There are fewer things more frightening than hearing that your biopsy came back positive for a malignancy. I am by nature high strung, obsessive and anxious. I have been known to be a bit of a hypochondriac. While age and maturity has mellowed some of those traits, cancer is cancer and being a little nervous is natural. But age and maturity have also made me a bit more fatalist; experience has taught me that sometimes it’s best to start worrying when you know for sure that you have something to worry about.
Recently, my primary care physician found a lump in my throat during a routine check up. I had an ultra sound of both sides of my thyroid gland, which confirmed a three-centimeter nodule on my right thyroid. I followed that with a visit to an endocrinologist who performed an uncomfortable needle biopsy of the area. We live in times where information is easily accessible and before I got the lab results I had learned enough about thyroid cancer to feel comfortable that I ought to be ok in the end. Based on statistics, I actually expected the cyst to be benign. I started to anticipate possible treatments and resigned myself to the likelihood of having it surgically removed.
After getting the dreaded news I decided it important to convey the news to my family in the way I had already absorbed it, as more nuisance than threat. I even took a page from Larry David and told them that my doctors have told me that I have the “good cancer.” I joked that I would shave my head and eyebrows just so they can give me a little sympathy. A little brevity never hurts and sometimes makes reality a little easier to handle. Though I could only imagine what my friends and family were thinking I felt sanguine that my own self-confidence and seeming lack of anxiety over the situation gave them some comfort as well.
Surgeons are a cocky breed and mine assured me that he would “get it all.” Additionally, my doctors including the surgeon allowed me to take a previously scheduled business trip telling me that this is a very slow metastasizing cancer and that the surgery could wait. Assured by their seemingly low level of concern of my imminent demise I set the date for my surgery, the pre-op check ups and went about my travels.
I have had surgery before albeit of a lesser serious kind (hernia, rotator cuff) so I didn’t obsess over anesthesia or post-op pain, I sort of knew what was coming. Despite some typical wrangling to match up a surgeon and hospital that accepts my health insurance, I had no Obamacare nightmares. Some may point to better or more efficient health care around the world but in the end the process was efficient, competent, seamless and most importantly, comfortable. My surgery was well timed, as I was able to recover over the Memorial Day/Shavuot weekend.
The human body is an incredible machine and most of my post-op discomfort was more from anesthesia and morphine hangover than from pain. After a few days of rest I was back to my cranky self. At the follow up visit to the surgeon we went over the pathology report and his call for the full thyroidectomy ended up being correct, as the cancer had spread to the left side as well. Additionally, he saw some fatty tissue beyond the thyroid he felt needed to be removed, thankfully that was negative for any cancer. He did apparently, “get it all.”
I will be under the care of an endocrinologist for the rest of my life. I will be taking a medication called Synthroid to take over whatever it is the thyroid does also for the rest of my life. My doctors are recommending iodine radiation treatment; basically a one-time pill that zaps any possible remaining cancer cells. I will probably isolate myself somewhere so my family doesn’t have to see me glow in the dark. I’m not happy about any of this but I consider myself lucky and blessed; it could have been something much worse.
I always wondered when I would reach the point in life where I finally accepted my own mortality without fear. This is it. I have a lot more living that I plan on doing, but had this diagnosis been fatal I look back fondly on a life full of a close loving family, great friends, varied experiences, ups, downs and few regrets. Those of you who have read my musings before know that I don’t fear meeting my maker. I may not be a prefect human being but I do my best. My evolving attitude towards faith; away from an vengeful angry God towards a more hands off laissez faire one has eased me from the path of angst and guilt. In any event I work under the assumption that this is the only stop; I’m going to make the best of it, for all it’s worth, I hope you do too.