Buckle up...this is a loooooong one...but SO SO good for me to get out...I want to remember every little bit of my journey.
For the past 10 years I have known that I had a nodule on my thyroid. My Mom has one too. (Thanks Mom!) At a routine exam my OBGYN happened to feel the nodule. She said that she checks all of her patients for one because she has one too. Who would have known that they were so popular? So that started my journey of annual ultrasounds and semiannual blood draws and lifelong medication taking. When it was first found it was approximately 1 cm and after a biopsy, I was told it was benign. So it was just something that I would live with in my body, that may, or may not cause any symptoms or changes. And that tiny little pill that I popped each morning 2 hours before eating would regulate my thyroid levels and keep me perking along.
Each time I was pregnant the doctors called for extra blood to be drawn to check my TSH levels. Each time the labs came back fine and I had healthy pregnancies. After having 3 babies I decided I was done with the extra pounds and started working out again. We got a treadmill and that helped me shed the unwanted weight. I would run/walk and watch reality t.v. It was perfect. So I lost some weight this year. And I was also very tired this year. Which I just accounted to having three crazy high energy boys around the house. My new found coffee addiction seemed to help with this a bit. It took the edge off in the mornings. But I was still always tired. Which I chalked up to being just this stage of life.
After my thyroid ultrasound this July, my doctor recommended that I get another biopsy of my nodule because she was concerned that it had changed in size and shape a bit. It was now looking to be 1.5 cm and it may have possibly had a second nodule growing off of it. But she didn't seem too concerned because she said due to my recent weight loss and my hormones trying to get back to normal now that I was done growing babies, that the thyroid just may be changing/regulating. So she said no rush on the ultrasound.
With school starting in August, I was super busy. So I put off the biopsy until things settled down in early September. The doctor had a hard time getting a good draw because he said it was so hardened, that it had calcifications all over it. He had to poke me about 6 times with a long needle in my neck before he finally got cells drawn instead of blood. He didn't seem very worried about the calcifications, so I wasn't worried either. You see, the thyroid regulates the calcium in your body. So he just said that I must have extra calcium. Which doesn't seem like a bad thing, right?
After the biopsy, I went on my merry way and didn't think twice about it. My thyroid levels had been fine for 10 years and I was feeling pretty normal. Just tired because I'm a mom of three. And just skinny because I'm busy chasing after those 3 boys and I was gifted with a bangin' body! Ha! Yeah, right?! Oh, and all that hair I was finding in my sink and in my shower and on my couch and in the carpet...gobs and gobs of it, that was normal. Girls just lose hair.
Well, after we received the whopping biopsy bill in the mail, we realized that it was a little weird that 3 weeks later I still had not heard back with the results.
So I decided to call my Doctor to see what was going on. No news is good news right? I reached the receptionist and she said she'd look into it and get back to me. That afternoon while I was teaching I noticed a voicemail from my doctors office. I quickly listened to it while the kids were at recess. And all she said was, "Abby, the Doctor would like you to come in today. Please call us back as soon as possible." My heart dropped. You know instantly that it's not good. So I called back immediately to try to get some answers. The receptionist said that she could not give me any information over the phone but that the doctor really needed me to come in as soon as I could. I told her that I still needed to teach for 2 more hours and would not be able to drop everything to run over. I also explained my frustration that here I had to call them 3 weeks after the test was done to find out my own results and now it is something so serious that I need to head right in. Shouldn't they have called me at least 2 weeks ago?
Sensing my frustration, the receptionist ran to get the doctor. When she got on the phone, she still would give me no answers. She just kept saying, "I'm sorry, this was an oversight, but I really need you to come in as soon as possible to discuss this in person. I will keep the office open past 4 p.m. so that you can finish your teaching day and then come in." I knew she wasn't going to tell me anything else, so fighting back tears I agreed to come in after school. My students would be coming back from recess in 5 minutes and I was bawling in my classroom, calling Mark, and trying to arrange for the kids to get picked up from Oma's/school. I wiped my tears, put on a brave face, and taught for 2 more hours.
