Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Cancer Chronicles. Part 3.

Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 here.

When I had the radio-iodine treatment, I was warned that it was very difficult to get the doseage correct. There was every chance that I would develop hypothyroidism (under-active) in time. And so it proved. After a few years I started to develop the symptoms. I put on weight, was tired and weak, my hair started to fall out, dry skin and, most significanlty, memory loss. That was just dreadful and possibly the worst of the symptoms for me. I'd always prided myself on having, if not a photographic memory, then not far off. So to lose that was awful. I couldn't remember names, dates, or even why I had walked into a room.

I made an appointment with my doctor and she arranged for some blood tests. Which came back as normal. Now, the thing about thyroid tests is that "normal" covers a very wide band. If you imagine a band from say -10 to +10 and you fall within that band, you are classed as normal. But if you are at the extremes of that band, they you will be feeling the symptoms. At -10 I was classed as "normal" but if I had been at -11, I would have been classed as hypo and treated accordingly.

Fortunately, my doctor was sympathetic and, as she felt I knoew my body better than anyone else could, decided to start me on a course of thyroid hormone replacement therapy to see how I got on. It worked. The improvement, whilst not 100%, at least had me functioning somewhere near to normal for several years.

We're now in 2002. I was in work, sitting at my desk trying to focus on a paper I was supposed to be reading and inwardly digesting. I was doing my usual habit when I'm concentrating of running my fingers over my neck.

I stopped, poised for a second. Was that a lump? Surely not. I ran my fingers over my neck again. It certainly felt like a lump. I called to my boss, a wonderful wonderful lady, and rather to her surprise, asked her to run her fingers over my neck to see if she could feel it. Bless her, she did to! "Get an appointment with your doctor. Now" she said to me. I did and the doctor immediately referred me to a clinic at St George's Hospital. "It's probably nothing" he said to me "But you can never be too careful with lumps".

So a week later I found myself in a consulting room with a young doctor. I explained my prior thyroid history and after some poking and prodding, she told me I would need a biopsy and, if I would please take a seat in the waiting room, she would arrange that immediately.

I had no idea what was to come next. Which was probably just as well because if I had known I think I would have run screaming from the hospital. That day was about to fall into the "worst day of my life so far" category.


  1. I'm reading carefully as we have a friend who has horrific thyroid problems.

  2. I have a lump in my throat right now (luckily not a lump in my neck). I feel so sad for you, even though this was five years ago; it's still recent enough that I'm sure it must be painful to relive it. I'm so sorry!

  3. Wow, Aoj, what a nightmare. I know you don't want sympathy, but I'm just sending a hug because it must be weird writing all this down and you're doing great. :D

  4. AOJ, I can empathize. I, too, have been through thyroid hell. Once, while in training and assigned to an endocrine clinic, the attending said something to the effect of "after ablation, even if thyroid replacement is required, life is totally normal." I disagreed somewhat forcefully. He challenged me. Well, he hasn't lived the disease so how could he know?
    The thyroid has diurnal regulation. Thyroid replacement will never give you that. I nearly failed that rotation, but ... I have never talked to a woman who lost a thyroid and says that life is "normal" afterwards. I think most don't complain because we realize that there is no other alternative. What's gone is gone.

  5. You are so right Celeste. Thyroxin is brilliant and without it there is no doubt that life would be hell. But I remain unconvinced that a synthtic hormone can fully replace something that your body produces naturally.

    To be honest, I think when you suffer from thyroid problems, you forget what "normal" actually feels like so you do just get on with it.

  6. I second the "you forget what normal feels like" statement. I don't have thyroid problems, but after I'd been on my medication and following my diet for a couple of weeks, I realized how bad I was feeling before the diabetes diagnosis.

    I suppose it's good that cancer can have such a dramatic symptom as a lump. Otherwise, it might go totally unnoticed until it was too late. Of course, there are cancers that operate that way too, so I'm glad yours presented as a lump - you knew immediately that something was off.

  7. Your boss certainly gave you the right advice and your Dr acted very quickly. It must have been awful waiting for that biopsy to be done, especially if you were by yourself!

  8. We used to counsel our patients that the normal range was just that - a range - and to listen to their body. I can't imagine what you were going through when you discovered that lump... the stuff of nightmares.

  9. Yikes! I cannot imagine going through all of this. I'm so glad you went immediately to the doctor.

  10. I know just how scary this is going to be. Bless your heart. It must have been so tough.

  11. Hi there - I live in Wiltshire and I had thyroid cancer 11 years ago and after surgery had the radioactive iodine treatment and was left in a lead-lined room for 5 days with food posted through a letter box. Hope you get on OK.


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