Thryoid Cancer Update: Preparing for Radiation

It has been a while since I posted an update on my thyroid cancer, so here I am.  My last post on the subject was around New Year's Eve, so I definitely have some new updates.  Again, I am trying to be as thorough as I can with details in the hopes it helps someone else going through the same thing.

It was a week after surgery when I had my stitches removed and a follow-up with the surgeon's partner.  Since it was the day after Christmas, my surgeon was out of town.  It was another couple of weeks before I saw my surgeon for a follow-up.  During the visit, he had me do some breathing and talking exercises while he examined my throat inside and out.  He felt around on my neck a bit and had me do some exercises that tightened the muscles of my neck.  This helped him determine that my neck muscle on the side of the nodule was still weak and the incision site was a bit tight.  I was having trouble moving my neck too far back or side to side too much.  For this, he gave me the homework of doing neck stretches three times a day.  I had to tighten my muscles (kind of like you are trying to do an impression of Fire Marshall Bill), roll my neck all around, and pull the skin near my incision down and around to help loosen it up.

The Scar

He was also  not liking the look of my healing incision. There wasn't anything wrong with my healing, but he said I am too young and too healthy which creates a more red and bumpy scar instead of it smoothing out and disappearing faster. - Thryoid Cancer Update: Preparing for Radiation

Overall, things were going good and he promised to refer me to an endocrinologist that most of his thyroid cancer patients have seen and really like.  I told him I didn't like the one I saw previously and was looking forward to this one since she had such glowing reviews.  She specializes in thyroid cancer patients, so I hoped she would be a great match.

The neck exercises greatly increased my neck mobility within three days.  I continued them beyond that, of course, but I was surprised at how fast they worked in giving me more movement.  I was feeling pretty good and healing well.  Sean and I went out to a comedy club, we took the boys to the vet for check ups, hit up the Chocolate Festival, had another Bunco.  We just spent our weekends doing fun things and relaxing.  I'd spend most of the week catching up on housework and chores or projects that needed to be done.  Even in present day I mostly feel like I am constantly playing catch up.

A New Endo

At the end of January, I met with the new endocrinologist.  She seems very kind and warm and nice, more approachable and easier to talk to than the last one.  She explained some things about doing the radioactive iodine treatment and answered some questions I had about it.  She went over the basics really, but it was what we needed to do to get the ball rolling.  After speaking with her, I decided to wait until after Valentine's Day to start the Low Iodine Diet; so Sean and I planned out when it would be best for me to do the radiation.

The Low Iodine Diet

The Low Iodine Diet is imperative in the preparation for radiation because you want to starve any leftover thyroid cells of iodine.  You want them to be craving it.  The thyroid uses iodine to produce thyroid hormones.  The radiation comes in the form of a radioactive iodine pill.  Any leftover thyroid cells will be starving for iodine and take in the radioactive form, essentially then killing the cells it goes into.  Once I take the pill, I will rush home and be isolated in my bedroom/bathroom for about three days to a week.  We have to cover everything in plastic.  I will need to take multiple showers a day and pee as often as possible.  The radiation escapes your body via bodily fluids.  I will constantly have to suck on sour candies to help my saliva glands and wear rubber gloves when I use my laptop, iPad, or phone.  I'll make sure to take pictures for you when we get everything set up. I think it will be at least two weeks before I can leave the house and another week after that before I can be too near or even kiss my husband (or fur kids).  I think the isolation bothers me more than being radioactive, though that is quite unsettling as well.

This diet (which I am currently on) is limited to vegetables, fruit, 6 oz of chicken a day, and about 4 servings of a grain like quinoa.  I can't have any dairy, seafood, sea products, soy products, restaurant food, pre-packaged food, or anything containing salt because I don't know if these last three things have been made using iodized salt or not.  So I am using these restrictions along with my gluten free, grain free, sugar free restrictions.   I can have coffee and wine, so that helps me keep my sanity!  I have been getting creative and using my recipes I saved on Pinterest to make some pretty tasty meals so far.

Higher Dose of Medication

In addition to this diet, the endo upped my thyroid medication in order to suppress my TSH further.  In her explanation to me, this helps keep the thyroid cells from growing too much, which should keep any thyroid cancer cells from growing any.  Once I started the higher dose, my anxiety issues came back full force (constant nervous feeling in my stomach, obsessing over everyting and overthinking, crying a lot, etc).  I ended up having the worst panic attack I have ever had a couple weeks after taking the higher dose.  It is no fun.  A nurse from her office called to go over blood work and asked how I was doing.  I brought up the anxiety issue to her, but she thought it was impossible that I would have any symptoms until two months after starting the medication.  I told her I knew what I was feeling and that it came on after I started the higher dose, so I didn't know what else to tell her.  She promised to speak with the doctor, calling me back the next day to let me know I could take the higher dose four days a week and the smaller dose three days a week.  I think this has helped a little bit.

The blood work seemed okay to them, but it does show my parathyroid glands are still in shock.  (The parathyroid glands make calcium for your whole body.  So if they don't start working more in the next few months, I will have to take extra calcium supplements forever.) 

Living Life

Between then and now, Sean and I went to the Portland Seafood and Wine Fest, I had another haircut, and took a wine and painting class that was really fun.  The last week before saying goodbye to iodine, we kind of overdid it with tasty meals.  We went out for a lavish Valentine's Dinner complete with seafood, bread, and dessert.  We ate abundant Mexican deliciousness with friends and dined on Southern classics with the mother-in-law.  (Screen Door in Portland is YUMMY!!!)  I also had my last follow-up appointment with my surgeon.  The verdict is I will probably need the whole six months for my scar to lose the redness and for my neck muscle (which is still really weak) to get back up to where it should be.  Otherwise, I am doing well.

And now I am just trying not to stress too much about being radioactive and isolated, while I make lists and gather supplies for my time in the slammer.  I leave you with a recent picture of me and my healing scar. - Thryoid Cancer Update: Preparing for Radiation

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