If you’ve stuck with me this far, well, good on ya’, mate! 🙂
This is all just part of the process. And it’s okay. I’ve never been good at any kind of waiting, and I’ve wanted everything to be over and done with for the last 3 years. I’m not really getting that, and I’m not good at not getting what I want. I want closure. It’s not happening. It’s a bizarre kind of limbo.
I’ve never been particularly good at that game. 🙂