Diary of … a student determined to persevere

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Growing up, I rarely got sick, I was very active and my mom ensured that I got all my vaccines and that I was up to date with my doctor visits.

My mom has always made sure our family took their vitamins, that we were eating the right foods and that we were healthy. She is one of those moms who can watch Dr. Oz or Doctors for hours, research the topic they are discussing and report back to her four children what we can do better to stay healthy and live a long life. Under Dr. Oz’s recommendations, she would change all the foods in the pantry overnight, and there was nothing we could do about it – like the time she switched us from white bread to whole wheat, which was absolutely horrendous the first few months.

During a recent doctor visit, for a general checkup, my extraordinary doctor at Cleveland Clinic noticed that my neck was a little swollen, although it looked normal to me. As an avid gym-goer, I had self-diagnosed that maybe I was lifting too heavy and somehow it made my neck look swollen and thought nothing of it.

Following up on my doctor’s observation, I was sent to an endocrinologist, who suggested that that we do some tests because there was a nodule on my thyroid. I really did not think it was a big deal. In fact, I thought it was benign because, according to Google and my doctor, most thyroid nodules are. After many examinations and a few biopsies, I had a follow-up appointment to go over my results. My doctor called me while I was in class and told me she needed to see me as soon as possible to go over my results. This worried me because she usually tells me the results over the phone.

I left class, called my boyfriend and went to the clinic. I was sitting in the doctor’s room with my boyfriend because my mom, for once in her life, did not answer her cell phone to come with me. I was frustrated because she always has her phone with her, but this one important time, she didn’t.

My cousin, Anush, a nurse who lives in California, also wanted to hear the results because I had spoken to her about the situation and she was texting me nonstop to let her know what was going on.

My endocrinologist walked in to the room and asked who the male was with me. After I explained it was my boyfriend, she quickly asked where my parents were and I began to get a little nervous. She began her speech by saying, that after all the tests results came back, the nodule in the throat was thyroid cancer. In that moment, I froze and then laughed, “Yea, right, cancer.”

I was in utter shock and suddenly my body started shaking. I was unaware that there was anyone else in the room, but I did not cry.

She then told me that this is the best type of cancer I could have, especially at such a young age of 20, and all I would need to do is have surgery to remove my thyroid. I was so frustrated at that sentence. The best type of cancer? How about having no type of cancer! Following the procedure I would have to take radioactive iodine, which is a radiation treatment used to treats some types of thyroid cancer, as well as those that have spread to the lymph nodes and other parts of the body. She said after the surgery, I would be on thyroid medication for the rest of my life.

That’s the part of the sentence that got me, “the rest of my life.”

I immediately started pouring out tears and my body got warm, and the worst feeling of all: I felt a rock in my throat. It’s the type of feeling you get when you want to cry out all your emotions but they somehow bundle up into each other and get stuck in your throat.

In that moment, I texted Anush and said it was cancer.

She asked me if I wanted her to call my mother so she could explain the situation to her, but my mom still did not answer. At this point, both my boyfriend and I were calling and texting my mom nonstop. We probably called 100 times and no answer.

Anush was bombarding my phone with text messages saying, “Rosie, don’t lie to me. Answer me. Please tell me you’re lying. Can I speak to the doctor?”

The news was too shocking and unbelievable.

My phone started ringing, and I went to pick up thinking it was Anush, but it was my mom. In frustration, I yelled at her and asked her why she didn’t answer the phone, and she asked me what was going on.

I told her the nodule on my thyroid was cancer. She laughed and said, “Rosie, stop joking,” repeatedly. At that point I started crying even more, because why would I joke about this, and after hearing my broken voice, she realized I was not joking and started crying as well. Screaming, she asked to speak to the doctor, and the doctor repeated what she had told me.

Leaving the doctor’s office, I felt so confused. How could this be happening to me? The invincible feeling I always felt was shattered. My diet was healthy, I worked out regularly, had regular doctor visits, and I took all my vitamins. Why me?

Because I had no symptoms or family history of thyroid cancer, I feel like it is almost my job to inform people about this disease because it happened so unexpectedly for me. It is a very common type of cancer, and most people are unaware of it. Just like people should do regular breast exams, they should also examine their throat for anything abnormal.

My mom and I met with different surgeons to see which surgeon is best to remove the cancer. After visiting Memorial Regional Hospital, we found our surgeon, David Bimston, who specializes in endocrine surgery. He concluded that we only need to remove half of my thyroid, which made me so happy. I was lucky enough to only take out half because my cancer nodule was so small and did not spread to other areas of my body. If I were to take out my whole thyroid, I would have to take thyroid hormone replacement pills for the rest of my life, with the possibility of gaining a large amount of weight. I guess I was being vain, but gaining weight scared me the most, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to lose it. The surgeon also said that I would not have to take the radioactive iodine, which, from stories I heard, sounded like the scariest part because I would have been completely isolated due to the high dose of radiation. I would even have had to stay away from my pets or babies for three days after the treatment.

My thyroid removal surgery is scheduled for later this month, and I have nothing but positive energy all around me, not only from family members, but friends and even professors. I met and spoke with supportive faculty who shared their experiences with thyroid cancer. They reassured me and gave me insight from their experiences with the cancer, and it made me feel a lot better about what I can expect during and after my surgery. After my diagnosis, I have had at least three people come with me to my doctor visits, and everyone has been very supportive in making sure I don’t get sad and overwhelmed with the process because it is such a scary thing at a young age.

I was diagnosed two months ago, and over the past two months, I have tried my best not think negatively about it, but my family has been so worried and stressed about me. I can only think that yes, in fact, it is the best type of cancer. It’s easily treatable; I know everything will be okay, and I will be fine.

 

 

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