March 5th, 2020
| Survivor: Thyroid Cancer
The symptoms started off innocently enough. One day out of every week I would feel sick twinges in my stomach. Here and there I got headaches. Once in a while, I felt moody or fatigued or annoyed for no reason.
Gradually, those symptoms became part of my life to the point where I learned how to work through them. When I spoke to my doctor he diagnosed me with anxiety and prescribed antidepressants; they didn’t help.
There’s nothing like being told that what you’re feeling is ‘all in your head’. For four years I had experienced strange and uncomfortable symptoms. Most of the time, I didn’t feel like myself, but someone else. I was in the emergency room so many times during those four excruciating years that most of the regular nurses and doctors knew me by name.
Every time I went to my doctor and explained my symptoms to him, he would tell me I was experiencing anxiety. He would give me questionnaires on anxiety and depression, and after I answered them honestly he would prescribe antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.
None of it helped. No matter what I took, all I knew was brain fog, nausea, paranoia, and sadness. I continued to experience the symptoms listed below, which became more prominent as time went by:
4. Brain fog
5. Hunger and overeating
7. Feelings of dread and sadness
8. Weight gain
9. Weight loss
I tried everything from western medicine to naturopaths to medication. I went through diet plans, exercise regimes, and got advice from anyone who would listen to me.
None of it worked.
There were days or even weeks when I would feel steady and stable and happy, but then they segued into weeks of either nervous paranoia or deep depression. Always, though, the headaches and nausea followed me.
I saw my doctor almost monthly and pushed him for answers. I knew something was wrong with my body and not my mind, but he refused to believe me. All that pushing and all those visits would soon become relevant, though at the time I only knew frustration and anger.
In November of 2014, I went to a dental hygienist for a routine tooth cleaning. The hygienist told me my thyroid gland felt swollen and that I should speak to my doctor about it. Rather than feel hopeless, I felt a new rush of determination: I had just been given more ammunition; my doctor had to believe me now.
One more visit to my doctor and he finally relented and sent me to the lab for blood tests that would check my thyroid hormone levels and TSH.
They came back abnormal, and that was when everything I had been through over the last four years made sense: I had been - and still was - experiencing a phenomenon called ‘thyroid storms’.
Thyroid storms are associated with Hashimotos, which is an autoimmune disease that attacks your thyroid gland. These ‘storms’ were my body’s attempts to regulate my thyroid hormone levels. Sometimes I would get too much while other times too little, which made me both hyperthyroid and hypothyroid at the same time depending on the week or even the day
Less than a month later I was diagnosed with both Hashimotos and papillary thyroid cancer in the left node of my thyroid. My body had been sending me warning signals for four years.
You know your own body better than your doctor does.
When it all comes down to it, no one knows you better than you. Your doctor may have gone to medical school and they may have extensive training in all things thyroid, but you have known you since the day you were born.
It’s easy to write something off as ‘just nerves’ or ‘I’m just having an off day’, but when symptoms recur over and over, the best thing you can do is listen to what they’re trying to tell you. Make appointments with your doctor. Go see a specialist. Find people in the medical industry who will listen to you. Make as much noise as you have to and eventually someone will hear you.
We only have one body in this life, and we need to take care of it.
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Rebecca was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in 2015. That same year, after her thyroid was removed, she was officially cancer free. She has been clear for the last few years and could not be more grateful for her second chance. Rebecca is a writer by trade and has dedicated herself to sharing her experiences with cancer to help others find the strength to keep on living.