After school, I visited my doctor, where it was confirmed that the biopsy results showed markers for palpillary thyroid cancer. I knew it even before I heard the words come out of her mouth. So when she told me I was stoic. I had already googled thyroid cancer. I had already been preparing to be strong. More than anything I was mad. Mad at my doctor for letting the results sit on her desk for over 2 weeks. I had already read that this is a very treatable cancer. And I knew above all that my God is good and that he will take care of me and my family. But I wanted to be mad at someone. And my doctor seemed like the perfect person to be mad at.
She had set up an appointment for me with an Endocrinologist and Surgeon. So I took down the information and walked out the door angry. Now, looking back I know that this anger was silly. And I should be grateful for the care she has given me for 10 years. And I am. I am grateful that she was so attentive to my case. That she insisted in blood draws every 6 months and ultrasounds once a year. I know that without her, I would not have found the cancer. I am saddened that her negligence prolonged the diagnosis and has caused me to feel the need to find a new primary care physician. But I will always be grateful that she followed her gut and prodded me to follow up with a second biopsy.
But now that I knew that I had cancer it seemed like all the pieces of the puzzle were coming together. Some of the side effects of thyroid cancer can be: fatigue (check!), weight loss (check! I had been continuing to lose weight/was staying at my weight despite not really working out anymore and eating like a crazy person), and hair loss (check!). My body was out of whack and my thyroid was not doing it's job- hence the calcifications. My thyroid was not properly regulating calcium.
Mark and I spent that evening discussing next steps, being strong, and vegging out on the couch watching t.v.- trying to pretend like this was no big deal. And that's what I did every night for most of October as well. I wasn't up for feeling very social. My cozy home, surrounded by my boys, was the best medicine.
The next day after finding out the sad news. I was walking into school when I saw my old friend Tara. She used to teach with me, but is now a stay at home Mommy. It was like God had placed her there at school that day just for me. You see, Tara's husband is an ENT surgeon. At this point, only the doctor, Mark, and I had known the news. But I just had to tell Tara. She is the kind of person you can tell anything to. She is hilarious and strong. And I knew she would make me feel better and I knew her husband, Adam, would be a great resource for me. So I told her the whole story and cried again in my classroom. And she hugged me and told me that Adam would take care of everything and told me that once I had kicked cancer's ass we would go out for drinks and celebrate. She was perfect. A gift. I taught that day like it was nothing. I was confident. And that night, Adam called me, and he took care of everything! Just like Tara said he would!
It was great to discuss things in detail with Adam. He answered all of my questions. And he made phone calls immediately to get me in with Dr. Song, the surgeon he trained under for his residency. In just 2 days, I was visiting Dr. Song and having more tests done. Adam was a complete miracle. And we are so so so thankful for him.
Now this was early October. And after a more in-depth ultasound to check my entire neck, lymphnodes, thyroid, etc. it didn't look like the cancer had spread. Dr. Song's pathologists also checked the biopsy results again to confirm that it was palpillary thyroid cancer. It was unknown if the cancer was strictly in the nodule or if it had spread into the thryoid or surrounding areas. But the best next steps for me would be to remove the entire thyroid, and while they were in there, to check for any other cancer. So after a few appointments, which Dr. Song's office marked as PRIORITY- it's nice to know people, ha!, we decided on the type of surgery needed and set the date for November 25th.
Dr. Song has told me time and time again that if he had to give somebody cancer that this is the type he would choose. It is the slowest growing and most easy to treat. So that made me feel better. We were in no huge rush to do surgery. He said that he would work with my schedule to get it in when it worked best for me, but he recommended anytime before Christmas. Thanksgiving Break seemed good because then I wouldn't have to take off too many days from work. Once we had all of these things in place, then we started telling people the news. I'm just weird about people pitying me. I don't really like people doing things for me. I am strong and independent! But when something like this happens, it's like God telling you to slow down and to let people LOVE you.
And LOVE me they did! My Mom immediately booked a flight to come out, people gave me cards, and hugs, and offered to watch the kids (even overnight- thanks Rick & Mands), and brought me meals. All even before my surgery. It was amazing. Dr. Song said that even though there was no concern about having the actual cancer inside of me for a couple of months or extra weeks until the scheduled surgery, that it is harder mentally knowing it's inside of you then it physically being there. So all of the love and prayers that surrounded me in the weeks leading up to the surgery was well needed. And divinely placed in my life by God.
