What's It Like to Have Thyroid Cancer?
Thyroid Cancer Bracelets
My Granddaughter Caitlin
Thyroid Cancer. Not a very common type of cancer and yet, according to the Mayo Clinic, its rates are increasing. Currently less than one percent of cancers are thyroid. Yet, my granddaughter was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at age seventeen. I know it is more common in females than in males, but seventeen! It is actually more common over the age of thirty so for her to have it at seventeen floored us all.
There are four types of thyroid cancer; papillary, medullary, follicular, and anaplastic. Papillary is the most common and is fortunately slow growing as is follicular. Papillary is also the most common type of thyroid cancer. My granddaughter was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer.
What is the Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid gland is located in the front of your lower neck and is part of the endocrine system. The endocrine system produces hormones in our body. Growth hormones, antioxidants, iodine absorption, ovulation, among other things are controlled by the endocrine system. The thyroid gland has many uses in this system. It controls how the body uses energy, how fast calories are consumed, it makes proteins, and controls how the body reacts to other hormones. So the thyroid is pretty important. It is also important to regulating body temperature, the body's use of vitamins and proteins, and the growth of body tissue. The pituitary gland works with the thyroid to adjust the amount of hormones in the body.
A Little More Information on Papillary Thyroid Cancer
The prognosis for people with Papillary Thyroid Cancer is good, with a long term survival rate. Anyone who has had this type of cancer should be vigilant about follow-up visits and monitoring. There is a thirty percent chance of recurrence.
In the early stages of Thyroid Cancer there are literally no symptoms. That is what makes it so hard to detect. Some symptoms may appear in more advanced cases, such as hoarseness, shortness of breath, or a sensation that there is something in your throat when swallowing.
If there is any suspicion of Thyroid Cancer the first test done is a neck ultrasound. This presents a visualization of the thyroid gland and any irregularities. Very often the ultra sound is accompanied by a biopsy. This is done by "fine needle aspiration". A thin needle is inserted in the neck to draw out fluid to be biopsied. Blood tests and CAT Scans may also be used in conjunction with the other tests or alone. Whatever it takes to determine if the cancer is present. If there is still doubt, a tissue sample may be taken for examination.
We often hear people state what stage their cancer is. The stages are I, II, III, and IV. Stages are used to determine the cancer’s size, type, and whether and where it has spread at the time of diagnosis. When using the 'staging' different stages may mean different things in different age groups. For example, Stage I in patients under forty-five would mean that the cancer is in the thyroid gland, may also be in other neck lymph nodes, and/or neck tissue but it hasn't spread to other organs. Now, in someone forty-five or older the difference is the cancer is one inch in size, is NOT in nearby neck lymph nodes or tissue and has not spread to other organs.
Papillary Thyroid Cancer is treated in one of three ways; surgery, radiation without surgery, and radioactive iodine by mouth. The involvement of any lymph nodes or tissues or the possibility of the cancer spreading are all things that help determine the course of treatment.
Caity and Her Brother, Jake
Caity and Her Mom (My daughter)
My granddaughter's name is Caitlin, Caitlin Mary (Mary after her grandmother). She is every grandmother's dream child. Well behaved, happy-go-lucky, nice to everyone, popular, a good student, very active in after school activities, you name it, that's our Caity! Did I mention attractive with beautiful hair and a great smile?
One summer day my daughter called and said, "Caity has a lump on her neck. I don't know what it is, could you take a look at it?" I said sure, figuring it was a boil or enlarged hair follicle. However, when they got to my house and I looked at it, I had no idea what it was. It looked almost transparent. It wasn't huge but it certainly was noticeable. We decided the best thing to do was take her to the doctor and have it checked out.
The doctor wasn't sure about the lump on the outside of her throat, to make sure everything was okay he wanted to run further tests. A few days later my daughter showed up to tell me the 'further tests' showed thyroid cancer! My seventeen year old granddaughter had thyroid cancer. The thoughts and feelings that ran through me are indescribable. We all researched and found out the facts but she still had cancer. Her thyroid had to be removed...at seventeen!
This was the beginning, not just for us, but for our beautiful seventeen year old girl. What was to happen? Fortunately everything went as it was supposed to and she is now doing well.
How does having Thyroid Cancer and the surgery and medication and all of that effect a seventeen year old? Caity is eighteen now, seven months later, but I asked her a few questions to help understand Caity and her experiences. Maybe her experiences can help someone now facing what she has gone through.
How did you feel when you were told you had thyroid cancer?
Caity: I sobbed. That was my biggest fear the moment I found the lump, that it would be cancer.
What were you thinking while you were waiting to have surgery?
Caity: I was thinking about how nervous my mom would be. I accepted it at that point and I just didn't want her to worry.
(That's my Caity, more worried about her Mom than herself.)
What was the surgery like...painful, scary...?
Caity: The surgery was intimidating and I hated the IV they had to put in.
After the surgery how did you feel, physically and mentally?
Caity: Right after my surgery I just felt exhausted and my neck was uncomfortable, but not in pain. Thank God for OxyContin!! To this day, though, my neck is still sensitive to the touch.
Caity and her brother, Jake
Now that its been over six months since your surgery, how do you feel about this whole experience?
Caitlin: I feel like it has made me appreciate life itself more than I had. Everyone is important and I'm no better than anyone else.
How has it affected your life...having thyroid cancer vs not having it?
Caitlin: I feel like I'm the cancer chick at school haha. People stare at my scar and ask how soon it will heal but it really doesn't bother me and I'm proud of my scar.
Caity and Her Mom
What would you tell someone who just found out they had thyroid cancer?
Caitlin: I would not tell them that they are lucky that its JUST thyroid cancer, that's for sure. I heard that so much and I really did not feel lucky. I would tell them to look for the silver lining. The grand marshal last year talked about how she would look for the silver lining when she had breast cancer and I thought that was brilliant. Just try to stay as positive as you can and its okay to have bad days.
I know the answer to this one but I'll ask anyway; since you had thyroid cancer have you become involved in any thyroid cancer activities (prevention, organization, etc.)?
Caitlin: I was involved in a swim-a-thon for cancer and I'm involved with the relay for life. Both are fundraiser events to not only raise money but raise awareness. I don't do anything thyroid specific, though. This year I am the grand marshal survivor for the relay for life. My mom is the grand marshal care giver and we're both incredibly excited to have such an honor.
Believe me, both Caity and her Mom deserve this honor. They are tireless workers and incredible ladies.
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Grand Marshall Survivor and Grand Marshall Care Giver
Caity's surgery was a total thyroidectomy with lymphadenectomy (removal of some of the surrounding lymph nodes.) The surgeon felt it was best to remove the lymph nodes to lessen the chance of any recurrence. Luckily Caity did not experience any difficulty with loss of voice or changes in her voice. She has been an inspiration through this entire ordeal and weather each storm as it came. One of those storms is finding the right dosage of thyroid medication to keep her body in balance.
It is my honor and privilege to have Caitlin Mary as my granddaughter. She has always been a joy but this experience has shown what this young lady is made of. Just to add to her distinction, her career choice is a pediatrician and she has already received one letter of acceptance to one of the colleges she applied to. Does it sound like I'm bragging, because I am. Caity faced Thyroid Cancer, surgery and recuperation during her senior year of high school and never missed a beat...she continued with band, play director and a well rounded life.
I would like to thank Colleen Lynch/Cedar Hill Photography of High Falls for allowing me to use the beautiful pictures she took of my family, in this hub.
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