Category Archives: Faith

Surgery today

I wasn’t thrilled when I got the call from the hospital yesterday telling me I should arrive for surgery at 12.  That’s 12 noon.  With nothing to eat or drink since midnight the night before.  The nurse who called told me that if I wanted, I could get up before five and have some dry toast and black coffee.  I elected to sleep in.

This has made me think about how entitled I feel when it comes to my three meals a day.  How abnormal is that?  I was actually starting to get irritated because I wouldn’t be able to eat this morning.  In reality, this brief moment of being a tiny bit hungry is good for me.

Praise be to God who has provided so bountifully for me all my life!  May he be with me today, and may he guide my doctor as he works on me.

My awesome Aunt Sharon is coming down to stay with the kids.

I have almost crossed off everything on my “to do before surgery” list.

I have slathered On Guard (diluted with fractionated coconut oil in a roller bottle) all over my neck area multiple times a day in an effort to wipe out any unfriendly germs living in the area to be operated on.

I am defying my NPO order by sipping on a tiny splash of water right now.

See you on the flip side.

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Giving Thanks

I heard from M a little while ago.  Her melanoma surgery this morning was a complete success!  She said it was a “very superficial cancer.  No treatments or lymph node biopsies.”  Praise the Lord!

I am ready for my appointment tomorrow.  Questions printed and emailed.  (Dr. B’s quick response was, “Lots and lots of good questions,” maybe with the emphasis on “lots and lots?”)  Childcare lined up.

And here, for your amusement, are pictures of my neck!

Now you see it (swallowing):

Lump visible when swallowing 5-5-13

Now you don’t! (not swallowing):

Lump invisible 5-5-13

One day closer to follow-up

I still have not started weaning Eleanor. Oy. I dread the tears, the sadness. Must start tonight.

I am combating “irrational” anxiety/irritability today. Using my oils. Peaceful Child, Clary Sage. They are helping. I don’t know why this happens every time I approach an appointment or the due date for test results—although from reading other people’s stories, it is pretty normal (although I hate to think of feeling like this for the next four days). Still, I want to have better control of my emotions. Especially since I am working on Silas so much to help him control his emotions. He is very volatile these days. I think he’s turning into a teenager. Double Oy.

I emailed my childbirth class student about our class that is to start on Tuesday night and gave her a heads-up that I will probably be having surgery in the next few weeks.

For some reason Elliot has cut a chunk out of the front of his hair. Now that he’s seven.  Isn’t that kind of thing usually reserved for toddlers?  (Don’t get any ideas, Eleanor!) I never know what that child is going to do. Time for summer buzz cuts.

Ok, I am going to say this, because I think it will help me to get it out. Here are the two things I feel like I cannot deal with: 1—having really bad cancer—anaplastic, or bad metastases—where it looks like I won’t live long. I feel like I cannot leave my children motherless. And 2—having my whole thyroid taken out and finding out that there was no cancer in it after all, and I would be dependent upon a daily medication for the rest of my life for nothing. Either one of those situations would make me FURIOUS. I feel like anything else is manageable. Even metastatic cancer that is controllable for the next few years, I think I could deal with. May God have mercy on me and protect me from those “worst-case” scenarios.

One Week Obsession Remission…is over

So I have been in obsession remission for several days, and it’s been pleasant. I have been calm. I still feel fairly calm, but I can feel my obsessive tendencies creeping back up on me as my follow up appointment approaches. (T minus 6 days.)

I have a lot on my mind. I have read that when a partial thyroidectomy is indicated, but there are multiple nodules on the other side, the surgeon will often recommend doing a total thyroidectomy (TT). So I am thinking about this. Dr. B’s email did indicate this might be a possible course. Here’s the breakdown: I will be VERY unhappy if I have my whole thyroid out and they do all their dissections and pathology and find there is no cancer in there anywhere.

On the flip side, I don’t love the idea of having half out and then having to have the rest out in a second surgery. Also, I am not happy with the thought of totally ignoring all the nodules (how many are there, anyway?) on the left side. So here’s my thinking. Can we do FNA (Fine Needle Aspiration–what I had done on the other nodules) on at least the largest and/or most suspicious on the left side before surgery? ‘Cause that might make our course more clear. And if I only end up having half out, I’m still gonna be wondering about the lumps in that other side.

