My Story: Part One—Diagnosis and Surgery
Hello and welcome! My name is Audra and my battle with thyroid cancer started when I was about 20 years old. I am now 33 and it has been a very long, lonely, and painful road. I am sharing my story because I don’t want others going through the same struggles that I did—I want to give people hope and encouragement that they will make it through this and that there are lots of people out there who want to help. You don’t have to do or go through anything alone! As most thyroid patients have come to realize, it’s important to be your own advocate and do your own research. Unfortunately, not all endocrinologists have done the necessary research in order to best help their patients. However, there are some really great ones out there, so please be sure to access our list of Patient Recommended doctors in your area.
I’m going to start from the beginning and share with you my road to becoming well. I was in college when I first noticed that something was wrong with me. I had been going to the doctor because I wasn’t feeling well, my hair was starting to get really thin, I wasn’t sleeping well, and I was starting to gain weight. Now, I played golf in college and worked out 1-2 times/day. I was always active and there was no reason why I should have been gaining weight. I started crying at the drop of a hat and it became more and more difficult to deal with stress. I kept going to the doctor, seeking answers, but they just kept telling me that I was fine. I was not fine and I knew there had to be something going on. This was not like me at all. My grades started slipping, my golf game wasn’t the same. It got harder to workout. I barely made it through my last year and a half at school. Shortly after I graduated, I noticed that it felt kind of funny when I swallowed, so my doctor sent me to an ENT. That’s when they first discovered some nodules on my thyroid.
The doctor told me that I would need an ultrasound-guided fine-needle biopsy. At this time, my parents and sisters lived in Wisconsin and I was living in Texas. I didn’t really understand what that meant or what was going on. I called my mom and she had a million questions—questions I didn’t even think to ask the doctor. I was 22—it didn’t even occur to me that I could possibly have cancer. I assured my mom that I would be ok going in for the needle biopsy by myself, but as I sat in that waiting room, I would have given anything to have her there with me. I was scared, I didn’t really know what to expect and I was afraid to find out the answer. The procedure itself was pretty painless—the shots of lidocaine were the worst part. It stung and really burned, but only for a few seconds. I felt some pressure every time they inserted a needed, but it was all over pretty quickly and I was told I could go back to work. I had a little bruising afterwards, but nothing awful.
My mom flew down to go to the follow-up appointment with me (I’ve always been a little flighty, so I don’t think she trusted me to remember to ask all of our questions). Either way, I was glad she was there. We sat in the doctor’s office and he told me that I had three small tumors on my thyroid and that they did come back as cancerous, but that if you were going to get cancer, this was the best kind to get. Well, to quote Friends,"Isn't that just kick-you-in-the-crotch, spit-on-your-neck, fantastic!" I had the good kind of cancer—they'd remove my thyroid and I'd just have to take this little pill for the rest of my life. Easy enough.
My surgery was scheduled and I was told that I'd need to be off work for a few weeks because I couldn't do any lifting. I was in the hospital for about a week—I spent a few days in ICU so that they could make sure my parathyroids weren't damaged during the surgery. I don't really remember much from my hospital stay. My family was there...friends would come to visit...but I don't remember being in a lot of pain. I was released with a massive bandage around my neck and some drains near my collar-bone. After a couple days at home in bed, my mom thought it might be good if I got out of the house a little bit. Ummmm, mom—I look like Frankenstein! I am not going anywhere!! After some more pushing from my mom, I reluctantly went to the square in downtown Georgetown with my mom to walk around a bit. Yes, I had a huge bandages wrapped around my neck and yes, I got all kinds of stares from people. I made it around the block with her and that took every ounce of energy I had. I thought I was still just recovering from surgery—I was not prepared for the extreme fatigue I would feel for months afterwards.
I was not allowed to fly home for Thanksgiving because I was still recovering, but by Christmas the doctor said I could fly home. Now, as I stated earlier, I worked out all the time before my surgery, I walked 18-36 holes of golf almost daily with a 40# golf bag strapped on my back...I did kickboxing...I had been in pretty good shape. The first time I tried to walk briskly from one gate to the next at the airport, I thought I was going to die. I couldn't make it between gates without having to stop and rest. I was EXHAUSTED and embarrassed and it all of a sudden hit me what this had done to my body. I just sat down in the Austin airport and started crying. Some older lady came over to see if I was ok and helped me get to my gate.
I made it through the holidays, but it wasn't easy. I had to go through the radioactive iodine treatment shortly after I got back to TX. Again, that part was pretty painless. I was told I just had to swallow this little pill, stay in a special isolation chamber until I was no longer at a 'dangerous' radioactive level and then I could go home. I think I was in that room for about 36 hours. I couldn't take anything I brought in there home with me and the entire room was wrapped in saran wrap. It was boring and the guy came in to my room in a hazmat suit a few times to bring me meals or check how radioactive I still was, so that was all kind of strange. Again, I thought I would be ok after I did all of this, but no one prepared me for the years of problems I was going to have afterwards.