I usually do my annual round of doctor visits in the fall. As kids go back to school and the air gets crisp, I head to the land of needles and scales.
It was at my annual gynecological exam the good doctor said:
“You don’t usually get to feel one this big.”
He was teaching a young doctor in training how to do a thyroid exam. Then I felt the slightly chillier hands of the younger doctor give my neck a good squeeze before she gave an answering:
I left the office with a script for an ultrasound. A blood test followed (which showed nothing of significance) and then a fine-needle biopsy (which did).
The doctor called me on December 2nd to give me the news that I had papillary thyroid cancer. Notably, this news came right on the heels of a 28-hour #GivingTuesday marathon. When I responded to my cancer diagnosis with a boisterous fit of giggles, I was in the uncommon position of having to soothe my doctor. I wasn’t unhinged, just sleep deprived. I then asked for a surgeon referral and hung up the phone.
I responded to this news the way any marketing professional / Generation X cancer patient would by:
- Doing exhaustive internet research
- Buying an irreverent t-shirt
- Writing a zesty Facebook Q&A (which I include below)
I write this in mid-January, seven weeks into my cancer adventure. I am now one gland and a few lymph nodes lighter and richer in stories than I could have ever imagined.
“Everything is copy,” Nora Ephron would say, even before she received her own cancer diagnosis. She is right.
As my husband’s organ transplant experience taught me, nothing ever is only just one thing. Even sad moments have some funny thrown in there. Where there is dark, there is always some light. You just have to look for it. That’s what I’m doing.
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Friends, I have an announcement to make: I have thyroid cancer and its ass is about to be kicked.
Questions and Answers:
Q: What? You have cancer? Are you joking?
A: Crazy, right? But I am 100% serious. They diagnosed me with thyroid cancer on the afternoon of December 2nd.
Q: How did you find out you had thyroid cancer?
A: My gynecologist found it during my annual checkup. He was showing a doctor-in-training how to do a thyroid exam and said, “You don’t usually get to feel one this big.” After that, it was a ultrasound, blood test, biopsy, pathology, and diagnosis. I consider myself lucky because had it not been a teaching moment, and my gynecologist not been a thyroid cancer survivor himself, it might have been missed.
Q: Were there any signs? Wait, do I have thyroid cancer too?
A: Thyroid is a sneaky cancer. The signs can be subtle. Here’s a link to the Mayo Clinic website with more information. And as always, if ever you’re concerned about your own health–for goodness’ sake! — get thee to a medical practitioner.
Q: Should I worry? About you, I mean?
A: Please don’t add to your worries. We all have far too many of those to begin with. Given my age, my prognosis is good. Also, I’m grateful to live in a great country, have medical insurance, and have access to good in-plan doctors.
Q: So how does this whole thing play out? How are you going to punch cancer in the throat?
A: After a brief hospital stay (max overnight) to remove my thyroid and adjacent lymph nodes, I will then spend 2–3 weeks recovering at home. The next likely step will be radioactive iodine treatment. It’s a one-and-done treatment where I take a pill and avoid humanity (and pets) for a few days while I pass and shed radioactive materials.
Q: When is your surgery going to be?
A: It’s currently scheduled for January 4th.
Q: Anything else I should know?
A: I’m going to lose my voice for a while. It will come back as a whisper, and then I’ll sound like Stevie Nicks. (Editor’s note: It turns out I sound a bit more like the Crypt Keeper.) This means I’m going to have to take a hiatus from the podcast and use interpretive dance to get my points across during conference calls. Typing over talking will be the way of things for a while. I will also need to take thyroid replacement pills every day.
Q: Wait, doesn’t somebody else in your family have cancer right now too? I vaguely remember that…
A: Yes! Doctors diagnosed my dad with bladder cancer — on his birthday! — in 2019. We now have our very own Cancer Club and don’t wish to expand our membership at this time.
Q: OK. Hold up. Didn’t you also just write a book about your husband’s illness and organ transplant? Your luck is for $#!+, TJ…
A: Yes, on both accounts! My book “Some Assembly Required” will hit online bookstores near you on May 20, 2021. I’ve strongly encouraged Jim to write his own follow-up book about taking care of me under the working title “Gone with the Gland.” He steadfastly refuses.
Q: How are you feeling? Are you afraid?
A: I’m mostly annoyed and tired. Cancer takes and doesn’t give you much in return. It’s a time suck. It’s an energy drain. It’s stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. That is an inarticulate answer, but a truthful one.
Q: Is there anything that I could do?
A: Thank you for asking. What I would appreciate most is your patience and forgiveness. Kicking cancer to the curb requires focus, which means I have to turn my energy inward and homeward for a while. I regret that for a short time I will be that person who forgets a birthday or is slow with a thank you note. Speaking candidly, it is my husband — my family caregiver — who could use the support right now.
Q: Do the cats know?
A: Jim and I sat down with the cats and told them my news. They were unimpressed.