{Side note: Silas is practicing his memory verse, “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you…” Such good advice!}

Ok, so here’s something else: Am I going to be able to teach my childbirth class that starts next week? If (When?) I have surgery, how long will it take me to recover? This class has very little wiggle room built in because of the couple’s due date. Funny how I was really wishing for more couples to sign up; now I am kind of glad it’s just the one. So should I contact them now and give them a heads-up about the possibility of having to alter or cancel the class? Or should I wait until after my appointment when I have more info—which will be the same day as the scheduled first class. That’s one of the things I’ve allowed myself to look at online…what to expect after surgery. Looks like I may need to borrow a recliner. Recovery time seems variable, but for most at least one week before working again. Of course, I don’t have any idea how soon he will schedule surgery. If he plans it for mid-July, I have nothing to worry about–except that my recovery will run into book rush time.

Would it be really terrible to ask Aunt Sharon to come help me, like she did after Eleanor was born? I feel like I might need some assistance. One of those times I miss Mom, for SO many reasons.

Also, what about lymph nodes? Has anyone looked at these on ultrasound? Will Dr. B be on the lookout for funky looking lymph nodes in surgery?

Weaning. Is going to be. Really. Hard. I need to start…..tonight. May the Lord help me. I just don’t want things to be too difficult on Rusty if I am unable to help with bedtime for a few days after surgery. And if I do somehow end up needing RAI, I really, really need to have my breasts ready for that by being empty of milk.

And at the extreme end of my hysteria is this: I have a very faint sensation of having a lump in my throat. Has it been there for a while, and I notice it now because I know there’s an actual lump there? Or is my lump growing and starting to press on my windpipe? Or is it just in my mind because I am feeling paranoid? You won’t tell anyone how completely insane I’m becoming, will you?

Dr. B for Biopsy

The waiting room at the ENT office was packed. I heard the receptionist say to someone that the wait had been running about an hour. I read some on the kindle app on my phone, having forgotten to bring the actual device. I had found a memoir called Dirty Bombshell: From Thyroid Cancer Back To Fabulous! by Lorna J Brunelle. Am I obsessed? Yes. But it’s helping me cope with my anxiety to read about people who had been through thyroid cancer and come out fine.

Finally, I was called back and seated in a patient room. I started to read a little more, but then put my phone away. If Dr. B or his nurse asked what I was reading, I didn’t want to reveal I was neck-deep in thyroid cancer obsession. Instead I checked my email. I started to read from my friend T that she was having to see a rheumatologist to find out the cause of her autoimmune symptoms. And she had gotten laid off from her job unexpectedly that day! I was clearly not the only one in the world with things to worry about! My heart was racing for her and the anxiety she must be going through.

At that moment a very friendly nurse came in—I wish I had gotten her name. I need to make sure I do on a future visit. She had me sit in the exam chair and said, “Let’s check your blood pressure.” She strapped on the cuff and said, “So we’re set up to do a biopsy today, right?” and gestured to a small counter that I hadn’t noticed was laid out with paper drapes, syringes, and…an emesis basin. Great!

I imagine myself in that moment with my eyeballs popping out of my head like a cartoon character. “I was expecting this to just be a consultation,” I said, trying to keep the panic out of my voice.

Then my brain caught up to me. A biopsy today would mean less waiting to find out if I had cancer or not. “But that will be fine, if we do that. The lady who called me had just said it would be a consultation appointment. But I don’t want to wait if I don’t have to.”

I was babbling. “I bet my blood pressure just went…” I pointed up.

She looked at the meter and laughed. “Yep!” She left me alone for a moment. I looked again at the biopsy equipment, and saw an ultrasound machine right beside the chair. That made me feel better. I had decided earlier that I would only let Dr. B do my biopsy if he used ultrasound guidance.

I found myself facing a window that looked out onto the parking lot and the road beyond it. I don’t want people to see me getting a needle stuck in my neck! I thought.

Even though my rational brain was glad to have the process moving along, my emotions were in a tizzy. Why didn’t I make Rusty come with me? my brain screamed. I tried to call him, just to let SOMEONE know that something very important was happening! They were going to stick a needle in my neck TODAY! But he didn’t answer. I wasn’t surprised. In the spring, if the weather permitted, he is usually out in our yard, making it beautiful.

I have GOT to calm down, I thought. I said a quick prayer for the Lord’s help. Then I remembered that I had put a vial of “Peaceful Child” in my purse. I gave that to J this morning! But I still had the rest of my oils. Balance. I opened the little lime green zippered case that holds my travel oils and found the bottle of Balance. I tapped some out onto my hands, and then rubbed it on the back of my neck and my wrists. I took deep breaths, inhaling the scent each time. I felt myself start to calm.

As my pulse slowed to a more normal pace, I felt inclined to laugh. Since I discovered the lump on my neck, I had wanted to speed things along. Now that they were speeding, I felt hysterical! I was chuckling over this when Dr. B came in.

