Susan guest blogged for Lovely late last year, so when she approached me to write about another tough topic, I said, "yes!" She's an amazing writer and I am thrilled to have her back. Susan asked if she could write about her recent bout with thyroid cancer and how it impacted her life as a mother and woman. I am so happy to have Susan here today sharing her story; it seems as though #thyca is all over the news lately. Long time blogger and writer, and mom to a young son, Christine Coppa is currently on a #thyca journey (check out her piece on how she told her son about her cancer), and is documenting it for everyone, as raw and scary as it is. Thanks for sharing today, Susan!
As a new mom, the laser-focus I have on the well-being of my son is all-consuming. To the point that I push the health and needs of anyone else – including myself and my husband – to the side. Intellectually, I know this isn’t what’s best for me or my family. But the drive to protect my little guy is powerful and instinctual. It overshadows everything else.
That’s why my diagnosis of thyroid cancer a couple of months back was a sobering, important wake-up call. The news didn’t come out of the blue, but any concern I had about the growing lump in my neck was downgraded while I dealt with my pregnancy and that first hectic year of parenthood. I didn’t ignore the issue, I just wasn’t aggressive about it. Thankfully, the newly discovered cancer wasn’t aggressive either.
My journey from clueless to thyroid-less began more than two years ago, due to the incidental discovery of thyroid nodules during a neck ultrasound for unrelated pain issues. At the time, the nodules – considered extremely common, especially among women -- couldn’t be felt by a physical exam. I had them biopsied and they came back benign. About a year later, while 20 weeks pregnant with my son, I noticed the sudden appearance of the lump in my neck. Ultrasound follow-up indicated one of my nodules had grown, but I was told there wasn’t cause for concern. As the growth continued, I panicked that I’d have to deal with a major health crisis and a newborn at the same time. Thankfully, my endocrinologist told me to relax and follow-up after the baby was born. I hoped the enlargement was due to pregnancy hormones, but it didn’t shrink: it grew bigger and much more obvious last summer. It got to the point where I was eager for colder weather and turtleneck season, but I waited until October to see the doctor again.
At that visit he ordered a new biopsy, finally concerned by the rate of growth. He personally got back to me with the results, so I knew the news couldn’t be good. He was matter-of-fact about it. “If you’re going to have one cancer, this is the one to have,” he said. Excuse me for not feeling like I’d won the lottery. There’s no such thing as a “good” cancer – despite the fact that thyroid cancer has that reputation.
Another type of cancer that has a good rep in terms of treatment is prostate cancer – but the devil is in the details. My dad died from prostate cancer in 2011. Not the slow-growing kind typical of the diagnosis, but a rare, aggressive form.
I get it. The prognosis for thyroid cancer is generally excellent and the most common kind has a five year survival rate close to 100 percent. But there is more than one type of thyroid cancer and rarer forms can be deadly. I am lucky I was diagnosed with the more treatable/curable type, but I still had to undergo surgery to remove my thyroid. I still may need radioactive iodine therapy. And I still have to monitor my thyroid hormone levels and watch for recurrence the rest of my life.
Then there’s the matter of my sweet son and husband. Having any kind of cancer – even a treatable kind – brings my mind to places I don’t’ want it to go. I can’t imagine my life without them and I don’t want to think about their lives without me.
But that is life – and love. It wouldn’t be so precious if there wasn’t the worry that it could get taken away too soon. The trick is to understand that and use it for positive motivation – not an excuse to live in constant fear.
As we move into a New Year, I hope to learn from this latest bump in the road. I’m making those doctor’s appointments I put off, and I’m remembering how important it is for me and my husband to take care of ourselves and each other, not just our little one.