Yo, I’m back and I promise every post isn’t going to be about death and cancer. But these two topics are pretty prominent in my life right now, cause that’s life. Here goes …
“We need to get you to 2019 without a reoccurrence,” said every doctor in 2014.
It is 2019. Nothing big reoccurred.
Let’s take a look back at my cancer saga …
In July of 2014, I went to my internist, Dr. Shawn Crabtree for a physical. I was not sick. The visit was purely for a wellness checkup. It was a warm, sunny day. I had on a maxi dress. Jack was at summer camp. I planned to see the doctor and hit up Trader Joe’s before I grabbed Jack. Lucy was about 11-weeks-old and 70 percent crate trained. I was pumped summer!
The day had other plans for me.
Dr. Crabtree found a lump in my neck during the physical exam. She guided my hand over it, so I could feel it. The mass felt like a grape and Dr. Crabtree was surprised I hadn’t felt it. The thing is, no one ever told me to check my neck. (I’m telling you to do it, right now!) I’d done plenty of self breast exams over the years.
I left the office with an order for a soft tissue head and neck ultrasound. A few days later I was reclined in a big chair and an ultrasound technician was guiding a transducer all over my neck. When she pressed on the lump, it was tender.
Everything started coming back to me. I realized I was not exactly symptom-free. I had a on-and-off dull ear-ache, cough and my voice was raspy. I went to an urgent care center and the doctor gave me an inhaler (WTH? I didn’t even use it). He didn’t notice the lump in my neck either (Don’t even at me).
I credited all of my symptoms to allergies, because I was always outside with Jack playing in a sandbox, on a dusty T-ball field, kicking a soccer ball in the grass and walking our brand new puppy. It turned out my symptoms were actually signs of Thyroid Cancer. Yah.
The ultrasound revealed a 4 centimeter mass — that’s considered very substantial and problematic. In fact, the mass was so large, the entire right side of my thyroid was covered. I remember Dr. Jatin Shah, who was Chief of Head & Neck Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center saying: “What thyroid, my dear? The entire right lobe is covered!” Gulp.
Dr. Shah sent me for a fine-needle biopsy. I was really worked up about having a giant needle jabbed into my neck so cells and fluid could be extracted. Even though I knew I was getting a local first, I was a wreck, googling, “Fine needle biopsy, neck, pain, thyroid cancer, death …” and OK, drinking, red wine.
Well, it turns out, the biopsy didn’t actually hurt. I just felt pressure.
The results were inconclusive, but it didn’t matter — the mass couldn’t stay lodged in my neck. So, on August 18, 2014, I had my first cancer surgery. My mom, dad and older brother populated the waiting room. I was wheeled off into a bright room and went to sleep.
My surgeon, Dr. Erik Cohen removed the right side of my thyroid, along with the mass. I woke up with a drain in my neck and my mom standing over my bed. “Hi Chris,” she said. My mom always called me “Chris.” She stayed with me for a quick visit, but left with Carlo to get Jack from my friend’s home. (I was so lucky to have a tribe during cancer, and well, in general.)
I was happy I had half of a functioning thyroid, at least. (In case you didn’t know, your thyroid is your body’s battery: It produces hormones that regulate metabolic rate, digestive function, muscle control, brain development, mood and bone maintenance.)
Alas, I only got to keep the left lobe until September 10, 2014. Everything that Dr. Cohen removed was sent to pathology. My diagnosis was final: Follicular variant of papillary thyroid carcinoma (FV-PTC). The rest of my thyroid needed to come out. Now I needed to be on drugs for life, to replicate what my thyroid used to do. (I take Synthroid and T3 daily. The meds are not without side effects, but I deal.)
I was two surgeries in and on my meds, when a PET scan revealed a small spot on my chest. That was unfortunate. I needed radiation. But before the radiation could commence, I needed to go on a low-iodine diet and get two thyrogen injections (just a pinch) in my ass.
Then I swallowed the Radioactive Iodine pill (RAI) and isolated in my apartment for 4 days. I was contaminated. No one could come near me. The entire process was like a bizarre science experiment. If you’re curious about my ordeal with radiation, click here. (I binged Showtime’s Weeds for 4 days straight. Nancy Botwin is a single mom boss.)
So, now it’s been five years. Five years of monitoring my body through blood work, ultrasounds, the occasional fine needle biopsy, scans. These tests will be in my life forever.
It’s also been 5 years of anxiety about cancer reoccurring. Five years of frustration over medication ups and downs. Five years adjusting to a new body type. I was 119 pounds before I got sick. I am not 119 pounds anymore. The thing is, when a doctor says, “You have cancer,” you immediately join the Big C club and things shift.
Look, the shift isn’t all bad or negative. In fact, I’ve tried to stay positive. I have a kid, after all. Things did change, but I’ve been able to say, I lived through that horror, what’s next? That’s basically where I am today.
Next week, on April 10th, I’ll drive to Memorial Sloan Kettering in Basking Ridge, NJ to complete my 5-year remission tests. I’m getting lab work and a soft tissue head and neck ultrasound. The appointments start at 10 am. When they are concluded I will drive to Urban Table, eat food and have a glass of champagne. I will go alone. It’s just how I do it. (I have 74 people to go with me, however.)
Then I’ll drive to Jack’s soccer practice in Cedar Grove and sit on the bleachers while he trains, like I wasn’t at the hospital all day, or waiting for good or bad test results. At this point hours will have passed and the stalking of my MyMSK online patient portal will commence.
I will click “test results” and refresh until they post. The blood work posts pretty quickly.
I will be able to tell what’s up with my body by 2 factors:
1. The level of Thyroglobulin in my blood. Because I had a thyroidectomy — thyroglobulin is a cancer marker, or a red flag. I need this level to be very low or completely undetectable. It’s been low for 5 years.
2. I also need the radiologist to submit a report that says my neck is clean.
The good news is, I’m alive and it’s five years later, guys. I made it to 2019, like all the doctors told me I had to — and I know my mom is watching over me. I know she’ll be with me on the 10th.
I made it to my finish line — almost.
Until next time,
P.S. If anyone has Thyroid Cancer Qs - comment on Facebook. I’ll do my best to answer your Qs. #CheckYourNeckNOW