Figuring out what I wanna be when I grow up.
Oop..I AM grown up...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Needle In The Neck Is Not Good Times

People, people, people--how tired I am of thinking about the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the throat known as the thyroid. For those of you who have not had to either obsess over or even think about your thyroid, it controls how quickly the body uses energy, makes proteins, and controls how sensitive the body should be to other hormones (see Wikipedia; "Thyroid" for the rest of it, and all the juicy details).

If you have an over-active thyroid gland, it is "hyperthyroid," or, if you feel sh*tty and tired and generally revolting all the time, you would then be "hypothyroid." If you would like a check-list of hypothyroid symptoms, go HERE

So, for years I have been JUST under the treatable level as far as my thyroid is concerned. Doctors keep sucking blood out of me, and telling me that my thyroid function is "normal," which is dismaying when I have nearly all the symptoms listed. Back when I lived in suburban hell, I had a fantastic doctor. Dr. L prided herself on being "the queen of the thyroid." This meant that she was particularly good at squeezing people's necks and discovering nodules. She also remarked wryly that thanks to her, she has a whole slew of patients who now walk around with neck scars (thyroidectomy). During one physical, she gave me a little paper cup of water, told put her hands around my neck and told me to swallow, as she squeezed (mildly strangled) my throat. Yup, I had a nodule. And so off I went to the specialist, AKA, arrogant endocrinologist for a biopsy.

The way they obtain a biopsy is as follows: either locating the nodule by feel or by ultrasound, and sticking a needle in your neck into the thing to suck out cells for examination. A NEEDLE IN THE NECK. The euphemistic terminology for this is "fine needle aspiration." This is the doctor saying; "the needle is so tiny. It feels like a MOSQUITO BITE. No, you don't need me to freeze the area first--that would hurt WORSE than the needle." Oh wait, that is what the doctor told me. And yet, who wants a needle in their neck? Arm, back, fine--but please, not in my neck. All I can say is that it did NOT feel good. It didn't hurt, precisely, but it felt WEIRD; like a needle was touching a part of my inner body that never ever should be touched. Shudder.

So, in the past five years, I have had two needle biopsies and two ultrasounds on my neck. All tests told me my nodule is not cancerous. Phew, right? Well, maybe... At one point, an ultrasound revealed that my nodule had gone DOWN in size. Well, that's not cancerous then, right? I was happily trucking along in my I'm-so-tired-all-the-time-I-don't-know-how-I'll-make-it-through-another-day state, and then my husband went for a physical.

Hmm...turns out he had a nodule on his thyroid. Large-ish. His specialist advised him to get the whole works yanked out, unlike my watch-and-wait approach. Of course I was worried. I figured that it was better to have one's thyroid, than to have a vial of pills to replace it. If you have your thyroid removed, you have to take medication (typically, "Synthroid) every day for the rest of your life, without fail. Scary stuff, thought I. But, the man is stubborn, and there was no arguing. He had no symptoms, no need to flop into bed at 2 in the afternoon, no half hour morning crying sessions because he's "too tired, and just can't do this WAAAAA, WAAAA, WAAAA!" And so off he went and had it all removed. He spent two nights in hospital, and was told not to lift anything for a few weeks, and just take it easy. He had a bit of discomfort after, but no real pain. I was also pleased to find that he felt NO different taking the medication than he did with his thyroid gland in place. No different. Imagine!

And so now the suck-o news: the nodule that was removed with his thyroid was cancerous. MON DIEU! I had been worried. Women are far, far more likely to get thyroid nodules than men are. Why is this? Probably because we're a hot mess of rising and falling hormones all the time. Why are so many people developing thyroid problems now anyway? Well, I'm going to point at the elephant in the room--namely: OUR POISONOUS ENVIRONMENT. The poor thyroid just sucks that crap up.

Apparently though, in the doctor world, thyroid cancer is "nothing to worry about." It has a very high cure rate. They figure they got everything out of him anyway, but to be on the safe side, he has to have the standard treatment of radioactive iodine. For 2 weeks prior, he must have a totally IODINE FREE DIET.

I, karen the dumb-dumb, shall explain: thyroid cells love iodine, and need it to function well. Iodine is found in table salt, egg yolks, sea food, and milk products. And so, he will be able to have none of that for two weeks, as he must starve his body of iodine in preparation. THEN, they will inject him with the yucky, radioactive iodine, thus killing off any potentially remaining bad thyroid cells. Boo-yah.

And so now I am freaked. The man is not worried at all, just thinks of it all as a nuisance. I, on the other hand, now get to walk around with a nearly constant feeling of dread in my stomach, because I seem to be a little maxed out these days since my Mom died. Also, I desperately wanted to phone her for advice, as she knew ALL THINGS MEDICAL, and might as well have been a doctor. I need her counsel, and I need to know what to do about myself! And so, I am off to my doctor's in a couple of weeks to get her opinion on what I should do.

Ladies and gentlemen, go to your doctors and have them wring your little necks to find out if y'all have any lumps and bumps riding on your thyroids. It's a lot more common than you might have realised.

**picture reference: "Follicular Thyroid Carcinoma"


  1. geez thanks for freaking me out. one day i was on the computer and had my hands near my throat.. my thyroid or what ever moved with a crackle..that was it: i thought i had cancer..needless to say I went upstairs and asked my son and his does the same. now you just gave me reason to worry.....

  2. Hope everything goes well for Jon. That's scary.
    I've been doing alot of research on health stuff and thyroid was in articles i was reading. Anyways it is a book on Chinese medicine on loan from my friend here "Cranberry Cottage" and it is amazing how the diet is the root cause of all our problems...example infertility, thyroid,cancers etc. Very good reading which lists what foods to eat and so on. It also gives you a test and you can see your symptons. Oh and coffee which i totally worship is a huge cause of a lot of problems. So guess what i'm doing starting next week...kicking my coffee habit...i might have to send my family away for a few days!!

  3. well, I often think that coffee in moderation is actually good for us. I only drink one cup of half-caffeine per day, but hope that all the antioxidants coffee has to offer can help me. I think we highly underestimate the effect of our diets. We are truly, after all, what we eat.
    Now Cranberry (for lack of a real name :) don't panic. We all just need to be aware of our thyroids. I have a monstrous cancer phobia. MONSTROUS. However, nobody in the medical world seems to get remotely freaked about thyroid cancer, so that's a good thing.

  4. My friends brother in law has recovered very well following his thyroid cancer 8 years ago.

    I know what that fatique is like. I have to get B12 shots ans my energy plunges terribly when I need a dose.

  5. Karen,

    Just an Internet stranger (and thyroid cancer patient) who found your blog while researching some other stuff. You are so right that people need to be aware of their thyroids -- check your neck!

    I'm also at the tail end of my low iodine diet, and if you or your husband need any tips/commiseration, I'd highly recommend the Thyroid Cancer Association webpage ( and Yahoo message boards - very helpful. Lots of recipes, and even better, support. Best of luck to your family.

  6. B12 shots eh...maybe I should look into that as well, since last time I called my doctor's office, I was flabberghasted to find that my thyroid is functioning "well." Hm...

    Thanks for the info, and thanks as well to you Michelle, for dropping by and offering info and support. Stop in anytime!


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