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Monday, October 27, 2014


 Well, I'm thyroid-less.

I have to tell you that as far as being ready for surgery goes, I was ready.  The house was tidy, the laundry all folded and put away.  Our bed had clean sheets with which to welcome me for the multi-day rest I had planned.  The freezer was stocked with Popsicles, the fridge with yogurt and smoothie ingredients, and there was a platter of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies for the staff ready to go out the door.

I was ready to have my neck cut open.

The girls made me this AWESOME medal for me to wear.  It read: Very Important Momma.  I was not going to take any chances and I was planning to wear, and flash, this bad boy every step of the way.

It even matched my johnny.

 I tell you this thing WORKED.  Either that or it was the fact that Sandi knew everyone and had hand picked me the most kick ass team of health care professionals a girl could want.  Each person who cared for me did so with such warmth and a generosity of spirit that made me feel like I was among my people.  There was a parade of friendly faces that kept peeking in our door to check on us and wish us well.  Sandi's colleagues had such an understanding of how difficult this position was for her and were incredibly kind and thoughtful.

My dear friend Vanessa who was to be my O.R. nurse gave me the most gorgeous scarf as a gift.  A thyroidectomy scarf for a girl who adores scarves.  So thoughtful.

I was so relaxed while I was waiting that I was able to smile and make jokes.  Emilie and Skyler (with her broken arm in a new neon yellow cast) came in to visit and I got to be the first to sign Skyler's cast!  I'd never had the honor of being the first signature on a cast.  

It was such a comforting feeling to be wheedled into the O.R. by a friend.  When I got in there I was joking around with the staff and one of the nurses said, "I love how funny people are when they have had drugs" and I said, "Oh I haven't had anything yet!"

I was anxious about the possibility of waking up while in surgery. I realize that this is not a common occurrence but the thought of having any awareness at all while my neck was open seriously freaked me out.  Sandi's colleagues put me completely at ease.  I knew Sandi was in the waiting room with Ange keeping her company.  So I breathed into the mask and felt my body get very heavy and then I didn't know anything else.

Except I heard the noise of people talking and moving around and I felt very concerned so I said, "I can hear you! I don't think I'm supposed to me awake right now!" and everyone told me that the surgery was over and I was in recovery.    Sandi held my hand, Ange came and gave me a kiss and Trish rubbed my head for the longest time and it felt so good as I drifted in and out.

Patti and Dwight had gotten the girls from school and taken them to their house overnight.  Sandi brought me back to a quiet house around 7:30 and we weren't long for bed.   We spent the entire next day resting and watching a movie, taking short walks up the street and relishing the restful quiet.  My family came to see us Sunday and brought food and flowers and fruit smoothies and get well cards.  

I want to thank you all for the outpouring of love and support and well wishes I received.  I got cards, email, messages, offers of help and food dropped at our house.  I am no good at being laid up but all the care and support made it so much easier.  A GREAT BIG THANK YOU to my amazing wife for taking such good care of me from beginning to end and for reminding me on day 3 that I wasn't meant to be up and going for run yet. 

The recovery itself has been slower than I thought, with days 3 and 4 being harder than others. I am still not at 100% and I tire easily but I am getting there.  It has been a very restful week (once I could let go of not doing stuff and not being able to get right back to work) and I have spent many afternoons in the recliner playing school with Maya. 

Playing school with Maya looks something like this.  You sit in the chair and she is the teacher and you the student.  She writes her morning message on the white board just like her teacher does, leaving some letters intentionally missing so that you, the student, can fill them in.  This is particularly hilarious when the words are misspelled.  Then she writes up the daily schedule and takes you through them one by one, speaking exactly as I imagine her (awesome, incredible) teacher to speak.  

"Now, friends, we are going to have inside recess today.  For inside recess you can choose to read quietly, draw a picture or...(dramatic pause) would any friends like to use my very special fairy finding book?  If you would like to, raise your hand.  (At this point she scans the living room for all hands that might be raised even though I am the only student.)  Now, when you are done with my special book do you just put it down here and forget about it?  (A mock display of the irresponsible discard of a book.) No.  You would carefully put it back where it belongs, that is right.  Good work, my friends.  Okay, now Momma will have the first turn and when she is done other friends can have a turn as well."  

"Morning meeting, reading workshop, math, music, reading workshop, art, lunch, recess, snack, closing circle."

Maya has been super concerned about me this past week and very attentive.  She has cried in the morning when we had to say goodbye and made me at least one get-well card every day at school.  

There have been lots of lap snuggles. 

I have felt so loved and cared for and grateful.  My sister has checked on me every single day.  Even last night, Emilie brought the most amazing dinner for us: squash soup, salad, homemade naan bread and apple crisp.  It makes surgical recovery seem, well, not so bad. 

I am feeling better, more like myself each day.  I am working to be patient as my body transitions to a synthetic thyroid hormone.  I have some residual discomfort, like a perpetual lump in my throat and   a squeezing feeling around my esophagus that I am hoping is just scar tissue and will resolve with some massage.  My parathyroid was able to be saved so I don't have any long-term worries about my calcium levels.  I feel relieved that this is behind me and I can spend my energy on something other than my thyroid.  

And, best of all, my biopsy results were negative.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

just go with it

Whenever I think I am really mastering the art of not sweating the small stuff, I get more stuff, big and small, to test my resolve.

You may or may not know my long journey with trying to cure myself of hyperthyroidism.   For the past year I have taken it upon myself to rework my system and free it of stress (more like a 50% reduction of) and inflammation.  The hope was to calm my immune system so it would stop attacking my thyroid and causing it to overproduce thyroid hormone.  If I could succeed in disarming this very tricky, cellular power play, I could come off the somewhat unsafe anti-thyroid medication I have been taking and achieve the rare but possible state of remission from hyperthyroidism.