“What’s got you laughing?” he asked good naturedly. I told him that I hadn’t been expecting a biopsy, but that I was fine with it—glad to move the process along. He took a look at my file, and gave me a chance to take a look at him.

He was wearing a leather band around his head with one of those reflector discs like you see cartoon doctors wearing. He also had reading glasses with a magnet in the nose bridge to make it easier to get them on and off quickly. I was comforted by the nerdiness of that reflector and those glasses. Not so much the image of the ex-quarterback I had in my mind from his online picture.  (No offense, Dr. B!  I think you’re awesome!)

“So the ultrasound report says that one of the nodules has calcifications and posterior shadowing. We’ll take a look at it, but it sounds like it does need to be biopsied.” He stood up and started talking me through the flowchart of possibilities, all the while tucking a drape into the top of my shirt, looking in both of my ears, peering up my nose, and feeling for what I presumed were the lymph nodes on my neck.  I looked up at him to respond and saw that he had the reflector flipped down over one eye to assist him in his examination.

The nurse came back in. Dr. B asked me, “Did you get to see your nodules on ultrasound?”

“No, but I’d love to,” I said.

“Let’s take a look.” He turned the machine on and put some gel on the transducer. He ran it across my neck and looked for a minute himself.

“Ok, turn you head a little this way,” he said, moving the machine more into my field of vision. “Here are the two lumps that we’re really looking at.” He moved the device around to show me the large nodule in the front of my neck, and the hidden one farther back, which had the calcifications.

“See, this one doesn’t look too bad,” he said, pointing out the nice smooth border and bland, solid gray appearance. “But this one,” he slid the transducer over, “See those calcifications? And that’s a blood vessel, so it’s vascular. It just looks a little more worrisome. Not as friendly as the other one.”

I wondered if the specks I was seeing would be considered “microcalcifications,” but I was afraid to ask. And it’s vascular. Not a great sign, I thought. From that point on, I expected that the biopsy would show malignancy. I knew that it might still be benign, but felt like the odds were against it.

“Isn’t it weird that if it hadn’t been for the friendly one,” I pointed to the bulge in my neck, “We wouldn’t have known about the ‘worrisome’ one?” I said.

“It’s serendipity,” he said.

I think I actually huffed. “It’s the Lord,” I said.

He started getting everything set up for the biopsy. “We’re going to get samples from both of them,” he said.

“How long before I hear something?” I asked—my new favorite question!

“About a week. We send them to Atlanta.” He pulled out a card and stuck it in the top of my purse. “If you don’t hear something by then, shoot me an email.” He told me that if the nodules turned out benign, it was still likely that I would have to have thyroid surgery sometime, just because I had so many lumps at such a young age.

“If I need a thyroidectomy, will you be the one to do it?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you do a lot of those surgeries?”

“There’s only one guy in Alabama who does more of them than I do,” he said, not in a boasting way, just matter-of-fact. “He’s at UAB.” That sealed it for me. This was my guy.

They started to prep for the biopsy. I looked ahead, through the window, again. “Can we close the blinds?” I asked. The nurse pulled them shut without hesitation.

Dr. B injected some numbing medicine into the skin on my neck. It stung. “You’re very red-headed,” he said, “So this is really going to make your neck look splotchy for a few hours.” That was the least of my worries at that moment. But I really loved how calm and straightforward he was. I am going to have to thank Dr. G for sending me here, I thought.

“Ok, we’re going to get about three samples from each one. When I put this in, I need you to be very still. Don’t swallow, don’t talk.” He held the ultrasound wand in one hand and a syringe in the other. He was watching the screen. “Here we go. BE STILL.” The needle went in. It didn’t hurt, exactly, but it was the strangest sensation I had ever experienced. I could feel it inside my neck. It was all I could do to stay calm and hold myself still.

He took the needle out and squirted his sample into a vial. The he repeated the procedure. At one point he nodded to his nurse, “Hard drive that.” She went over and clicked a button on the ultrasound machine.

“Do you have any children?” he asked, right as he was inserting the needle for the third time. “Don’t answer that, hang on.” He withdrew the needle in a moment and I could answer.

“Three,” I said. “A ten-year-old, a seven-year-old, and a two-and-a-half year old.”

He nodded, then continued with the biopsy. “Ok, don’t talk don’t move,” he commanded, inserting the needle, now into the front nodule. I looked up at the ceiling vent and counted the louvers.

