The “C” Word

It is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month! As promised, today’s post too is about my thyroid cancer and the process I went through of diagnosis, surgery and recovery.thyca logo

Following my initial ultrasound in 2004, when the endocrinologist found that there were in fact, several nodules on either side of my thyroid, it was time for the biopsy to be done. The doc asked if I thought I could keep myself still with a very long needle being put into the base of my throat in order to extract the cells necessary to test. Hardly likely, I told him. So he prescribed a sedative for me to take before arriving at his office for the test (thank goodness). Results of the biopsy were clean, Whew! It was just a matter, now, of monitoring with annual ultrasounds and blood work to ensure my TSH levels were within “normal” ranges for me.

For seven years life continued on as usual until February 2011– the ultrasound showed growth in some of the nodules, in some cases growing a full three millimeters. When you think of how big the thyroid gland is (the size of a quarter) and how big a millimeter is in comparison, it was a big deal. The doc decided we needed to do some biopsies on them. “Normal course of action,” he said, “so not to worry.” Since I had a biopsy before I knew what to expect.

He called a week after the biopsy and said several of the nodules had “suspicious” cells in them. There was less than a 30% chance that it could be anything serious. He never used the word cancer. He simply said the thyroid, in whole or part, would have to come out in order to find out more. Surgery should be scheduled at my convenience since the nodules were slow-growing. The doc was matter-of-fact, steady in his voice and not at all alarming. His tone for all the years I’d been seeing him was always supportive; any questions I had were met with patience and complete answers.

dr. ortizFrom the time of diagnosis to surgery was only eight weeks. I didn’t see the doc again until three weeks after the surgery. We reviewed the pathology report together to determine next steps. It was at this meeting when he used the “C” word for the first time. Follow-up to the surgery would need to include radioactive iodine treatments to ensure any thyroid cells left behind would be destroyed, thereby limiting any chance of cancerous cells traveling to any other part of my body.
Since there was never talk of seeing an oncologist or chemotherapy, I never really thought of myself as having cancer. There were no real physical signs that I typically might associate with treatment of cancer except for the scar, which has healed quite nicely, at the base of my throat.

My doc, and the staff at his office, were and continue to be terrific in how I feel supported, listened to, and generally happy with the care and treatment I get from him; which is why I thank Dr. Roberto Ortiz for being my endocrinologist.

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