Sandwiched into all of that was some not-so-minor health issues which I’m still going to be dealing with for a few more months to come. In late September, just after WordCamp Baltimore, I had to have my thyroid totally removed because it had grown too large and gross to do me any more good.
The biopsies leading up to the surgery, as well as all the biopsies I’d had in prior years, were all negative, but the surgeon and I decided it would still be better to remove it because:
- The biopsies could return a false negative if the bits tested just missed any cancer that was hiding and…
- There was a much higher risk of developing cancer in the future than having any complications from the surgery.
So out it came, and a good thing too, because it turned out that there was cancer in my thyroid after all, three stage one carcinomas each measuring less than one centimeter each.
It’s kind of a weird thing to be diagnosed with cancer after (theoretically, at least) the cancer was removed. And a protip: if you’re gonna get cancer, pick thyroid cancer, because it is the easiest to cure, with something like a 98% survival rate. But that doesn’t mean the story is over yet.
Unlike other cancers which are usually treated with nasty chemotherapy and/or radiation beams, thyroid cancer is cured through a combination of surgery to remove it (check) and a special kind of treatment called Radioactive Iodine therapy (RAI). RAI is where you take a pill of radioactive iodine (Iodine 131, if you want to get technical) which makes its way to the leftover thyroid cells that surgery can’t remove and kills them, along with any cancerous thyroid cells that might be leftover in the neck, or anywhere else in the body they may have traveled.
The upshot of all of this is I’ll literally be radioactive, emitting gamma rays and beta particles wherever I go. I’ll be in the hospital for the first three days when I’m the hottest, more to protect other people than because of any health risks to me. After that, I’m planning to make myself scarce and head out of town by myself for awhile. Most people can stay home and isolate themselves away from the general public, but since I have two kids, including a five year old who wouldn’t understand why Mommy can’t touch, hug or kiss her, it would be better if I just stayed somewhere by myself for a few weeks.
This is all scheduled to happen right after Christmas, and I’ll be away for the entire month of January, so don’t expect to see me at any meetups or other gatherings. Fortunately, the half-life of I-131 is only eight days, so after about a month or so I should be safe to be around my family and other people again.
And I wouldn’t say that this all hasn’t freaked me out on many levels. Every lump is a new tumor (when actually it’s just a cyst or a blocked pore) and every headache is an aneurysm ready to burst (when actually, it’s just my hormone levels going all wonky and lack of sleep). Every doctor that I’ve talked to (including my best friend from high school who’s a pediatrician) has said that I’m going to be fine and my life expectancy is the same as it ever was. But with a crazy family history like mine, where everyone has either died of cancer south of fifty, or else gone on to live well into their eighties or nineties, I can’t help but wonder what if next time, it isn’t something so easily curable?
Even once this is all over, it won’t really be over. I’ll have to be monitored for the rest of my life to make sure the cancer hasn’t come back. And that’s in addition to the lifelong treatment I’ll need to replace the hormones that the now-absent thyroid produced in the first place. But for now the prognosis is good, and there’s even some appeal to being all by myself for a little while (time enough at last to work on all those nagging little projects I’ve been neglecting). And of course I’ll be on Twitter, same as usual. Maybe I can even binge-watch some TV. I heard good things about that Breaking Bad show…
In the meantime, this has become my favorite song.