Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Check Your Neck...

It’s time for another cautionary tale. I usually don’t let the mood here at The Cozy Page swing low, but I feel that this is really important. Too important not to address....

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You’re all aware of that, I’m sure. October 2, I went to get checked out. Everything looked good…except my doctor informed me that my thyroid gland looked a little “puffy.” He wanted me to have an Ultrasound done in order to see what was going on.
Okay, from here a little backstory. When I was two months shy of fourteen, I went to my personal physician for a routine physical. I was told that my neck looked rather enlarged and I needed to get my thyroid checked out ASAP. A bit of lab work, my first Ultrasound, an endocrinology specialist and one birthday later, I was told that I had a problem. A goiter. It appeared that, unbeknownst to me, over the last six months to a year, I had developed a condition called hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). Thankfully, they thought the goiter could be treated with medication as long as my hormone levels were routinely checked every three months to monitor them. Though the medication was effective and the goiter eventually shrank, I was told that I would likely have to take the meds every day for the rest of my life to keep my thyroid in check.

Looking a shade too thin...
- Christmas 2010 - Mother, Me, Sister
To this day, I’m still hypo. Through the years, particularly when I moved out of my parents’ house, I got a little devil-may-care with my meds and stopped taking them for a time. I lost so much weight I began to look skeletal. Fatigue walked closely in my shadow, dragging me down from behind like Jacob Marley’s chains. As a result, I became very unproductive. My day job started to feel like an exercise in torture, trying to stay awake through eight hours of activity, oftentimes at night. Not to mention I lost my creative rhythm and my fast-paced writing process suffered. I became prone to extreme levels of anxiety I still struggle with today. After a reluctant visit to my family doctor, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and my thyroid medication was adjusted. (Interestingly enough, around this time my mother and sister both found out they had hyperthyroidism, which is an "overactive thyroid").
Feeling good again, I didn’t worry too overmuch about it until April 2012 when I found out I was pregnant. I’d heard stories about thyroid conditions and pregnancy. Not a good combination. I was surprised by how steady my hormone levels stayed. The pregnancy really didn’t seem to affect them. The hub and I brought our baby home in November and we settled into family life. Three months later, I’d felt pretty well recovered, not that I had the time or inclination to think about me. I was totally wrapped up in our little love bundle, especially as he grew bigger and more active. So when, a few weeks ago, the doctor told me that my thyroid felt “puffy,” I was taken off guard. My levels were checked. I expected the worst but was told a few days later that the results looked good and my medication didn’t need adjustment. Okay, that was strange. Why would my thyroid look enlarged if my hormone levels were fine? So the following week I scheduled the Ultrasound.

August 2013 - Lake Martin
I didn’t let myself dwell on the worst until I was lying back on the table staring up at the dim lights above me. As the technician scanned the images on the screen behind me, I felt very unsettled, envisioning nodules and tumors that would require biopsy…or worse, surgery. Repeatedly, my mind came back to my ten-month-old son and how he deserved a fully functional mother – physically as well as emotionally – every single day of his young life. Later that night, my imagination did what it does best. It ran away with me and I became certain that I was at least going to be told that I needed to have my thyroid removed altogether (a pretty common practice these days for those with thyroid conditions/diseases, I’m told). The thought of neck surgery terrifies me. My mother had a nodule surgically removed from her thyroid a few years ago. I remember thinking I was lucky that hadn’t been me at fourteen. Or twenty-four. It’d seemed like I’d escaped some sort of surgical procedure too long. By the next day, I was convinced that bad news was coming.
Late that morning, our little family was gearing up to take a long walk to the Shrimp Festival. I was putting little man in his stroller when I saw the doctor’s office calling on my cell. Cursing under my breath, I stepped aside and took the call. I knew if they were calling back this soon they’d found something. The familiar voice of one of the nurses cheerfully told me, however, that they had reviewed my scans…and everything looked great. Huh? It took me a minute to understand that she was delivering good news. I whooped and hollered and jumped up and down in joy. I nearly broke down and cried, y’all. I ran up to the hub and threw my arms around his neck, telling him the good news. He seemed pretty relieved himself. I kissed our boy and the hub and I walked happily, arm-in-arm, pushing the stroller together to the festival down the street.

October 2013 - Auburn, AL
I’ve been thanking my lucky stars ever since. With me still nursing my son, my body is still working hard to produce what it needs to for both me and him and, of course, my hormones are still elevated because of it. I personally think that’s why my thyroid might seem puffy. I’m keeping a check on it and will return to the doctor a few months after I stop nursing after the minion’s first birthday to see if it has gone back to normal or if the doctor was mistaken to begin with. It being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d heard stories about young mothers diagnosed soon after giving birth. Heartbreaking stories. I also recently read a Yahoo Health article entitled “Reasons Behind Climb in Thyroid Cancer.” It states…
The number of cases of thyroid cancers has increased over the past 30 years, going from 4.9 cases per 100,000 people in 1975 to 14.3 per 100,000 in 2009.

An estimated 66,200 Americans will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer this year.

The reason I’m relaying my story and this information to you is because thyroid conditions and diseases are pretty common, among women in particular. They cover a wide range of symptoms that at first just seem like everyday problems – fatigue, brain fog, moodiness, brittle or thinning hair, nervousness, etc. Symptoms become more alarming if the condition remains untreated, however, resulting in problems with blood pressure, heart rate, vision, depression, insomnia, anxiety, muscle weakness, and infertility. Also if untreated, it can lead to goiters, nodules, tumors, and, as shown, cancer. Because I want everyone to be cautious about these rising numbers in thyroid-related issues, I’m attaching a couple of articles on the subject including symptoms, how to perform a self-check, and the research article I quoted from above to raise awareness. A lot of thyroid conditions are found accidentally while doctors are looking for other causes. If you feel any shadow of a doubt, don’t be afraid to get checked out. A simple blood test can determine whether your thyroid levels are too high or low. A simple check by your doctor can determine if your thyroid is in fact enlarged or not. Because of the rise in numbers and my own recent experience, I thought it would be good to pass on the word.

Thyroid Disease Symptoms - Hypothyroidism & Hyperthyroidism

Check Your Neck: The Self-Exam More Women Should Be Doing

Reasons Behind Climb in Thyroid Cancers

Stay healthy, Cozies, and (nerd alert) live long and prosper!  

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