One year ago, I was newly married, in a new state, walking into a doctors office for a first-time-patient physical. I breezed through my medical history, informing my new doctor that I had a thyroid disorder but had been taking a pill every day since I was a kid and was "fine". As far as I could tell, I didn't have symptoms. My levels were stable. Everything seemed fine. When she said she wanted to do an ultrasound, I remember looking at my husband and apologizing to him because he would have to take me to the hospital for this "pointless" scan which I felt would be a waste of our time.
My fantastic husband, thankfully, values my health and it's upkeep more than I do. We followed doctors orders, sat and watched as the technician did her work, and there on the screen almost immediately we could see the thing, I would later realize, my life was being saved from.
I found myself at the beginning of a journey that would ultimately lead me to face an enemy that had been biding it's time inside of me: one I never before knew to fear.
They call thyroid cancer "the good cancer" because it's slow growing and typically not as externally terrifying. The go-to treatment is not usually chemotherapy. The prognosis is not usually one that sends you off with a number of days left to live and a bucket list to tackle. The mortality rate remains relatively low, yet the quality of life declines. About 62,980 new cases of thyroid cancer (47,790 in women, and 15,190 in men) will occur this year alone in the United States. That's 62,980 lives with plans and ambitions and loved ones, turned upside down, put on hold, battling to find the strength to overcome what will be a war waged internally for the rest of their lives. This cancer - this "good cancer" is a forever deal. It's that eerie feeling of being followed; the nagging knowing at the back of your mind that it can always come back to once again stop you in your tracks.
Now, I've been blessed. I've had the best of the best medical care and so far, certainly the best outcome we could hope for. My family and I are back on track, moving ahead, and enjoying a life free of my stupid, sick, cancer-corrupted, thyroid. I try not to dwell on the what-if's or what-could-be's, but I now have a scar that serves as a reminder of where I've been and where I could have ended up had someone not thought to check my neck.
My wish this Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month is that others learn from my experience and not shrug off that butterfly-shaped powerhouse inside of you. Pay attention to your body. There may be a lump you can feel, a persistent soreness to your throat, or your hormones might feel out of sorts. You might be fatigued, experiencing body aches, putting on or losing weight without effort, or maybe you've simply lost interest in the things you used to love.
Perhaps, like I had been, you've been diagnosed with an imbalance, were put on a pill to correct it, and you've assumed all would always be well. I truly hope that you're right - and you very well could be - but regardless of your confidence in the matter, check your neck.
Early detection is key. If you're curious as to just how far this disease can go, I refer you to Esther Earl's story chronicled in This Star Won't Go Out. Thanks to her and the inspiration she provided to John Green for The Fault In Our Stars, thyroid cancer has been brought to the public's attention unlike ever before. I pray that it serves as the push anyone with this quiet destroyer present within them needs to find what's ailing them and fight it!