Towards the end of my fifth pregnancy, I noticed a swelling in my neck. I asked my obstetrician what it was and he told me that it was my thyroid gland. I had no idea what the thyroid gland did or why this was happening. I got educated fast thanks to a good friend who had been through thyroid disease herself.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ that is located in your neck. It is part of the endocrine system which produces hormones that influence almost all the metabolic processes in your body. If your body is producing too much thyroid hormone you have hyperthyroidism. If your body is not producing enough thyroid hormone you have hypothyroidism.
Usually this can be fixed with medication. Some people may develop a goiter, which is an enlargement of the gland. In rare cases, this could be cancerous.
I had remembered that a good friend of mine had thyroid problems and I called her for advice. She gave me the name of her endocrinologist and also a book by a pioneer in the study of thyroid function. Dr. Broda Barnes book Hypothyroidism: The Unexpected Illness became my bible. I studied it from cover to cover. I also made an appointment to see her doctor.
The doctor ordered a blood test to see what my thyroid hormone levels were. He examined me and explained that I had a goiter. He said they would try to shrink the goiter by prescribing Synthroid (thyroid replacement hormone) to take. I made an appointment to come back in several weeks when I would have another blood test done.
I faithfully took my medicine but noticed no shrinking of the lump in my throat. If anything, it seemed to be getting larger. I anxiously awaited my follow-up visit with the doctor, trying not to fear the worst. I had a new baby girl to keep me busy but I still worried about what was wrong.
The doctor told me that since I was breastfeeding my daughter he couldn’t do the radioactive iodine test he normally would do at this point. This test would show how well my thyroid gland was functioning but I was not going to stop breastfeeding and asked for an alternative. The doctor ordered an MRI to be done and also decided that it was time to do a biopsy of the goiter.
The MRI was not easy for me being that I am terribly claustrophobic, but it did show the enlarged half of my thyroid gland.
Having a biopsy was more discomfort than pain. My friend came with me to hold my hand through the procedure which was done in the doctor’s office. A long needle was inserted into my neck and a sample was extracted to be tested. I would have the results in about a week. I went home and waited.
When the results came in the doctor told me that there were suspicious cells present. The half of the thyroid gland that was enlarged would need to be removed. If it was cancerous, more treatment would be needed but that would not be known until the surgery was done.
The surgery was scheduled and I remember nervously saying goodbye to my husband as they wheeled me in to be prepped and put under anesthesia. I woke up with a huge bandage on my neck and felt achy from the anesthesia. I was able to go home the same day.
A few days later I pulled back the bandage to see what the incision looked like. I almost fainted at the sight. I looked like Frankenstein. I couldn’t believe that this would heal into the tiny scar that it is fifteen years later.
I went back to see the doctor and was told that the growth they removed was not cancerous and I should heal just fine. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I was told to return for blood work in 6 months to check my thyroid levels. The other half of my thyroid “kicked” in and produced enough hormones that I no longer needed to take supplements.
I still have my levels checked once a year but I have been just fine. Although thyroid cancer is rare, my friend who grew up next door to me had it (she is cancer free now) and my sister had it a few years back. She also had her thyroid removed and is cancer free.