Something was wrong with me, and I just couldn’t put my finger on it.
I was tired. A lot. My mind would will it away: It was just having a three-year-old, a new business, life in general. Or maybe just the stress of family issues, watching my Mom fight a tough battle. But there were more signs. My skin had gotten extremely dry. I had started to lose some hair. So, hormones … I had recently turned 40 after all.
I was open with my doctor. We did blood work, EKGs, fixed a magnesium deficiency. And still, I didn’t feel like myself.
A headache on Thanksgiving sent me to the emergency room as the side of my face went numb, and thoughts of a stroke filled my mind. A CT scan showed that nothing was amiss, so I was diagnosed with migraines and told to follow up with my doctor.
In December it happened again. So my doctor here sent me for an MRI to further investigate my noggin. Perfectly normal. In January there was the upper endoscopy to try and figure out why my digestion had slowed. Nothing major was found. And finally, just a few weeks ago, we did an ultrasound of my neck to make sure the arteries were clear, and not the cause of the numbness and headaches.
“Have you ever had your thyroid checked?” the ultrasound tech asked me as she scanned my neck.
Of course I had. I’m a pretty healthy eater. I go to the gym. I can’t lose weight.
I have had countless doctors check my blood work for issues with the gland as soon as I would tell them I shouldn’t be this size. But it was always “normal.” In fact, the only time my numbers had come back wonky was when I was pregnant, and I had to take Synthroid.
When I saw my doctor after the scan, he informed me there was a nodule on my thyroid. Nothing to be afraid of he said, they are common. He set me up for another ultrasound focused on my thyroid, which after the same results led to a fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy. (It’s like a sewing machine on your neck, I was told beforehand by someone all-too familiar with the process. And she was right, that’s exactly what it felt like.)
When I hadn’t heard back from him in five days, I called. “We haven’t gotten ‘final’ results,” the nurse told me. I got the same answer when I tried again three days later. I told Hunter then I didn’t think things were going to go the way we wanted them to. Finally, after 10 days, my doctor called me. The biopsy had in fact shown that the nodule was a tumor, and it was abnormal. But he couldn’t say any more than that. He would get me in with a surgeon for the next step and we’d go from there.
But to not be afraid.
Having a child makes you realize you’re mortal. I tried not to focus on the “what ifs” of surgery, but I was more afraid of something going wrong than the pain or the outcome. I would make little mentions to my husband, “Have his birthday party if something happens to me …” (I had already planned it all.) “His Easter basket is in the closet ready to go …” “Try to keep his life as normal as possible …” “Don’t take your sadness out on him.”
And each step of the way, Hunter would remind me that it would all be OK.
The plan was to take out half my thyroid on Monday. Then, the diseased part would be put under the microscope, and if need be, the surgeon would take out the other half and my lymph nodes.It was the first thing I wanted to know when I woke up in the recovery room: Had he taken it all?
The pathology reports still came back unclear during the surgery, but my doctor had decided to remove the entire gland anyway. He would tell me the following morning during rounds that he knew when he saw it that it had to come out.
Wednesday he called me at home. His hunch had been right. As had mine.
I have thyroid cancer.
I am scared. And I am mad. But I am grateful it was caught as early as it was. It hasn’t spread to my lymph nodes and the surgeon got it all out. I’ll undergo radioactive iodine therapy soon. I’ve asked to wait until after Mr. Boy’s birthday party next month because it will mean isolation as the radiation leaves my body.
I will be monitored closely for years to come. I will be on medication for the rest of my life. But I am thankful to have answers. I’m glad I listened as my body told me in little ways that something was wrong.
Now I am just looking forward to the day when I finally feel good again.
I know it’s coming.
Kathryn Sesser-Dorné is the designer and a contributing editor for The Birmingham Times. She has been a journalist for nearly 20 years, and has worked with newspapers all around the country.