Two years ago I found a little lump on the front right side of my neck. I had it checked out, and was told it was a "complex cystic structure". My doctor did not seem too concerned, and I left his office with some relief that the weird little knob was just there to hang out--cool, I can be hospitable and accommodating. I kept my eye on it, making sure it didn't get out of line, or take advantage of the cells I was so graciously supplying.
Finally, in October, for no other reason than I was tired of having some strange thing on the side of my neck that didn't seem to serve any purpose, I requested my doctor take the little freeloader out. He wasn't too keen on slicing open my neck to remove a lump that hadn't shifted, morphed, or proven itself a Gremlin. He explained that many women have these nodules near and/or on the thyroid. He asked me if I had experienced any other symptoms. Nope. Without other symptoms, he reiterated, he was definitely not going to get scalpel-happy on my neck. However, just to be safe, he sent me in for an ultrasound. I made the appointment for Friday, November 5th.
Feeling relief that I would soon get the "we have confirmation that you have nothing to worry about" phone call, I went to work on Monday morning . . . and was promptly laid off. Awesome.
My level of panic over losing my job can be gauged by the fact that I drank only a bottle of wine, and not a bottle of tequila. I made appointments with all my doctors before my insurance ran out (good girl!), signed up for unemployment, dusted off my resume, and started asking myself if the quest for the perfect piece of chocolate cake was really going to be my only contribution to society? What do I want to be when I grow up?
I went in for my ultrasound on Friday and was reassured that I had nothing to worry about from my lovely ultrasound tech, Olga (I'm going with Hungarian. The story is more fun if she's Hungarian). "I see these all the time with women your age. Start worrying when there is only one lump. You have numerous." I know she was shooting for comforting, but how comforting is the thought of "numerous" nodules running rampant all over my throat and thyroid?
My doctor called that afternoon.
I was informed that the nodule on the right side of my thyroid was about 3 centimeters long--cause for concern. The next step was a Fine Needle Aspiration biopsy. Fine needle or not, I was not jazzed about, essentially, being stabbed in the neck. The fact that it would give a conclusive answer was a comfort. As my doctor went on describing the short procedure, I realized this was the first time the word "cancer" had graced us with its presence. No more talk of "complex cystic structures" and "nodules". Whatever was lounging in my neck either was, or it wasn't. I guess I was grateful we had narrowed down the outcome.
So, I got stabbed in the neck. It felt weird, but George, from Honduras, sweetly stood beside me and kept asking if I was alright. We talked about his 11-year-old daughter and his experience running marathons. Like Olga, George assured me they had done a number of these procedures on women and it turns out to be nothing. Gotta love those optimistic foreigners.
Two days went by . . . three . . . four . . . the weekend. This Monday, while D.R. and I were in the throes of cleaning for Thanksgiving company, my doctor called with the results. Let's just say the dusting and vacuuming came to a halt.
Papillary thyroid carcinoma. It is the first stage of the most manageable type of cancer one can get. It requires surgery to remove the tumors and the possibility of radiation to zap any lingering cells. My thyroid will come out along with all of the offending lumps, and I will be on hormones for the rest of my life.
Once I got over the horrible imagery that followed the connection of my own life to the word "cancer", I realized I've got it pretty good. My grandfather had thyroid cancer and the same operation I will have. That was in 1968. He died just last November after a long and healthy life. My mom and her sisters have all dealt with some sort of thyroid issue and they are still bossing family members around with grace and finesse. I come from good stock, people.
My doctor assured me I was not "a ticking time bomb". He told me to schedule the surgery for some time after Thanksgiving.
It is amazing how certain news makes all those little planets orbiting around our heads at any given time--bills, the holidays, family, desk organization, laundry--line up for inspection. And, if they don't pass inspection, they are let go. Life makes perfect sense in those moments. As all those little planets left my orbit and wandered to a galaxy that I will revisit some time in 2011, I said, "Doc. I am scheduled to run a half-marathon on December 5th. Can we schedule the surgery after that?"
"Absolutely. I think it would be good for you to do that."
You have no idea how right your are, Doc. No idea at all.