I (no longer) have Thyroid cancer — Part 4

If you’ve been following along with these posts over the last year, I hope you notice the difference in this post’s title :-)

This will be the last time I write about my cancer (unless, in the unfortunate event that it returns).

On October 16th I went under the knife and had my thyroid gland removed in order to treat my Papillary Thyroid Cancer (see Part 3 of this series to know why I made that decision). The surgery went very smoothly and I began taking synthetic thyroid hormone replacement right away. The final diagnosis of my thyroid was that I had a 2.1cm, stage 2 papillary thyroid carcinoma with a follicular carcinoma variant along with having advanced Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (an auto-immune disease attacking my thyroid gland). The follicular variant means that the risk of the cancer spreading was higher than for normal papillary carcinoma. It also means that had it spread, it’s less likely to have spread to the lymph nodes and lungs and more likely to have spread to other organs in my body (so our ultrasounds had been looking in the wrong place anyway). Needless to say, getting the surgery was the right decision. To further demonstrate the point I made in Part 3 that there was really no reliable method of measuring the progress of my anti-angeogenic treatment, most of this final diagnosis was a complete surprise to us.

Because I was in stage 2, a radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment still awaits (to be done in December) as well as a few full body scans. As my friend Arky says, I’ll become a superhero in December :-) . This may mean that I have to return home a day or two early from the Mozilla All Hands event in Orlando, but that’ll be ok. Once this is complete, it seems that the cancer chapter of my life can be closed.

Missing your thyroid gland presents a whole host of new health challenges and thus a new chapter in sorting out my health begins. I’m working through finding the right medication, the right brand of that medication, and restoring balance to my body. The first week and a half after the surgery I was riding the high of having both natural thryoid hormone & synthetic thyroid hormone in my body. It was wonderful! I felt better than I’ve felt in 4 years! The depression was gone, my appetite was strong, I was still losing weight, and the breadth of my ambition was infinite. I could take on the world! After that week and half, however, it was as if I had stumbled off of a cliff. I’m once again depressed, constantly tired, irritable, anxious, gaining weight again (while maintaining a mostly plant-based diet), and (most strangely) I can’t breathe. Where I was once run 6 miles a day, I can barely do 2 miles without hyperventilating, nor can I climb stairs or speak for longer than 30 seconds without losing my breath. And my old singing ability is gone, not only because of the breathing issue, but because my vocal chords won’t allow it. However, my ENT surgeon and Endocrinologist are working closely with me to solve these problems. I’m greatly looking forward to the day when I’ll be back to normal :-)

While I was still riding my hormone high, a good friend of mine convinced me to run in the 55km Laugavegur Ultra-maraþon in Iceland this summer. Never before have I thought that this was something I could do and at the time I was insane enough to say, “Yes!” Despite these problems, I’m committed to completing the ultra-marathon. Now I feel even more insane! How will I do this if I can’t breathe and can’t run like I used to? I’ll figure it out. I’ll run slower in training. I’ll focus on strength training instead of cardio while I sort out the breathing and fatigue problems with my doctors. As of today, I have 244 days to prepare, and damnit I’m going to do it! Even if that means I walk most of the way ;-)

Again, I want to thank everyone that added provided all types of support to me and my family during this time. From voicing support and solidarity to bringing meals to picking up slack at work while I’ve been on medical leave, I’ve been greatly moved by all of your kindness and generosity. Thank you.

And with that, this is (hopefully) the last time you’ll see me write about my (soon-to-be extinct) cancer.