It helped keep my mind off of the logistics of surgery and recovery. I did feel some anxiety creep in at times, but I knew I was covered in prayer. And more now than ever did I see first hand the blessings of incredible friends and family. I cry just thinking about it.
So now that I was so taken care of emotionally, I just had to tackle the physical part. Here are a few pictures of the journey, I will spare you the really grotesque pictures. Let me know if you want to see them though! :) Hee hee! I had to document it all just for the memories.
My BEST sent me this HUG in a box!
This awesome scarf and the book "Carry on Warrior". A must read! She knew that I would want to cover up my scar and that I would need some good reading material while I was recovering. She knows me so well.
My students and staff more than spoiled me with gifts and cards and gift cards and meals and hugs and prayers and LOVE!!! Oh my! I have taught there for 10 years. And it was confirmed to me through this experience that I never plan on leaving. My heart is in that school and with my colleagues who are some of my dearest friends.
I took off the day before my surgery to get laundry done and clean the house and celebrate Heath's fourth birthday. I took the day off to be a family and enjoy some full of life moments together before the recovery ahead. I'm so glad we did. Then the next day my Mom came. We spent the weekend having fun. Much needed fun. And then came November 25th.
The boys spent the night at Oma & Opa's house...which was awesome because I knew that they were in a safe and familiar place, surrounded by love. I did not want this surgery to affect them very much. Which they are too young to really understand it all, besides Nolan- he's asked a ton of questions. But I think they have felt the changes in our family a bit. They have been a bit more fragile than normal. But we are just heaping on the extra love and extending a little more grace to get us through the next few weeks.
The morning of surgery we checked in to the University of Colorado Hospital at 6:30 a.m. My surgery was set for 8:30 a.m. I was taken back to pre-op where I was visited by nurses, the anesthesiologist, Dr. Song and his surgical assistant, and Adam. He was in clinical that day, but was sure to stop by to see me before I went back for surgery. He is such a good guy. And it was so nice to know I was being well cared for.
Here I am ready to head back to surgery...
The good thing about my surgeon is that his practice also specializes in facial plastics. So they were very meticulous in planning the placement of the incision to be sure that it will look the very best it can. Yay!
The surgery took almost 4 hours. Isn't that crazy?! Your vocal chords run right along the thyroid, so they have to be very careful not to damage those as they remove the thyroid. They also have to try to save your parathyroid glands. They were able to save 3 out of 4 of mine. I don't even remember going under at all and I was out for that long! All I remember is waking up to a camera being put down my nose and into my throat. (I had this test done once before my surgery, so I remembered the feeling.) They were checking to be sure that my vocal chords were still working properly. If the nodule was pressing on the vocal chords or if the cancer had spread to the vocal chords they would not open and close properly. So that is why they did the test weeks prior. Now they were checking to be sure that the vocal chords were not damaged during the removal of the thyroid.
During the surgery Mark and my Mom got coffee, visited with Adam and Tara who also stopped by bearing gifts. They also visited with my friend Rebecca who was also at the hospital with her husband Brendon who was having cancer surgery as well. Rebecca and I teach together and she has been such a support over the past weeks. She knows what it is like first hand to deal with cancer. After this surgery, Brendon is thankfully cancer free and they are looking forward to starting their family now! It was crazy that we both ended up having surgery in the same hospital on the same day! But we were happy to have all of visitors and hugs! Mark's Aunt Sue also came to the hospital for the day. She is wonderful. So loving and supportive. And it was nice for my Mom and Mark to have some company to take their mind off of the surgery...which seemed to last forever. They were able to keep track of me by following a number on a screen. They knew when I was in pre-op, surgery, recovery, post-op. And they received phone calls for updates. So nice.
Finally, they were able to come and see me. I was pretty out of it for awhile and slept a lot. I had some pain- a very sore throat and the surgery site was very tender and sensitive. I am posting a graphic picture below...so if you don't like blood...look away!
