With Thyroid Cancer Awareness month coming to an end, I found myself reflecting upon the last two years and all the experiences that I have had, along with all the emotions. Some experiences and emotions I grew to love, and others I grew to hate – avoiding many at any cost for some time. Yes, a lesson I learned the hard way is – “never cut your nose to spite your face.”
Fear. Joy. Gratitude. Humility. Laughter. Tears. Sorrow. Pity. Happiness. Emotions and experiences. All of them had but one thing in common: the sense of self that I discovered on my way back to living life with cancer to living life as a cancer survivor.
I am a Warrior paving my way to a life I was forced to redefine, re-evaluate, revive (in a matter of speaking), and to live however I choose, feel and desire to. The day-to-day, petty nusances I was once bothered with were suddenly looking quite small and childish to the what I call “Really?!” moments of life. Feeling overwhelmed at times, insecure, and lost is no comparison to what has been gained: knowledge and understanding, hindsight, looking back in terms of what happened, what’s to come and what is.
Unfortunately, there is no Thyroid Cancer for Dummies book (well, at least not yet). So, upon this amazing month of Thyroid Cancer Awareness to reflect and embrace our connection to one another in this world, I find it only best to share with you my experiences and the Reader’s Digest version of my top ten signs (or “eyebrow raising suspicions”) that it was time to get my thyroid checked.
- Looking back, my voice sounded like a man for about 4 months prior to the discovery of the big “C” card in my body. Unless allergies have completely re-vamped your voice in the past, loss of voice is the number one symptom in my book. Get your butt to the doctor.
- Rapid weight loss, hot flashes, mood swings, and sweaty armpits that never seem to quit. Put down the tissue and go see your doctor, shrink, nurse practitioner, anyone who will listen to your symptoms.
- And on the opposite scale…unwanted weight gain, hard to lose fat, loss of appetite and a constant bloated feeling.
- Hair loss or change or hair texture. Looking back, I wish I would have paid more attention to my lovely and beautiful hair dresser, Karly, when she mentioned an unusual amount of hair loss when tightening my extensions months before I discovered I was sick.
- Brittle nails or nails that literally seem to flake. This is not normal. Go see that crazy nail lady up the street and seek out her opinion because she sees thousands a week and might know if there is something unusual.
- Out of the ordinary skin changes. For me, I would always break out with a little acne when the seasons would change, but always had great skin. Reflecting back, I starting noticing deep-set pores and blackheads dating back a few months before finding out about the cancer.
- Changes in sleeping patterns. For me, it was the lack of sleep and anxiety I felt all the time. For others (and for me post-treatment) it’s the feeling of not enough sleep – fatigue, constant feeling of not feeling rested upon waking, even after 6-8-10 hours of sleep.
- Now this could just be me, but I found a change in the taste of food. While looking back upon eating some of my favorite foods, they all tasted “musty” pre-treatment, and had a “metallic-taste” post-treatment.
- Mood changes. This is a no brainer. If you are noticing any type of minor or major mood changes, lack of focus, lack of desire that is unusual to you and your daily routine and habits, consult a doctor. It could be one of many things, all of which should be addressed in my opinion. Life is better when you at least like your grass no matter the color.
- Neck tenderness. I had a hard time wearing necklaces for long periods of time prior to the discovery of my cancer. It also felt tender to the touch and I often found myself waking up to a stiff neck. Sure, sometimes it could have been the pillows, but really, I think it was the cancer.
Knowing a few of these things could have potentially saved me from rounds of napalm carpet cleaner from Canada (in other words, chemotherapy) along with 37 rounds of external beam radiation and 3 beautiful blue tats to go along with it. Maybe a few of these things will save someone, too. With all of the medical advancement available today, if one of these items saves just one person from having to lose their entire thyroid because of a late diagnosis, it is worth it. I’ll spill my guts all day long.
You, thyroid patients, are my family now. I have felt this way since the first time I logged into a thyroid support group online. Families are strong. We, as individuals, are now stronger than we give ourselves credit for, and together we are unstoppable.
My battle is one that is still underway and thanks to my advanced stage of the disease, it will be for the rest of my days here in this world. But so help me, (just like Natasha Bedingfield’s“Strip Me”), no one will take this from me. At this point in the progression of thyroid disease awareness, it’s unfathomable to stop. As my grandpa and my oh-so-cute boyfriend say, “slow and steady does win the race”. However, think of it as the “special kool-aid” to boost your chances of taking that coveted first place win in your fight for life.
“Never let someone determine how big or how small your fight is, only one person can do that and that’s not even God, that’s you!”~Nana Allred