Thank you so much for all your messages of love and support on the TVSN Facebook page. It means a lot to know you are cheering me on as I go through this.
Now, I’m not calling it Cancer with a capital C. It’s thyroid cancer. I don’t think it deserves that level of fear or respect, and I’m not willing to give it that much energy. Instead, I’m looking at this as a journey towards health, wellness and positive growth. I want to share this with you, in the hope that it helps others find strength and power.
OK, the most common question I’m asked is: “How did you find it?” The answer is a little weird.
Four years ago, as I was falling asleep at night, I would hear the word “endocrinologist” over and over in my head. I didn’t even know what an endocrinologist was, let alone visited one!
But us Celtic people are an intuitive bunch, and I knew I needed to take heed. Some of you may know that my Mum has gone through Breast Cancer twice now, and in both instances, it was her own intuition telling her something was wrong. Even when our family GP told her it was “all in her mind”, her perseverance to push through led to early detection and treatment. I followed Mum’s lead and went to my GP and told her what I’d been hearing. Although she didn’t scoff at me, unfortunately she never sent me to see an endocrinologist. Most (but not all) of my blood tests were in the normal range, so it was largely dismissed.
Three years on, in April last year, I decided enough was enough. Enough feeling lethargic, enough stressed out mood swings, and enough feeling like a shell of my former self. It was like everything had slowed down. Small bruises were taking ages to disappear, my skin kept breaking out, and I gained about 5kg in a month. Given my weight has always been relatively stable, I knew something was going on.
I searched Google for “holistic endocrinologist” and saw a name that I felt inexplicably drawn to. I made an appointment to see her without discussing it with my GP, as I didn’t want to be deferred again. As soon as I walked into her office, I knew I was in the right place. I felt warm, cared for and safe. At that first meeting, she checked my thyroid and told me it was enlarged and that I needed to get an ultrasound. She also identified other health issues, and so last year became about wellness: eating well, getting rest, exercising and de-stressing with yoga and meditation, to keep my body balanced.
If you’ve never seen a picture of a thyroid, it’s the most beautiful butterfly shaped organ. In fact, I don’t think I’ll ever see a butterfly again without thinking about the thyroid. The ultrasound showed four little lumps – AKA “nodules” – on the right side (or wing) of my thyroid. One nodule was larger than 1cm in size, and this usually calls for a biopsy. She suggested I keep an eye on it and follow up in 3 months.
Three months later, she said I could wait another 12 months, but I pushed and said I wanted it checked now. As it happened, the follow up showed the larger “suspicious” nodule had grown quite quickly; the biopsy called it “atypical”. Usually, she said, you would wait 6 weeks and do another biopsy. I stopped, took a breath and looked her in the eyes. I told her I wanted it out as soon as possible.
She referred me to an incredible surgeon, who agreed it was best to get it out. The shape, the rate of growth, and the little patches of calcification were all reasons to be proactive. He was confident that we could just take out the right half of my thyroid, heal, and life could pretty much return to normal.
Unfortunately, the diagnosis was thyroid cancer. So, 13 days after my first surgery, I was back in hospital to remove the remainder of my thyroid. I woke in recovery to see two very neat matching scars, looking like a little smile across my neck :-).
In fact, other than some bruising and stiffness, I felt an incredible strength coming through me, like a warrior woman filled with fire. By the second day, I had my suitcase packed and was sitting upright on my bed, washed and dressed, asking the nurses when I could be discharged. Lucky for me, they let me go that morning, which happened to be Valentine’s Day – best Valentine’s ever!
I should point out that thyroid cancer is rare: only about 5% of all thyroid nodules are cancerous. Even with my “suspicious” biopsy results, it was still only a 30% chance of cancer. The odds were in my favour. I still feel that the choice to remove the right side initially was the correct decision. It was just unfortunate that in my circumstances, it didn’t go my way.
So what happens next? I’ll be back on air next week, and then a short break as I head into hospital for radiotherapy, which will be a ball of boring-ness: two days in total isolation while I’m radioactive. Hopefully after that, I will be done.
There is so much to be grateful for. Thyroid cancer is known as “one of the better cancers to get”. That doesn’t take away the enormity of the diagnosis, but in terms of treatment and prognosis, it’s definitely in my favour. The doctors and nurses were awesome, so respectful of my wishes – they even agreed to read out some positive affirmations as I went under the anaesthetic, so that I could feel calm and peaceful.
I also feel grateful for my intuition, and for my body’s ability to heal. I’m grateful for the abundance of love and support I’ve received from friends, family, my partner, and the TVSN crew (on screen and off). I feel grateful for the opportunity to grow in strength, wisdom and compassion. To have faith, in my voice and myself. We have to be our own advocates. If it doesn’t feel right, say something.
You might have heard me talk about my collection of red shoes. Over the years, Mum and I have gone through various health challenges, and they have become our symbol of strength, courage and determination. And yes, thanks to Mum, I am now the proud owner of a pair of ridiculously impractical and impossibly beautiful red shoes.
I’ll be back on air next week…wearing those red shoes. Onwards and upwards, baby!