This is me later that day. Where you see the bandage is the incision site- about 4 cm long. Below that is the drainage tube. They put that in to prevent swelling and build up of fluids. That thing freaked me out. It was so gross and so uncomfortable. If you know me well, you know I can not handle blood and guts and this tube just about put me over the edge. I just tried not to look at it.
The first day I actually felt pretty good. Just so tired. I would fall asleep out of no where. But I was also still on some heavy drugs.
Here I am opening up my lungs. After a few hours, Mark took my Mom home to get the boys settled in. Then he came back to spend the night at the hospital with me. Mark's parents stopped by, I watched a movie, and I slept. But not very peacefully. It felt like every time I got comfortable, someone was coming in to check my vitals, give me medication, flick my face (I guess it's some sort of way to tell if I have enough calcium in my body.), or ask me a million questions. I maybe slept a total of 2 hours that night. And I had mashed potatoes and pudding for dinner. Yum!
The next morning I was feeling less pain, but was so so so exhausted. I finally felt like I could eat more solids. I just had to chew the heck out of them. So I felt better after eating some pancakes and eggs and cream of wheat. Then I had two glorious uninterrupted hours of sleep! Things were looking good to get discharged in the early afternoon. My TSH levels were good, calcium was good, drainage was lessening, all signs pointed to being able to go home and recover in my own bed.
My mom was in charge of getting Heath to and from school that morning and Nolan was on fall break, which was nice because it was one less thing to worry about. So we just waited around until the Doctors gave me the o.k. to leave. Dr. Song sent a resident over to take my drainage tube out because my recovery was pretty uneventful...up until this moment.
I knew that stupid drainage tube would be awful...and it was. The resident took it out and it was soooo long...probably about a foot, he just kept pulling and pulling it. This freaked both Mark and I out. They were discussing how it was actually longer than usual, when all of a sudden I started feeling light headed. It was out, and it was bloody, and it was right in front of me. I told the doctor I didn't feel so good, and then all of a sudden...I was OUT! I passed out and my eyes rolled back in my head and I was seizing. Mark said it was so freaky. The resident panicked and went running out of the room calling for the nurse! I woke up to Mark standing over me, the doctor flying back in, and 3 nurses surrounding me and hooking me up to things. The doctor was really freaked out! Ha!
The term for what happened is a "vasovagal attack". I had never heard of that before, although technically it has happened to me a time or two before. Basically when you vasovagal, you have a specific trigger that causes you to become light headed, nervous, blood pressure to drop, and you pass out. If you are upright it may cause you to seize. But when you lay down the blood flow to the brain is restored and you regain consciousness. My trigger being the thought of blood and guts. Ha! I was only out for about 5 seconds. My blood pressure was still super low and my heart rate was really low too. I felt so strange. It felt really heavy and like I couldn't catch my breath. They did an EKG which came back fine. And my heart rate and blood pressure started to slowly come up a little. After another hour or so they told me that I could go home! Yay! I got up, got dressed, and tried to escape before any more setbacks happened.
I was so happy to go home to my boys and my bed! My mom said that she thinks Nolan missed me the most. He is the most sensitive and needs structure and routine. Heath and Brooks didn't seem to really notice I was gone. But they are also younger and might not understand as much. Nolan had asked me a lot of questions and he knew that I "had to be tough" to have surgery. He told me that he would never want that! He was also very curious as to why he wouldn't be able to visit the hospital this time when he had when I was in the hospital last time, giving birth to his brother. I knew that I just didn't want them to see me like that. And since it would only be one night, I knew they could live without me. When I got home, Heath, a total hypochondriac, would not look at me. He did not like the bandages on my neck and would only come near me if I had a scarf on to cover them up. Nolan hugged me and looked very closely at my neck. Even Brooks kept starring at my neck. Ha!
I must have had a burst of adrenaline because I felt good that evening, visiting with the Krauths and Leensvaarts and taking care of things around the house. But for the next few days I slept in and took naps a lot. My Uncle Gerry and Aunt Christine visited and brought a meal too. But other than that my one excursion to Target about did me in.
