Happy New Year, readers! I hope 2017 has been treating everyone splendidly thus far!
Truthfully? For me, the start of 2017 has been a total whirlwind. Stressful, emotional, draining – that describes my new year to a T. Even though we’re only 21 days in, it’s felt way longer.
My goal for 2017 was to work on cultivating and maintaining an Attitude of Gratitude, but man, I got a kick-start on it that I never expected.
Hold that thought – I’ll come back to it in a second.
I started a.healthier.happy back in November ’15 because I came to some major realizations about the products we use day in and day out, and wanted to spread that knowledge. The more I researched, the more shocked I was to learn how unsafe everyday, Big Brand Name products are – everything from beauty/personal products to household cleaning products.
These products contain an unbelievable potpourri of chemical ingredients that can affect how our bodies function, and can do damage in a variety of ways – everything from causing allergic reactions to disrupting our endocrine/reproductive systems to even causing cancer.
So, while my blog ultimately exists to help readers choose healthier products and live healthier lives, in a way, I also feel that my blog is my own personal way of taking a stand against cancer.
If you’ve read my post from October, Pink Ribbon Problem, Part 1: “Pinkwashing” the Truth, you are well aware of my views regarding how all cancer (not just breast cancer) is a prevention problem that’s being swept under the rug. In Part 2, I go on to discuss how people need to take control of any preventative factors they can.
And so, my husband and I have drastically changed the things we eat and use, in order to gain as much control as possible over our risk factors, and I like to encourage my readers to do the same in each of my blog posts.
That being said, now let’s circle back around to why my 2017 has been so crazy so far. It even feels weird to type this, but…I had a cancer scare.
I am so unbelievably grateful that I can sit here right now writing that I just had a scare, rather than having to say that I actually have cancer.
In today’s world, we live in a constant state of paranoia about cancer. I’m sure you’ve heard comedians joke about it: “I sneezed today, and looked on Web MD to see what might be wrong. Turns out I might have cancer!” Cue knowing laughter from the crowd.
It’s true though – haven’t we all been there? Web MD can scare the bejeezus out of you, simply because there’s a kernel of fear in each of our brains aware that you can go to the doctor for one seemingly innocent thing, yet receive a horrific diagnosis. It doesn’t help that most of us know someone who’s had that happen, too.
Yeah, we can try to take the power away from it by joking about our fears, but that doesn’t help at all when things start to become a reality. You can psych yourself out looking at a website and incorrectly self-diagnosing, but when you have a doctor actually find something in your body, well, that’s a whole other ball game.
It all began with some really weird sensations in my lower neck. I started experiencing a sensation of something kind of choking me from within, touching my windpipe and even gagging me a little. Sometimes it would feel like the base of my neck had inflated in a ring, to the point I’d reach to touch it to prove nothing was there. I had tenderness, some swelling, and a general sensation that something was “in” my neck. Swallowing, talking, and other common activities like whistling or humming produced discomfort in the affected area.
Despite my aversion to all things medical, I saw an Ear, Nose, & Throat Specialist, who first performed a throat endoscopy to ensure that I didn’t have tongue or throat cancer. However, when he was feeling my neck, he noted that there was some enlargement and a bump (a “nodule”) on the right side of my thyroid. At this point, no real cause for alarm. Nodules? Totally common.
An ultrasound was performed to assess the situation in greater detail, and here’s where it became a different story. My nodule is no tiny bump. It’s the size of a peach pit. It makes the right side of my thyroid literally double the size of the left side. Worse yet, the nodule was considered suspicious, because it has a liquid and a solid component with calcification (ones that are merely liquid-filled cysts are almost always benign).
My ENT’s recommendation was for a partial thyroidectomy, but he wanted me to see an Endocrinologist for a second option and for further action regarding a biopsy, before seeing a surgeon.
I took this news like a sledgehammer to the face. Here I had gone in thinking maybe I just had an over/underactive thyroid or possibly mild thyroiditis, and I’m coming out with a suspicious – huge – thyroid nodule that could potentially be cancer and needs surgery.
I will never ever in my life forget the stunned, just-hit-by-a-bus feeling I had after that appointment, sitting in my car trying to process this information. It felt like my world had been turned upside down. I wanted to wake myself up from the nightmare, but couldn’t.
Thankfully, I was able to score an appointment with an Endocrinologist that was only a week away (thanks to a cancellation), though it was still a very long week waiting to see what the Endo would have to say about my situation. I imagined every scenario.