Never one to shy away from a challenge I was all in.  I had several good months where it looked like my hard work was paying off.   I followed a strict elimination diet, took lots of supplements and naturopathic remedies.  I mediated and did yoga.  My lab values improved. I tolerated a dose reduction.   However, a second attempt to reduce the medication resulted in the unwanted increase of my thyroid hormones.  This was last attempt and it wasn't working.

Damn.  It seemed the game was over.

I had the very difficult conversation with my doctor wherein we discussed the inevitability of taking the dreaded radioactive iodine pill to kill my thyroid.  I was out of time to try to cure this on my own. There is nothing appealing about this treatment except that it is the non-surgical option.  You swallow a pill and the radioactivity goes only to your thyroid (because it contains iodine which your thyroid uptakes).  Oh, and you can't be around young children or women of child bearing age for 3 days.  You can't sleep next to anyone, you must use your own utensils and wipe the toilet seat after you pee because, well, you are radioactive.

Appealing huh?

There was no part of me that wanted this, yet even I knew that my best attempts had not resulted in success.   When I started the alternative medicine journey I told myself it was to try everything, to at least give myself the peace of mind that I had done everything I could.

Yet there was no peace to be found.  I was inexplicably devastated over the impending loss of my thyroid.  I felt like I had failed and western medicine had won.  I felt like I was giving up.  I felt like "they" were going to take my thyroid even though I still wanted to keep it and that I didn't get a say.  I would trade one dangerous condition for a life-long, daily-medication-required other condition.  Already having one chronic medical condition for life (Type I diabetes) I was not excited to have another one (hypothyroidism) to go alongside it.  I like that on medical forms I barely have to check anything for "health problems."  I consider myself very healthy- I just happen to have diabetes.

But here I was being faced with taking a pill to knowingly kill part of my body, this body I have worked so diligently to accept and even cherish, and insure a future dependent on pharmaceuticals.  

Here was this gland that I had never paid much (any) attention to before 3 years ago, just ignorantly accepting the benefits of its normal functioning, and now I was grieving the loss of it like someone was taking my arm.

Then Sandi mentioned that it might be worth doing an ultrasound of my thyroid since we never had.  She said sometimes a nodule will grow and cause the thyroid to overproduce.  My hope soared. Maybe it was a pesky nodule and it could be removed and I could keep my thyroid and not have to take medication forever!

I was sitting at my kitchen table a few days after the ultrasound drinking coffee, working on my computer and trying to make sense of a particularly stressful parenting crossroads when the phone rang. I knew by the number that it was my doctor.  I felt like I knew what she would say: "No nodules.  No more delays from you, Missy.  Let's schedule the radioactive iodine for crying out loud."

I was entirely overwhelmed as the words poured out of her mouth like water from a bucket.  Multiple nodules, some large in size.  Could be biopsied but then if I take radioactive iodine it will skew any future biopsy results making it difficult to track these growths. Surgery my best option.

I felt like a triage nurse, but instead of prioritizing severity of symptoms my brain was trying to determine what was the highest on the list to process.  I set my other big problem aside and attempted to focus on my new big problem.

Sandi and I went right to work utilizing our strengths.  She built me a surgical team, researched and problem-solved every possible surgical risk.  I went inside myself to try to deal with this sudden turn of events;  my big job was to stay calm and find a place of peace.

Let me tell you how deeply I have been loved and supported through this process.  The women closest to me have not regarded my grief as trite or silly.  They have reminded me of how long a journey this has been and acknowledged what a difficult letting go it is, have encouraged me to look at it not as a failure but rather a clearing out of something that isn't working, the way an infected appendix needs surgical removal to keep a body safe.

My sister drove the hour plus on a work day to sit by my side while I met with the surgeon.  Sandi's co-workers covered her busy work load for the same.  We sat together while he told us that the nodes didn't appear to be entirely benign in their look, nor did they carry the exact markers of malignancy.  The best option was to take it out and then biopsy the whole thing.

I quickly went from desperately wanting to keep my thyroid to wanting it out.  Here is this thing I have tried to protect and it could actually be harming me.  Now, I no longer see this as much as a loss and am now grateful that it isn't more serious. I am not losing a breast or a necrotic limb that will be forever missing from my body.  I do not have a systemic cancer and looking down a road that might result in the loss of my life.  While this is a big deal to me for sure, there are so many worse medical situations I could face.

Around every corner there is grace.  My dear friend Vanessa who will be my nurse and hold my hand while I fall asleep.  Sandi's wonderful anesthesia colleagues who will willingly stay late to care for me.  Ange who will bring Sandi coffee and sit with her as she waits during my surgery.  My mother-in-law who will take our girls and all the others who have offered.  Emilie and Trish and Kathryn who send me texts nearly every day checking in on how I am doing.  My mother to offered to do whatever we need of her.

And then at school drop off the other day, I mentioned to one of the moms I really like and admire that I had to have this surgery.  She pulled the neck of her shirt down and pointed to the thin scar across her neck I had never noticed.  She had had a thyroidectomy and was perfectly fine, happier in fact without the ups and downs and worries of hyperthyroidism and masses.  I have another friend with the same story.

Tomorrow is the day.  I have people to care for me and help me transition.  Today, at long last, I am grateful and at peace.  I have had a pre-surgical Jin Shin Jyutsu (chinese energy work) appointment, baked a huge batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to take to the outpatient surgical staff and am planning to go to yoga in the morning before I report to the hospital.

I have to say I will breathe easier once the biopsy comes back of my thyroid but for now I am, surprisingly, relaxed about even that.  I am ready for this particular fight to be over.

And hey, what better time to have an incision across your neck than right before Halloween?

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