“I can tell you’re nervous,” he said. “I can see your carotid and jugular right here on the ultrasound.” I told him about counting the slats on the vent. He and the nurse chuckled. “You’re doing fine, almost done.”

After a couple more passes with the needle, he was finished. The whole thing probably hadn’t taken ten minutes.

The nurse pressed a piece of cotton to my neck. “Hold this.” I obeyed.

Dr. B was back in his seat, filling out the lab work instruction forms for the pathologist. “I want you back for a follow up in three weeks.” I remember him saying this, but at the time I was too foggy for me to process the meaning of his words.

“You should hear something by the end of the week,” he said. That, I understood.

“By the end of the week, or within a week?” I asked. I did NOT want to find myself expecting information when there was no chance of having it yet. He looked up at the ceiling, doing the calculation.

“Well, it’s late in the afternoon. If we had done it this morning…No, probably not until the first of next week.”

I mentally noted Tuesday as the day expect results. The nurse gently pulled my hand with the cotton away to check the bleeding. It must have been fine, because she held up a band aid—a miniscule circle.
I laughed. “So I get a tiny band aid?” I felt like I was going to need a huge gauze patch.

“Yes,” she said kindly, sticking on one and then another.

Dr. B handed me my discharge slip. “Come around here and look,” he said. He led me behind the exam chair and gently pointed me towards a mirror on the wall. “See how the medicine made your neck blanch? When you pull off your band aids, you’re going to have bull’s eyes.” I was thankful I didn’t have anywhere else to go that evening.

When I walked out of the room, the nurse pointed me towards the checkout desk. As I sat down in the chair, I saw the slip of paper shaking in my hand. Yes, I was glad to have the biopsy over with, but it had rattled me. Surprise! I thought. A biopsy!

“Looks like he wants you to come back in three weeks.” That was the first time it registered that I wouldn’t be back for three weeks, even though I should hear something within one. That’s how it’s going to go, I thought. I reminded myself what I had read several places, that thyroid cancer had to be dealt with, but it wasn’t an emergency. Later I realized that she actually scheduled me for one month later—the 16th of May. At the time, I was too much in a fog to notice. I paid my copay and went home.

Sure enough, when I got there, Rusty was watering some flowers he had just put in. I got out of the car.

“Guess who had a biopsy today?” I said in the most cheerful voice I could muster.

“Well, I wondered, since it was taking so long.” He gave me a hug. I followed him around the yard for a few minutes, chatting. Then I went inside. There was a message from S saying that she had gotten RYC applications for her kids. I thought that was a good sign—that she was probably in. But just to make sure I sent a quick email to the director of the camp, begging for information. Then I started calling the people I knew would want news.

I called J. “WHAAT?!!!!” She said when I told her about my surprise biopsy. But she was glad, too, that I wouldn’t have to wait any longer than necessary.

Then I called Nathan and Sarah. I filled them in, and then told Sarah that I had emailed the Rustic Youth Camp director for some answers. “I’ll go ahead and send our applications in, just in case,” she said.

I called my Dad. It was good to hear that he was now walking some without a cane, and that he thought he might be done with his IV antibiotics.

I called my Uncle Ken. I told him that I really wasn’t that scared of it being cancer, since it had such a good cure rate, but I was apprehensive about all the medical mayhem between diagnosis and cure—surgery, medication, radioactive iodine. He understood.

I tried to call Y. I didn’t get an answer from her, so I started my text message to everyone else who was following my case, putting her at the top. A few minutes after I sent the text, I got a call from her.
“I’m sorry I missed your call,” she said. “I assume it was about what your text message said. Did you want to tell me anything else?”

I am so thankful for you! I thought. I filled her in on what the ultrasound looked like, and basically repeated to her what I had said to my Uncle Ken. It was reassuring to hear the words, “I’m not really that scared of it being cancer,” coming out of my mouth. And it was true.

Eleanor woke up. I went up to get her out of her bed. “I like your band aids, Mommy,” she said, pointing to my neck. “I have a band aid on my foot. I don’t have one on my neck.” I had to smile. At least I was stylish.

I replied to T’s email, trying to keep my own update light by adding in the bit about Eleanor’s admiration of my bandages.

Band aids are always big with the toddler set, she replied.

We picked up Chinese for supper—comfort food to Rusty and me. But I knew I couldn’t keep indulging in needless expenses just because I was feeling vulnerable. I really needed to make myself stick to the same old routine until I couldn’t do it any more. All evening I got encouraging replies to the text I had sent out to my friends.  Once again, so many reasons to be thankful.

