Dear Thyroid: Thanks for the Memories
A few months ago, I wrote about how I was feeling tired a lot and rundown, and how my new exercise program was helping me to feel better. For a good while, it was helping. I was feeling GREAT. Really GREAT.
Then, somewhere around the end of November, I hit a weird plateau. The exercise started to have little to no effect, the tiredness and irritability started to return, and I noticed that after just a short time on the elliptical, my joints — in particular, my hips — would ache. A lot. When practicing yoga, I struggled holding poses that I used to be able to hold without pain. And no matter how many calories I burned, the scale would not move.
Concerned, I went to my primary care doc, who ran a slew of blood tests. I was way overdue for my yearly physical anyway, so I relayed all of my problems to her. Lo and behold, it turns out that I wasn’t going crazy after all, and that these problems weren’t just in my head, as a few people implied. It turns out that I have hypothyroidism. That means that my thyroid is no longer producing enough thyroid hormone on its own, so it was working really, really hard to do what it’s supposed to do. And since it was working so hard, it was wearing itself out.
While mostly everyone knows what a thyroid is, many people don’t quite know what it does. I’ve learned over the past few years that your thyroid affects the function of just about every organ in your body. It affects your body temperature, your moods, your metabolism, your fertility, your heartbeat, your digestion, and a thousand other bodily functions. If it stops working, well, then your body essentially goes haywire.
The scary part of this is that I already knew — have known for years — that I have nodules on my thyroid. Those were discovered incidentally by a CT scan I had to have for an unrelated problem. I have no idea how they got there or how long they had been there before they were found. Since then, I’ve been a good girl and been having my nodules “followed” with annual ultrasounds. However, because my thyroid hormone levels came back all wacky this time, my PCP ordered another ultrasound on my nodules. Mind you, I had just had an ultrasound in April, and everything was fine back then.
This time, however, everything wasn’t fine. The nodules are now growing and changing. One is now over 2 cm (considered large), several of them are at or over 1 cm, and a bunch of new little ones have decided to join the party. Fabulous.
I was referred to a wonderfully skilled and highly intelligent endocrinologist/surgeon, and she presented me with two choices: Have all of the “suspicious” nodules biopsied, which means having a very long needle jammed in my neck upwards of 6 or 8 times, and then hope for the best. The endocrinologist explained, however, that there is a chance that the needle could “miss” a cancer if it was present, especially because the 2 cm nodule allowed plenty of room for error. (By endocrinology standards, 1 cm is deemed suspicious.) In addition, this is a process that would need to be repeated once or twice a year to ensure that no cancer was present. I have a five year old. There is no room for error.
Option two, she said, was to have a thyroidectomy, which is a complete removal of the thyroid gland. They would then biopsy the thyroid and, if they find anything “bad,” I would need more treatment, which typically comes in the form of radioactive iodine and a multi-day quarantine.
After nearly (ok, completely) melting down in her office, I asked this compassionate doctor, who spent a full year on a fellowship at Yale studying these disorders, what she would do. She said she would elect to have the surgery. My thyroid is covered in nodules, which are not going away. Also, my thyroid is no longer working. “It’s pooped out,” she said. Either way, I’ll be on medication for the remainder of my life.
After careful deliberation, I am taking her advice and having the surgery, which is scheduled for next week. As a mom, a wife and a person who suffers from an elevated degree of medical anxiety, this has not been an easy decision for me to make. After all, in nearly every aspect of my life, I am plagued by “paralysis by analysis” — meaning I will over-analyze everything to the point where I am unable to make a decision (thanks a lot, Google). Heck, it took me two months to decide what color I wanted to dye my hair — and now I was being asked to make a decision that will literally affect me for the rest of my life.
I’m hoping and praying that my surgery goes as smoothly as planned and that the pathology comes back clean and that I can move on toward healing. If you happen to think of it next Wednesday, please say an extra little prayer for me. If you’re not the religious type, then please send me some good vibrations. As is overwhelmingly obvious, I’m a little (ok, a lot) nervous about this whole thing.
I debated for a while as to whether to share this “story” of mine on my blog. I try to keep my posts on here light-hearted and joyful, and this certainly isn’t either of those things. I also don’t want anyone to tell me I’m making the wrong decision. But then I thought that there might be another mama out there who’s also feeling overly rundown, exhausted all the time, or just not like herself. If this is you, you might want to ask your doctor to check your neck. As scary as the “not knowing” is, there are doctors out there who will listen.
For more information about thyroid disorders, click here: Thyroid Disease Fact Sheet
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