I spent a lot of time cuddled up in bed or on the couch.
Smiles from these guys really cheered me up.
And so did lots of flowers! These were from my sister and Flobby. Aren't they amazing?!
I also got poinsettias from Tara & Adam and the Krauths & a cool, modern arrangement from the Krauths too. Kerri, Joe, Lucy, and baby Liu sent me my favorite delphiniums and amazing scented Stargazer Lilys. She knows just what I love because we worked at Streamwood Florist together back in the day!
And these beautiful orange tulips were from my Aunt & Uncle. Everyone knows how much I LOVE flowers! When you've worked in a flower shop, you never really lose that love! My house has smelled great all week!
And I received so many phone calls and text messages and Facebook messages- before, during, and after surgery and throughout this past week of recovery! Oh my! I have felt SO loved and prayed for! I got cards and meals and milkshakes and packages and gift baskets! Everyone went so out of their way to offer support! They offered to cook for me and watch the boys. They baked for me and gave me scarves. So wonderful!
Cookies from the Rose family!
I spent the past week re-cooperating and relaxing at home thanks to the wonderful help of my Mom and Mark! They have been so awesome! Cooking, cleaning, wrangling the boys, and so much more!
The boys loved all of the extra time with Grandma. They played, watched movies, had a donut date, AND...
did a LOT of puzzles on the ipads! This was a new app that my Mom showed them! They had so much fun and puzzling is such a good skill for people of all ages!
I was able to rest, read, watch shows, sleep, and chill. I was told to rest as much as possible, take my meds, and load up on calcium.
I wasn't to do any exercising or lifting of anything over 10 pounds. But that I could get up and do things if I felt up to it. So, I took that one trip to Target, and to Cara's for Thanksgiving Dinner, but that was about it for the entire week. Some people might have felt a bit cooped up, but I didn't. I loved it! And I felt a little bit better each day.
Today I had my follow up appointment with my surgeon. He removed the bandages, took out my stitches, and ran a few tests. Unfortunately my pathology results were not back yet, probably due to the Thanksgiving holiday. But I was told that my healing looks good. The scar looks good and doesn't need to be bandaged anymore. I just need to put a little ointment on it and keep it out of the sun for at least a year. My blood pressure is normal as well.
This next picture is dark and a bit blurry, but it does the job. Look away if you get grossed out easily.
My surgical scar on top. The hole from the drainage tube is closing up on the bottom.
The pain is very low now. The surgery site is tender and a bit uncomfortable when bumped or touched. But totally manageable with a little Tylenol. I still feel very tired and have low energy. Which my surgeon said is totally normal and it may take awhile for me to feel leveled out. Which isn't the best this time of year. Too much to do! But I'm really just trying to prioritize, scale back, be still, and focus on the real reason of the season. This is really hard for me though because I LOVE going all out for holidays and the boys birthdays too. But I just can't. I know that I need to focus on healing and resting and that the boys will have very happy birthdays and a merry Christmas despite me dropping a few details this year. And it is fun to find new ways to show LOVE.
My next steps will be just waiting for the pathology results to see if the cancer was encapsulated in the nodule or not. Then in mid January I will meet with an endocrinologist to determine if I will need to do a radio active iodine treatment. I will continue to meet with them every 3 to 6 months to check my TSH levels and make sure the dosage of my medication is right. I will be taking it for the rest of my life as it will now do the job of my thyroid. So they will always want to draw blood and adjust my dosage if needed. I will continue to have regular ultrasounds of the neck area as well.
I just want to close by saying a VERY huge and humbled THANK YOU. It has been truly wonderful to be so loved, supported, and prayed for throughout this journey. I'm sure I have missed mentioning or thanking someone for something in this post. But please know that each act of kindness has not gone unnoticed. They have been felt and welcomed so deeply. God has blessed us with the most amazing friends and families. And we are SO grateful.
I'll leave you with a few verses I have read and prayed over and over again for the past weeks...
"Glory to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine." Ephesians 3:20
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you, plans to give you a future with hope." Jeremiah 29:11
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over your with gladness; he will quiet you with his love; he will exult over you with singing." Zephaniah 3:17