The Beginning

My husband is in the U.S. Army (AGR~Active Guard Reserve) and we recently moved to North Chicago in early September of 2014. I thought I’d take advantage of the 100% free healthcare as before our copay and deductible kept me at bay from the doctors office unless absolutely necessary. We live on Navy base housing and right across the street from us is Cpt James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center. Very convenient. Since I hadn’t been to the gyno in two years, I thought now is the time to make that appointment, because it’s FREE.

On October 20th, my son’s 13th birthday actually, I went to what I thought was going to be a normal visit. After the ‘said’ exam was over, the doctor randomly said, “Let me just check your neck here,” and within seconds, “Yep there’s one there, I’ll put in a referral for you for an ultra sound.”

I’m like…”What? What’s going on?”

Doctor: “You have a nodule on your thyroid. Totally normal for a woman your age it’s just we like to check and monitor them because they can get enlarged and sometimes cause some problems with your thyroid. Sometimes they’re cancerous so it’s routine that when we find one we take a closer look just to be on the safe side.”

My head is spinning and I’m not really sure what just transpired. My first thoughts were, ‘Aren’t you a gynecologist? Why are you checking my neck? That was random.’ I’m in a state of confusion, ‘When did that become the standard practice? Boy these folks sure are thorough.’ That’s of course is a good thing. I’m sure my previous doctor would never have checked my neck.

We did a little more talking about lady stuff (my real reason for going anyway) and then she was almost out the door saying her goodbyes and have a nice days and lucky for me I remembered the curious thing she said about my neck. “Oh wait, what about the ultra sound thing?”~

“Oh yes, “she said, “I’ll put in a referral for you. You can either call them up in a couple days or wait for them to call you to schedule an appointment. No big deal, not to worry, these things are routine.”

Since when? I honestly had never heard of cancer being in a thyroid. I remember my aunt saying something once about having a cyst removed from her thyroid in her 20’s but she never said anything about cancer. I didn’t even really know what a thyroid was let alone what it does. The word ‘cancer’ was just tip toeing in the back of my mind and I tried not to think about it. Cancer doesn’t run in my family anyway, no one’s ever had cancer, so why worry? I’ll be fine.

So the ultra sound day comes and for some reason, I’m nervous as I sit in the waiting room but at the same time (remembering those pregnancy ultra sounds) feeling very glad I didn’t have a full bladder doing the pee pee dance in the chair. Memories…  The ultra sound tech was very nice, she had a kind soothing voice. I’m glad because I was on the bed for nearly 40 minutes and she was doing a lot of typing and moving the mouse this way and that. When an ultra sound tech is typing away and using the mouse to make measurements it can be very nerve racking. Near the 30 min mark, I finally ask, “Everything ok?”

Well I know and you all know the ultra sound tech can’t really say, but she says this, and I’ll never forget.

“Well I’m not a doctor so I can’t really say,” but seeing the concern on my face I think, she continues, “but I will say this, you have a quite a few nodules on your thyroid.” My eyes pop out of my head.

“Is that bad?” I ask, remembering only one that the gyno referred to.

“Well like I said I can’t really say, but I’ll make sure the doctor see’s these right away ok? She more than likely will send you to ENT.”

Ears Nose and Throat. That’s become a part of my vocabulary I can tell you. So has Edroconologist, which I have yet to meet.

Appointments, appointments, appointments. Three to be exact. One to visit the surgeon…”Yeah we’re gonna biopsy this one.” Apparently I had one nodule that was 1.3 inches in diameter, “Not a size that we worry about typically but to be on the safe side considering the amount of small nodules you have I think it’s a good choice.”

Second appointment: Biopsy? As in what? Yep. NEEDLES… in your neck. I was under the assumption that it was a one time thing, like a shot. Nope. They put a needle in your neck and leave it there for about 10 seconds while moving it ever so slightly in and out inside the said nodule to extract tissue. They did it three times. THREE times. It wasn’t that bad really, but let me tell you, for someone who despises and will run out the door when needles are involved, this was a big deal. I did alright though, sometimes you gotta just be tougher than your fears. “Everything looks good so far,” says the biopsy guy. They’ll call me as soon as the results are in either way but their confident they won’t find any suspicious cells.

For some reason though, I had this feeling. I’m pretty intuitive and I was trying to think positive, but this feeling was looming in the corner somewhere and I was trying my best to just ignore it and not think I was crazy. A week later I get a phone call from the surgeon. “They found some cells that might look suspicious so we’re gonna need you to come in for a second biopsy to make sure.”

Third appointment: Oh crap. Ok. My husband went with me this time. No way was I gonna do that alone again. Nope. They say that this time they are going to do another 4 samples but one they’re going to send away to a special lab to do genetic testing which will give them a more accurate result.

Everything looked good and they were confident it would come back benign, but they just have to follow protocol and be sure since that one slide showed some slight abnormalities. They’re also sure if there are cancerous cells that they’re pretty sure their papillary cells, which is very treatable.

I’m sorry. You can’t tell someone you’re doing a second biopsy to rule out cancer and then say it’s probably this type of cancer and then say don’t worry. It’s like telling a frog not to cross the road during rush hour, but if he has to, tell him to keep his eyes closed while he does it.

I was told the results would be in in about two weeks and they would call me either way. That would make it the week of Christmas. Merry Christmas! Well the results actually took a month. “It’s a new facility we’re working with,” they say, “It’s the holidays,” they say, “It’s a new test their doing,” they say. “I’m getting anxious,” I say.

Finally the day I decide to file a formal complaint; because no one should have to wait more than 30 days to find out if they have cancer, I get a phone call. All this time they kept saying they were so confident it was nothing to worry about. The surgeon didn’t even tell me the news really, he just started filling me in on what they were going to do next and he wanted to see me right away. There were two appointment times available, which day worked best for me? Throughout the one sided conversation, I was listening attentively until that part, “Wait what? I’m sorry. So this is all when the results do come in and if they find cancerous cells right? Or did the test results come back and you’re there is cancer?”

Lights. “Oh yes, yes the results show an 88% chance of containing cancer cells so with that high of a percentage rate we recommend surgery to remove the thyroid gland.”

I can barely respond, “The whole thing…?”

He then goes on to say that I do have the option of removing only the half that contains the nodule, however with the percentage being 88% there is a very high chance that the cancer would return and affect the remaining tissue. So to avoid having a second surgery, it’s best to just remove the entire thyroid.

I immediately went downstairs to the kitchen where my husband was. He was doing dishes with his back turned, but as he heard me he kind of glanced over his shoulder. I started to speak and my voice cracked, I could barely get the words out and I don’t even think they made much sense. It was just a scrambled explanation of the conversation that should’ve been fresh in my mind. He just enveloped me in his big arms and held me tight as I started to cry.