My name is Lisa Nestor and I’d like to tell you my story of thyroid cancer, although I did not even know such a cancer existed until I got it! In October of 2003, I was 31-years-old. I had been married eight years, had a seven-year-old daughter and a four-month-old son. Life was great!
In late October, I had a HORRIBLE sinus infection, although I had never had one before and it got progressively worse as the days went on. I could not sleep or eat, so I went to the doctor and he said of course that I had a sinus infection and gave me antibiotics. He said, “While you are here, let me give you a quick physical.” He touched the side of my neck and said that he felt a small lump, which was probably nothing … it could just be a thyroid disorder. But just to be sure I should go to the hospital for a neck ultrasound. So I did. And he called me and said that they saw some abnormal activity and that it was probably just my thyroid acting up, but just to be sure I should go back to the hospital for a biopsy.
As I sat in the waiting room with my lovely hospital gown on, a nurse came in and tried to reassure my nerves! She said that five were being tested for cancer that day and only one will have it, so I had a one in five chance. The biopsy really was no big deal. I hardly felt the needle and I tried to stay positive, although I have always been a pessimist! Anyway, on January 2nd at 9:00 a.m. on the dot, I got a call from the nurse at my doctor’s office. She said that I should go in for my results and that I really should bring someone with me. I started shaking on the phone and blurted “OH MY GOD!!!! I have cancer!!” She tried to calm me down, would not say a word and just said I needed to go in.
So, the day after, my husband and I went in and the whole time I was in the waiting room my husband held my hand and kept telling me that everything is going to be fine. Well, as the receptionist called my name and I entered through the door, she had tears in her eyes and gave me a hug. I was overwhelmed! Tony and I entered the doctor’s office and I said “Please tell me anything. Just don’t tell me it’s cancer.” He responded with, “I am so sorry, but I can’t do that. You have papillary thyroid cancer.” I was numb. I remember thinking that I will never see my daughter walk down the aisle or dance with my son at his wedding or grow old with Tony. Tony and I had so many questions. Will I live? How did I get this? What is the survival rate? But he simply could not answer these questions. The doctor said he was going to give me the best surgeon he knew (and boy did he ever!). My surgery was set for January 21st 2004.
The morning of January 21st 2004, I dropped my daughter off at a friend’s house. My friend gave me a hug and told me not to worry about my daughter and that she would take her to school, pick her up and drop her off at my parents’ house. My son was with my parents. We hugged, said “See you later!” and off Tony and I went.
The staff and hospital were GREAT. As I was wheeled away, I told Tony I loved him and have always loved him! Surgery lasted for about 10 hours! My cancerous thyroid and a few lymph nodes were removed. I remember waking up and being thrilled I was still alive! The day after, I got up to go to the bathroom and I was brought to tears at what was looking back at me! My neck looked like Frankenstein and I had this blood bag hanging from my chest. But nonetheless … I was ALIVE! I was immediately put on Synthroid and the surgeon said my survival rate was great! Three days later, I went home and then back to the hospital for radiation and three days in isolation at home. I was isolated to my room and my mom made my meals and would leave them behind the door. These were MISERABLE three days with no contact from my children or Tony or anyone! But once it was done, I was thrilled I could now go on with my life, especially since my surgeon and endocrinologist said that I had a great survival rate!
A week later, my daughter was diagnosed with severe pneumonia and was hospitalized. Her left lung was filled with pus pockets and we had no idea if she was going to live or not. As any mother would, I put my own health issues aside and slept on the hospital floor for the next 10 days. I would not leave her side. Finally, they gave her an antibiotic that was clearing up her lungs and we took her home and nursed her back to 100 percent health! Life was finally starting to be normal again except that I had a missing thyroid and had to take Synthroid everyday. I felt great. I did not have the typical symptoms that most people have before or after papillary cancer. I woke up early, did my usual daily tasks, went to bed at my usual time and even exercised daily.
In 2006, I went in to the hospital for a routine checkup. Thinking the radiologist was going to say “Everything is fine,” I jumped off the table, looked over at Tony and said, “Let’s go to lunch.” The radiologist responded with, “You are not going anywhere because you have cancerous lymph nodes.” OMG! We went back to his office and this cold, sick man told me that I would not live to see the year’s end! I was HYSTERICAL! He said, “We could try to give you a small dose of radiation and see if the lymph nodes respond to it.” I asked about chemo, but he said that this type of cancer does not respond to it. At this point I was desperate!
Meanwhile, I spoke to my endocrinologist and surgeon and they both reassured me that my survival rate was a good one and that this was not a death sentence. My second surgery was scheduled. I went in for pre-surgery bloodwork. That evening at 10:00 p.m. my surgeon called and said that he could not operate because my blood count was so low and I would die on the operating table. So he referred me to an oncologist who was another great doctor, but could not figure out why my white cell count was so low because I truly felt great. I really did! At one of my appointments, the doctor told me to sit down because he wanted to talk to me about something. He said that he wanted me to get a bone marrow biopsy because I could have leukemia. WHEN THE HELL WAS THIS GOING TO END?! I cried, I was numb yet once again and knew it was another hurdle I had to jump. So Tony took me for my biopsy. It was the worst pain I had ever had! The doctor said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is you have strong bones; the bad news is you have strong bones.” So it was horrible, feeling this thick as a straw needle go into my thigh! Anyway, 3 days later the results came in that I did not have leukemia. What must have lowered my cell count was the radiation I had taken to see if the lymph nodes would respond. So I had to get daily injections to get my count up in order for them to operate. And, in June of 2006, 32 cancerous lymph nodes were removed.
I go to my surgeon once a year and my endocrinologist every six months. I get my blood checked periodically. I am here to say that I feel AMAZING! I really do. As I said, I don’t have the typical symptoms of feeling tired all the time, or losing my hair, or the hundred other symptoms thyroid patients have. So it just goes to show that had I not gone to my doctor with a sinus infection who knows what would have happened? I would also like to say that there are amazing physicians in this world – my endo, surgeon and oncologist are top of that list. But there are also horrible physicians who simply don’t care – like the radiologist that I saw.
There will never be a death sentence in my book …not until I stop breathing and I am being buried. I am stronger, much stronger and I don’t worry about the little things anymore. I have learned to love life and to live it fully. You know there are so many cancers out there and I am not disregarding any of them, but thyroid cancer touches so many and it just does not get the recognition it should. People should check their necks, get bloodwork done and get second and third opinions if possible. Also, this cancer does have a great survival rate. However, it is far from being the “good” cancer.” The struggles and pain people go through are real and there is nothing good about that!
I am not a woman living with cancer … I am a woman who simply has an organ missing!