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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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