Here’s how it all started…

(Note:  The first few entries in this blog are timestamped for April 19th.  Some of that material was probably written on April 19th, but not all of it.  I edited the time stamp so that all entries would appear in chronological order.)

On March 26, 2013, as I was in my bathroom getting ready for my day, I took a sip of coffee. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my reflection as I swallowed. There was a lump on my neck. Was that my voice box? I swallowed again, paying closer attention. The lump was below my voice box, and was slightly off-center. That doesn’t look right, I thought. Is that where my thyroid is?

Looking at myself straight on in the mirror, the lump was completely undetectable. I swallowed. There it was. I tried to feel the lump. It was hard to find with my fingers unless I tipped my head back or swallowed. When I did get my fingers on it, it felt smooth and firm.

I decided to be on the safe side and call my doctor. Dr. G, my primary, had an appointment open that afternoon, so I booked it. I called my husband at work to tell him what was going on, and he arranged to take the afternoon off to stay with the kids so that Eleanor, our two-and-a-half-year-old, could get her nap undisturbed.

A few minutes later, my friend MA came over with her children. It was spring break for Auburn schools, a good chance for our families to get together and play. (My family homeschools, so our schedule is flexible for playtime!) I was feeling slightly rattled, and while the kids played, I mentioned my discovery. We didn’t talk about it much, but it was good to confide in a friend.  Later, another friend, L, brought her kids over to play.  I was glad for the distraction.

That afternoon, I got to see Dr. G’s shiny new office. The practice has been growing fast, and they had just moved into a large and lovely new facility. There were still painters with ladders touching up spots in the waiting room.

Dr. G has a double specialty in pediatrics and internal medicine, so he is the primary doctor for my entire family, except for my husband. I really like this arrangement because, even though we are a pretty healthy family, we see Dr. G often enough that we have a friendly rapport.

When Dr. G came in, we chatted for a minute about his new office. He said that there were several kinks they were still trying to work out.

He asked me a few questions about symptoms of hyper- or hypo-thyroidism; I had none. He had me tip my head back so that he could look at the lump and see what it felt like. He watched my neck as I swallowed, and held a light up to the lump. I didn’t know it at the time, but thyroid lumps are extremely common, especially in women. This assessment is probably one that he does often.

After his examination, he told me that there was a wide range of things that the lump could be, including cancer. But he reassured me that even if it was thyroid cancer, it was one of the best kinds to have, and nothing to be overly worried about. He ordered blood work to test my thyroid levels and had his nurse schedule a thyroid ultrasound for me.

Back at home, I sent out a text to some of my close friends and family. Found a lump in my neck, on/near my thyroid, ultrasound scheduled Friday. Probably nothing, but would appreciate prayers.

I called my Dad. I had recently been up to visit him in Arlington when he was in the hospital recovering from a surgery to clean out an abscess on his spine. I felt he deserved to hear voice-to-voice. He’s not an overtly emotional person, but I could hear the worry in his voice. I promised to keep him updated.

That night my Uncle Ken (UK) called to condole with me. He’s my mother’s brother, and my “father in the faith.” He and my Aunt Sharon had always been dear to me, but have become even more important in my life since the death of my mother in 2010 of metastatic breast cancer. He had read my text to Aunt Sharon and my cousin Karen, who was there visiting. Karen had commented that she couldn’t believe I had one more thing to worry about, and told UK about Dad’s recent medical drama.

I should probably add here that we have already had several difficult family situations to deal with since the start of the year. Rusty’s paternal grandmother had passed away after multiple bouts of pneumonia over the winter. Then his brother Danny had been hospitalized for what they thought was quickly progressing MS, but turned out to be neurological problems caused by as severe B-12 deficiency. Then came my Dad’s scary illness. We were hoping life would cut us some slack for a little while.

I had, just a week or two before, discovered the fascinating world of essential oils. I called a friend, K, who was more experienced with them to see if she had any ideas for oils that might be helpful. We discussed possibilities, and I settled on what I would start with. She promised to bring me by some myrrh—which is supposed to support normal thyroid function—the next day. When she did come, she brought benedictions with her, in the form of a little booklet about God’s healing. I felt very loved—as I always have whenever anything difficult comes up in our lives. Rusty and I have truly amazing friends and family, and we are very thankful for them.

I want to make something very clear at this point.  I have complete faith that my Lord can heal me–or anyone else–completely.  I believe that He hears prayers.  I also have experienced enough to know that God doesn’t always lead us down the easy path, and that He can use difficulties to refine us for his purposes.  I try very hard to follow the command, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” and to embrace the promise that goes with it, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” However, as in everything, I often fall short and must constantly work on putting my trust in Him.