Finally, appointment day came, and my husband and I headed to see the Endo. As expected, she agreed on the need for a biopsy, since that would determine the time frame for and extent of my surgery. She agreed with my ENT’s recommendation for a partial thyroidectomy, though she warned that it would need to be a full thyroidectomy if the mass was cancerous. I am so thankful that I picked a fantastic doctor, as she and her staff made me feel so comfortable and supported, despite the gravity of this appointment.
I’m extremely intuitive, and I could definitely pick up concern in her face and voice, despite her maintaining a careful, professional neutrality about my nodule. It could just be my mind creating things that don’t exist, but I think my nodule genuinely had her worried.
So, a biopsy was performed right then and there, which did hurt, but the really painful part was dreading the wait – I was told to expect up to one week for my results.
Even though I knew that my recent blood work was 100% perfect and that I have no family history of thyroid issues (let alone thyroid cancer), I couldn’t get that possibility out of my mind. The pamphlet from the doctor’s office stated that a fantastic 90% of thyroid nodules are benign, but the 10% absolutely haunted me day and night.
That hideous word kept creeping into my every thought, no matter how much I tried to distract myself. Cancer. Cancer. Me?! It lodged itself in my brain like a parasite.
I have to pause to acknowledge that thyroid cancer is theoretically one of the “better,” less dangerous cancers to have, which sounds so odd to say, but it’s true. That calmed my nerves somewhat, but the problem is you just. never. know. I kept envisioning a horrific scenario where mine would be a clinical anomaly, an aggressive one that had already invaded my whole body. Totally illogical and unreasonable, I know, but the things running through your mind in a scenario like this are far from logical.
During the week of waiting, I kept myself together for the most part, but there were moments that I fell to pieces under the weight of not knowing my fate. This undoubtedly has been the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through, and I’m so grateful to have an amazing husband, who kept me from going off the edge when I was only clinging by a finger. I only told a few other people, given the sensitivity of the situation and not wanting to discuss it and/or worry everyone until I knew the facts, but I’m so grateful for their support as well.
Finally, it came. The moment that could change everything. My phone rang, and for as much as I’d agonized over how I’d even be able to answer the phone, I did it with no hesitation.
I immediately heard in my doctor’s greeting tone that this was a positive call, and she promptly led with a joyful “I have great news!” Relief washed over me. Those were the most beautiful words I’d heard in a long, long time.
As you can guess, my nodule is, in fact, benign. Hooray! With three spots having been biopsied, their confidence level in its benign-ness is through the roof. And I couldn’t be happier.
Yeah, I’m still going to need a partial thyroidectomy to get this bugger out of me. Honestly, I’d rather jump out of a plane into shark-infested waters than have surgery, but you know what? I can handle this. I am so beyond grateful for it being benign that it eclipses the fact that I need surgery.
I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s amazing how being confronted with the possibility of an awful diagnosis changes your perspective. We all have problems and challenges, but that stuff pales in comparison to the abysmal “c” word.
Yeah, you know, my life isn’t perfect, but this made me realize how much I love my life and everything I have. Sometimes it’s a mess, but it’s my mess and it’s beautiful. And nothing is going to take that from me.
If nothing else, this type of experience makes you really realize that health should never be taken for granted. Things can change in an instant, so health should not only be cherished, but nurtured carefully. You never know when there’s going to be a moment of reckoning, and you definitely want to be in the green, not in the red, when your health gets added up.
As you know, I’ve spent the last several years focused on eating healthy and choosing better products, and I’m glad, because there’s that nagging question in my mind: “What if I hadn’t?” Would the result of my biopsy have been different, if I lived a lifestyle of not taking care of myself? Who knows, but I can say that this has certainly reaffirmed my commitment to living the healthiest I can.
This situation has been emotionally exhausting, and certainly a bummer cost-wise, though I truly have been wearing my Attitude of Gratitude goggles, which has made a world of difference. Sure, it would be easy to sit and gripe about how stressful it is, how expensive, play all the “Why me?” cards, etc., but I’ve chosen to focus on the positives that exist in the situation. Even in such an unpleasant thing, there have been many blessings so far.
Even if I were unable to see the little blessings, the most obvious is, of course, that I got to receive good news from my biopsy results. I can’t stop thinking about all the people – every single day – who receive bad news. Even while I was on the phone with my doctor, I bet someone somewhere was receiving bad news. It breaks my heart.
My takeaway? There’s always something to be grateful for in every situation, no matter how bad it seems. Perspective is everything. It’s something to carry with you every day, in every situation. As I move through 2017, I want to continue using what I’ve learned, and hope you can too!
Wishing you healthier, happier days!