The Diagnosis, or The Big C Strikes Again

Three or four months ago, probably, I noticed a bit of swelling on my neck. I didn’t think too much of it. Then my husband asked me about it. I brought it up to the nurse practitioner at the gynecologist’s office and asked her if it could be a swollen lymph node. She was non-committal on that but didn’t seem concerned. The swelling stuck around and I went to the general practitioner. That got me on the road to an ultrasound and a visit with an E.N.T.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. It puts out hormones that affect many bodily functions. (Photo: Scorpions and Centaurs/Flickr)

The E.N.T. told me that the ultrasound showed I had nodules on my thyroid. In most cases, he said, it’s nothing to be concerned about. However, one of mine was just large enough to qualify for a needle biopsy. The E.N.T. referred me to the hospital to have that done. Another couple of weeks went by trying to get that set up (the hospital is not on-the-ball with how it handles appointments).

The biopsy was terrible. I mean, I hate needles anyway, and I couldn’t see (and didn’t want to see) exactly what was happening, but it felt like someone picking up mashed potatoes with a straw by stabbing the straw repeatedly into the potatoes. Five syringes full, by my count.

So then it was over, and today (technically yesterday; it’s after midnight), I was fully expecting to hear the words, “It’s nothing to worry about.”

Instead I got, “You have thyroid cancer.”

So, at some point in the near future, I will have surgery to remove my thyroid.

I knew I was bound to get cancer at some point. My dad, his parents, two of his brothers, his sister, and a cousin on that side of the family have all had cancer. Several of Pap-pa’s siblings had cancer. I figured there was a good chance that it was in my genes. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t brush off the neck swelling any longer than I did.

The doctor told me all the things that can go horribly wrong, but usually don’t, like if something gets nicked, I could lose my ability to speak, or they could damage my parathyroid, which would affect my calcium levels and potentially lead to death. And I get it. Something could always go wrong when you have surgery, but something will definitely go wrong if I don’t.

He expects to get all the cancer, but if they can’t, I might have to take a radioactive pill, which my husband had years ago to kill his overactive thyroid. The biggest deal with that is that I would have to find somewhere else to stay for a few days, because I’d be radioactive and could kill the cats or cause more of my husband’s thyroid to die off, meaning adjustments for his medication.

But, it doesn’t sound like radiation or chemo would be a factor, so, that’s positive. Another positive: the doctor said if he had to get cancer and could pick, this is near the top of his list because it’s so treatable and has 90% survivability.

Of course, at the back of my mind all day has been those things we put off, thinking we have time, like a living will and an actual will and instructions on how to handle all my accounts on social media and genealogical websites. I should write my obituary, and set down the playlist for my funeral (I have many maudlin songs picked out). And should I put together my own funeral slideshow (I’ve already started building my mom’s, at her request)?

If that seems morbid, well, my family has always looked ahead. Mam-ma, my maternal grandmother, put pieces of masking tape on the bottom or back of things with the name of the person who was supposed to get it when she died. I mean, that was like, 20 years before she died she was doing that. She and Pap-pa created an estate plan and pre-paid for their funerals. My mom and dad also pre-paid for their funerals, and I typed up my dad’s obituary with input from him and my mom, after his cancer diagnosis.

Don’t think that I’m pessimistic about this. I think everything’s going to be fine. I mean, a couple of millimeters smaller, and the doctor wouldn’t have recommended the biopsy. So, I feel like we’ve caught it as early as it could be caught. This doctor also does facial plastic surgery, so I hope that means he has a fine touch and will get everything he’s supposed to get and damage nothing else. I’ll have a sore throat for a couple of weeks, and then the worst part, I hope, will be having to have blood tests every week or two to get the dosage right for the Synthroid I’ll be on for the rest of my life.

One final note – as I sat in the doctor’s office, my husband holding my hand, as we got the rundown on what would happen next, I flashed back to an improv exercise in a college acting class. My classmate was the doctor, and I was the woman just diagnosed with cancer. I asked questions, and I think by the end of the scene, a tear or two had rolled down my face. Afterwards, the class discussed, and one person said it didn’t seem realistic that I wasn’t more upset. “I’d be screaming and crying,” she said. But surrealistically it occurred to me, as I lived through that scene for real, I was spot on with my choices in that acting class 36 years ago.

About Taminar

When I grow up, I want to make movies and write books. Now in my 50s, I wonder if I'll ever really accomplish the dreams of my youth. I have made two short films, one for a college film-making class, the other for an MTV-sponsored contest. I have written short plays that have been produced, and a few short stories and reviews that have been published. I also perform and direct for community theatre. My working life has included stints in local TV news, public relations, retail management and cashier, and for a couple of years, I made the rides go at Walt Disney World. I have two cats and a husband.
This entry was posted in Cancer, Genealogy, My Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Diagnosis, or The Big C Strikes Again

  1. Wishing you all the best as you move through this difficult and emotional process of surgery and recovery!

  2. Eilene Lyon says:

    Glad they caught it early. Genetics can really be a bitch. I am grateful daily that cancer does not run in my family. Good luck with your procedure and best wishes for the best outcome.

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