14 March 2011

Add another notch to the belt of life

I suppose life would be dull if we never faced challenge. Difficult situations toughen the soul, they build character and, more importantly, they bring us perspective. If there is anything I have learned so far in life, it is that family and health are everything; the rest is just gravy.

Just shy of my thirtieth birthday, I found myself sitting in the waiting room of a thoracic surgeon’s office this morning. I was the youngest one in the room, a picture of perfect health on the outside and yet no different than any of the other patients, we were all there because something isn’t quite right on the inside. One, twenty, fifty, eighty –age is no match for the eccentricities of the body. The fact is, we’re all powerless to a certain degree.

My own journey to this “wait” actually started two years ago. After a routine physical examination, my doctor detected a small lump in the region of my thyroid. To be on the safe side, I was sent for an ultrasound. Fast forward a few months to the day that I found out I was pregnant with my son, only to get my ultrasound results on the same day – multiple nodules around the thyroid, with one measuring 1.0 cm, just within range for nuclear diagnosis. Because I was pregnant, no further testing could be done and I was scheduled for a follow-up ultrasound several months later. It was a bit of blow on what should have been a happy day, but I put it out of my mind and focused on my pregnancy.

Towards the end of my third trimester, I went for my second ultrasound and was happy to find out that the nodules seemed to have shrunk in size, some almost completely undetectable. I was thrilled and considered the nodules “case closed.” I knew that my doctor planned to continue routine annual ultrasounds but I honestly thought nothing would come of it. This past January, following my third ultrasound, I was shocked to find out that the nodules had grown again in size. The largest nodule was back within range for testing and I was sent to the hospital’s department of nuclear medicine. I went through a fairly painless two-day test with a radioactive isotope injection and thyroid scan. To be honest, those two days scared the hell out me, watching sick patients being wheeled in and out of the unit on gurneys. Suddenly, I found myself having to contemplate the fact that I too could end up on one of those gurneys or, worse still, another in the long list of people battling the big “C” that shall remain nameless. I didn’t want my mind to go there, but as a mother it did…I have a lot to live for.

Unfortunately the nuclear diagnosis did not give me the results I was hoping for. The largest of the nodules turned out to be “cold” – a foreign lump that is a non-active part of functioning thyroid. There is still a very small chance of malignancy, but the “cold” nodules are the ones that have to be analyzed further to rule out every possibility. And so I found myself at the surgeon’s office today, awaiting the next step.

My meeting was a little more grim than anticipated. While I knew that he would recommend a biopsy, I did not know that I would likely still need surgery to remove at least half of my thyroid. The problem with fine-needle aspiration biopsy is that it often yields false positives. In the presence of any positive marker for cancer cells, the nodule must be removed along with surrounding tissue. That half of my thyroid would then be sent for further testing to determine whether the original biopsy was in fact positive or negative. It is invasive, but it would also be a final answer. So, I could very well end up with half a thyroid even if nothing turns out to be wrong and thus begins a life of daily medication, hormones, etc. In short, this is not a problem that can simply disappear – I have to deal with whatever comes my way, bad, good or otherwise.

On a more positive note, this is treatable. Even in the worst case scenario, my odds of living a long, productive and normal life are good...and there is no point putting the cart before the horse right now. I thank my lucky stars that I care enough about myself to have yearly medical examination and I hug my family a little bit tighter these days.

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