In the beginning…Posted: March 15, 2011
That seems like a good way to start a story, doesn’t it? I’m sure I read that somewhere.
First off, I gotta say why I’m doing this. I am, by trade, a writer. It’s what I do best. Of course, at the moment I’m not doing much of it, but that’s another story that you probably don’t care about. The reason you are reading this is because you or someone you love has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. You are probably pretty frightened. No one likes to hear the “c-word.” I don’t care for it much myself. In fact, I debated avoiding its use altogether, but figured that would make it kinda difficult for people to find this blog, which would defeat the purpose.
Anyway, you are probably scared, but also optimistic because you’ve heard stuff like “thyroid cancer is the best kind of cancer you can get,” and it’s “highly curable.” I’m going to assume those things are true, because I already named the blog “beating thyroid cancer” and so far I haven’t done anything. I’m still a week away from my surgery.
I’m going to let this blog be my diary as I go through it. I doubt that many people will read it in real time, though. Probably only after it’s over and the happy ending has been penned.
So let’s get you caught up to what’s happened so far.
I am a 41-year-old man, living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have been married for 15 years, and we have two kids, an 11-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy. I am a sports writer by trade. I’ve covered major league baseball for the past 13 years.
I was also born with only one kidney, which has nothing to do with my thyroid cancer except that’s the reason the disease was discovered. Once a year I see a nephrologist (that’s a kidney specialist) who checks me out to make sure my lone kidney is doing OK. So far, so good. When I went for my appointment in February, the doctor was feeling my neck and he felt a little lump. He made me swallow water about six times while he kept his hands on my throat, just to be sure he was feeling what he thought he was. He still wasn’t too sure. He gave me the old: “It’s probably nothing, but if you’ve got the time, you should go to an endocrinologist to have it checked out.” I was just about to go out of town for a week, so I made the appointment for Mar. 2, the first day I was back.
Dr. Q (we’ll give him a name, since he’ll be a recurring character) felt my neck and couldn’t be sure there was a nodule in there or not. He did an ultrasound in his office and, voila, there it was. He said it wasn’t very big, about 1.5 cm. He also said that 90 percent of these nodules are benign. However, he did push me to get it biopsied as soon as possible.
A week later I was in his office for an FNA (fine needle aspiration) biopsy. It was pretty quick and relatively painless. Just felt like a little prick. He said he got good samples and we’d know within a week. My wife and I weren’t thrilled that we’d have to wait that long, but I still assumed it would be benign. Ninety percent, right?
Two days later, I got a call from the doctor’s office. He wanted to see me the next morning. When I asked why, the nurse said she assumed I knew, but she’d check with Dr. Q when he finished with his patient and call me back. Obviously I assumed that if the results were benign, the nurse could have told me right then and that would be the end of the story, so I already had a bad feeling. A few minutes later, she called back. “I talked to Dr. Q, and he said he’ll talk to you about the results tomorrow.”
That’s when I knew I had cancer.
Needless to say, neither me nor my wife got much sleep that night. We put on our brave faces for the kids, sent them to school and went to the office. When we got there, Dr. Q told me: “We got the results of the biopsy, and it was not benign.” He quickly added: “If God is going to give you cancer, this is the best kind of cancer to get.” I asked about the “good” thyroid cancer and the “bad” cancer (I’d been googling) and he assured me that I had the good kind. Pappillary thyroid cancer. Highly treatable. Then he told me about what was going to happen. He was going to refer me to a surgeon, who would remove my entire thyroid. Then I’d be on some medication, and then I’d take some radiation pills, and then I’d be all better. He didn’t want to overwhelm me with too much information about what was down the road. Just focus on one step at a time.
He also cautioned me against reading too much stuff on the internet. Of course I couldn’t help myself, but I did try to stick to reliable, medical sites like endocrineweb.com and the American Thyroid Association. Not all the sites were good. One described how it’s nice to take a vacation during recovery from a thyroidectomy, with an ad for Orbitz right there.
The bad news diagnosis came on Friday, Mar. 11. The surgeon Dr. Q recommended, Dr. W., was on vacation until Monday, so I had to spend the weekend still not sure exactly what was ahead of me. Would I call the surgeon on Monday and he’d be cutting me open on Tuesday? Or would it take weeks to get scheduled? I didn’t know, but I tried the best I could to enjoy my weekend. I coached my son’s baseball team and played on my adult-league hockey team. (We won a big game to make the playoffs.)
On Monday afternoon, my wife and I met Dr. W. He was in his late 50s and his hair, although real, somehow looked like a bad toupee. He smiled and immediately cracked some jokes to lighten the mood. He told us just what we wanted to hear. He said he’d done hundreds of thyroidectomies and none of his patients had ever died. He said mine was going to be a piece of cake, because I was young and it was caught early. He told me the surgery was easy. No muscles were cut. Very little blood would be lost. The risks were that he may damage my vocal cords, but he said he’d only seen that once in his career, and it was 20 years ago. He said I may have a calcium problem, but that didn’t worry me so much. I already take plenty of pills because of my one kidney, so one more calcium supplement, plus whatever hormone replacement I would need, wouldn’t be a big deal. He asked us if we had any other questions. I had only one or two, because he’d already answered the other 10 I had written on my notes.
My wife and I both felt a lot better after talking to Dr. W.
That was yesterday. Today, I feel even better, thanks to this story. It is about Mike Butcher, the pitching coach for the Los Angeles Angels, a major league baseball team. I actually know Mike from talking to him a dozen times in my job as a baseball writer. I had heard that he had cancer and was recovering, but I didn’t realize until today that he had the same type of cancer as me. I read the story and felt like he had the identical experience as me, just six weeks ahead of me. He was doing great. I sent Mike an email. Haven’t heard back from him yet, but I’m hoping I’ll have a cancer buddy.