Thursday, September 08, 2005

Happy Anniversary?

Approximately 5 years ago I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I had two surgeries in September, one early and one late in the month, but I can't remember the exact dates.

I do remember my sister came out for the first one and had to rent a Jeep Cherokee due to a car shortage which chapped her environmentally-friendly ass to no end.

And that the operation was called a lumpectomy, which made me giggle.

And I found out I was allergic to Demerol, which made me itchy.

I remember it was a Monday, a little before 8 am, when the doctor called with the news I wasn't expecting; obviously the first thing he did that day for which I was grateful.

And I remember that my parents came out for the second one and got to watch me do involuntary laps around the living room with shaking hands and hot flashes. [A warning that this is normal after a thyroidectomy would have been helpful. An entire thyroid worth of hormone is apparently dumped into your system when they remove the gland (why do I picture them wringing it out like a dishcloth before chucking it into a pan and sewing me up?). And an excess of thyroid hormone can make you feel like you just mainlined the entire contents of Willy Wonka's pantry. With bonus hot flashes.]

I do remember the date of my massive dose of radioactive iodine. October 14, 2000; the start of my college homecoming weekend. It's not that I was going to go back to PA, I wasn't that big an alumni geek, but when you compare that option to what I did instead, it sounded like I was missing a lot. Fall football game, tailgating, catching up with friends, getting drunk and making fun of the new yellow brick arts building versus eating off disposable plates and plasticware, flushing the toilet 3 times after every visit and staying 10 feet away from all forms of life for 72 hours. Which would you chose?

Anyway, the 5 year mark is that magical point where the recurrence risk drops way down. Less doctor visits, less bloodwork and possibly less subconscious worrying.

In honor of this auspicious occasion, or at least in the general time period thereof, I am sharing with you something I wrote last summer (pre-blog). Gallows humor makes the world go 'round, don'tcha know?

Did I Mention That I'd Have my Own Theme Song?

In my opinion, Cancer Girl is the lamest of the superheroes.

Cancer Girl is always too busy with the surgeries and the doctor appointments and the panic attacks to properly focus on expunging evil in all its forms.

Cancer Girl doesn't have the wardrobe that the other superbabes do. No leather unitards or shiny magic bracelets. No extra-push-up-y Wonder bra or stomach flattening spandex. No, Cancer Girl just has her comfy pajamas and the bandana she wears 'cause she's trying to grow out her hair and it keeps falling in her eyes while she's eating dinner on the couch.

Cancer Girl naps a lot, not because she was out late partying with the boys from the Halls of Justice, but because she's been kinda depressed lately.

Cancer Girl doesn't even get to have a big-name, fancy disease that people hold fundraisers for.

I don't want to be Cancer Girl any more.

I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in September of 2000, right before I turned 30. I heard from a lot of people; if you have to get cancer, thyroid is the way to go. While I can't really subscribe to the theory that I "had to get" some type of cancer, they were right about the second part. By the time I learned I actually had cancer, it was basically gone. Two relatively minor surgeries, a little radioactive iodine, a weekend of isolation and I was all fixed up. It's been almost 4 years now and my follow-up schedule is relaxing. I've got my little teal pills and most of the time I'm ok with it all.

Until April. When I got home from work, there was a message on my machine, "Please call Tammy at Dr. So-and-so's." Since I had given them permission to just leave the pap smear results on tape, I knew something was up.

I called about 9:30 the next morning. Abnormal cells. Where had I heard that before. Oh yeah, August, 2000. Additional tests to be schedule ASAP. Yep, yep all coming back to me.

"Well, there's a lump on your thyroid, probably not a big deal, we'll just do some tests."

"Ok, so the lump's not a cyst, still probably nothing, more tests."

"Doesn't take up iodine, still likely benign, more tests."

"The biopsy didn't get enough sample, that happens sometimes, we'll just repeat it "

"And repeat it again in 6 months and again and again."

"Some of the cells look a little funny, we'll remove it to be on the safe side, but these things are hardly ever cancerous and lots of people have half their thyroid removed and the same thing happened to Tipper Gore and she's fine. "

"I'm sorry but we did find some cancerous cells. We'll need to schedule another surgery. Oh, and you'll have to swallow this big honking dose of radioactive iodine."

And the recurring leitmotif throughout all of this? "Don't worry; the odds are in your favor."

I don't put a lot of faith in the odds anymore.

Part of my brain knew that abnormal paps happen often and the research I did online was very encouraging. This happens to a huge number of women, the exact amount I did not commit to memory because I was too busy dealing with the other part of my brain, the part that said I was re-auditioning for the role of Cancer Girl and the director absolutely loved my previous work so I'm a shoo-in.

It worked out ok, I had the tests and a bit of treatment and everything is now fine. But how long will this continue? Will every lump and twinge and scheduled test revert me back to this? And why me in the first place? Dammit, this superhero gig sucks.

I don't want to be Cancer Girl anymore. We all know that movies based on comic book characters are never that exciting, and I'd much rather star in a romantic comedy of some sort. Nobody would ever tell Julia Roberts that she had abnormal cells.


Deneen said...

I do so understand where you are coming from. Prior to being sick, I never minded routine tests, now I loathe them because I fear the worst.

Positive attitude is so important--keep on thinking positive thoughts.

Creative Genius? said...

Hey Babe... right there with you when every bump, sigh or turn could be a potential probelm - it sucks!!! And I haven't yet figured out how to deal with it (or I'd try and pass on sage advice) -- so know that at least you are in good company... and feel free to give me a shout if you need me -- my heads up my a*s somewhere these days - but will always come down for your call!

Mel said...

Happy Milestone! May that nagging feeling that something might be wrong continue to dissipate. Keep on keepin' on and watch that part of your life get smaller in your personal rear-view mirror!

Luscious Gracious said...

Love you, Pam.
kiki (aka bladder girl)

Sarah said...

Keep up the positive thinking!!!!

I had the old abnormal pap and got some really fun treatments but nothing's been about 10 years!

You will be OK!!

Nancy said...

Happy 5th Year Milestone! WooHoo!