2022: The year with the Cancer

I have lots of labels in my life. Mother, wife, boss, employee, runner, and so many others [insert most family relations here]… but in 2022 I added a new one to my list and it’s one I still can’t quite wrap my brain around.

Cancer Survivor 

Let me explain. But to do that, we need to rewind 5ish years. 

Actually, maybe we’ll rewind about 15ish years.

A long long time ago…. I was feeling kind of crummy and tired and rundown. And I mentioned this to my OB/GYN at an annual appointment, as that seems to be the medical provider that a lot of women see the most regularly. (Except me, I haven’t seen one in a long time, so add that to my infinitely long to do list.) In addition to the standard, “yep, ladies are often tired” they did some bloodwork and discovered that my thyroid levels were low. 

And that I had mono… 

Okay, weird…

But the mono eventually went away. I assume. I don’t think anyone has tested me for that since then. They were more concerned with the thyroid levels. Maybe I still have mono?

I was put on a synthetic thyroid replacement and for about a decade I just kept taking that, having regular bloodwork to see if things were in the lab printout “normal range”, tweaked the dosage a little, and carried on.

So now we’ll go back to 5 years ago. Maybe it was 6 years ago… I went to my primary care doc for an annual checkup and she was poking and prodding at me, as doctors are wont to do. As she was feeling my neck she said, “How long have you had this lump in your neck?” 

I don’t know… I didn’t know I had a lump in my neck. You’re the doctor that I see every year, you tell me. 

So she referred me to an otolaryngologist for an ultrasound. And he determined that I needed a fine needle aspiration biopsy to see what was going on there. 

2017 in my car after a fine needle aspiration of a lump in my throat. I have a big band aid on my throat.

And the biopsy came back saying, “You’re fine. It’s fine. Nothing to see here…” AKA, benign. AKA, not cancer. (Evidently, this was in July 2017, cause I found this picture! Digital hoarding paying off!)

I left, with a bandage on my neck, a referral to an endocrinologist for ongoing care, and instructions to get it re-ultrasounded each year to see if it changes.

Tick tock tick tock tick tock…

And change it did! 

Each year the lump was a little bit larger. And with my ultrasound in late 2021, my endocrinologist said the lump was the cause of some swallowing difficulty I was having as it had grown enough to where it was pushing on my esophagus. He said he’d recommend that I get it taken out sooner rather than later. So it was back to the same otolaryngologist in January of 2022 to see what he had to say about the ultrasound results. 

He concurred, it needed to come out and before I knew it, I had surgery scheduled on my calendar, along with some appointments in between to prep for the surgery.

(I also got a letter from my insurance a few days before the surgery, saying that after reviewing my files they have concluded that I needed the surgery. I’m glad the suits at the insurance company decided that when I had three medical doctors who felt the same.)

In the hospital the day of my first thyroid surgery with the markings on my neck of where they needed to cut me open.

February 7, 2022 I had the lump removed, along with the left side of my thyroid that it was attached to. It was a 4.7cm 28g lump of… something. It was sent to pathology. And pathology at the Las Vegas hospital where I had the surgery couldn’t tell what it was, so they sent it to the Mayo Clinic.

The surgeon told me to avoid strenuous activity for 2-4 weeks, so I said, “alright, I can run again in 2 weeks.” He looked at me and said, “2-4 weeks” and I said, “sure… I got it. 2 weeks. I can run again in 2 weeks.”

I started power walking the day after I got home from my one-night stay in the hospital after surgery. And kept doing that for 2 weeks and then I started running again. I had no difficulty getting back into the swing of that. I also got a Nordictrack bike in that time and started cycling at home too. I felt freakin’ fantastic. I just kept taking the same dose of synthetic thyroid I was on before surgery and life proceeded as usual, except I had pain while swallowing for a while since my throat was operated on.

On the treadmill days after surgery. I still have the steri strip on my neck.

About 4 weeks after my surgery I got called back to the surgeon’s office so they could tell me the diagnosis. 

Hürthle Cell Carcinoma.

(My otolaryngologist calls it “hur-tell”. My endo calls it “hur-thell”. The Mayo site calls it “heert-luh”. So who knows what it’s supposed to be called for sure. Probably the Mayo clinic…) 

The doctor did say that it was probably a Mr. Hürthle lump the whole time and there was no way the initial biopsy could have detected that, it was only after it was removed and dissected that it could be determined.

That was the day that I was given the title of a cancer survivor. And could honestly say that I “had” cancer. Even if the lump was removed before I ever even knew that it contained cancer. 

I was told the next step was to have the rest of my thyroid removed, for safety reasons. Just to make sure there weren’t any more of these cancer cells hanging out in the other lobe. 

They also did lymph node mapping, which was more ultrasounding on my neck to look at the lymph nodes. A couple of them looked kind of questionable, so I had to get a fine needle aspiration biopsy on those too, but those results came back negative. 

Anywho, I was scheduled to go back to the hospital on May 21, 2022, and have the rest of my thyroid excised. 

This is getting lengthy… we’ll break this up some. Part two to come…


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