Friday, July 31, 2009


Well. Kaiser called Wednesday and told me the surgery was on for Thursday the 30th again. I didn't have time to update anything here, as I was too busy freaking out and rushing around taking care of things last-minute, something I had really hoped to avoid. The freaking out part was mostly because the communication with Kaiser was so lousy - the surgeon's assistant called at 10:30am and told me I could have the surgery "tomorrow" after all. I asked if I could keep the August 5th date. She said yes. I said I needed to think about it, and she seemed a little annoyed at that. I agonized over the decision, and ultimately decided to wait 'til August 5th to have the surgery. When I called her back an hour later we had an aggravating conversation where it came out that I essentially had no choice after all, and would need to come in the next day, at 6:30am.

So.... it's happened - I had the surgery. I have plenty to write about that experience, but for now long story short, they seem to have done a great job in preserving my parathyroid glands and my vocal chord nerves. The whole thyroid came out, but they say the cancer was isolated in "the capsule" in the nodule, and they didn't need to remove any lymph nodes. I have a follow-up with the surgeon in two weeks and I'll ask more questions then re. follow-up care.

The big issue has been with recovering from general anesthesia. This was my first experience with it, and it kicked my ass. The tube that went down my throat is now making it really tough to swallow, and I am having some lung/breathing issues. (I woke up with fluid in my lungs, pretty gross and horrible. They fixed the majority of the issue pretty quickly, but there's some stuff in there still and it hurts too much to cough it up.) I can't talk very well, but that will apparently be a short-lived issue.

They kept me overnight Thursday, and now I'm at my boyfriend's house, recovering. Very achy, but making do with Tylenol. They prescribed Vicodin, but I don't want to take it as I'm already nauseous and don't want to make things worse in that department.

I've been sleeping a lot today and looking forward to feeling better. Once that happens I'll write more about the surgery day.

Endotracheal tube:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Well..... I got a call from my surgeon's office today: they need to postpone my surgery due to "an issue in the operating room." I guess some equipment might not be working? Or maybe they're moving things around? (Kaiser is in the process of moving to a building across the street, I don't know if my designated OR is part of that move.) Regardless, I am now scheduled to have surgery a week from now, on Wednesday, August 5th. I'm told I'll be the first operation of the day - hooray! That's actually a good thing - I'm hoping my surgeon will be nice and rested and ready to operate - better than being scheduled at the end of the day! And it increases my odds of being able to leave that day, and not having to stay overnight.

The woman who called me today, my surgeon's assistant, apologized repeatedly - apparently they (my surgeon and his office) got next to no notice about this situation, and are left scrambling around trying to rearrange operations - not a fun series of calls for her to make.

So, yes, no surgery for me this week. Next Wednesday is the day! Another week of freedom, another week with my thyroid! My thyroid & I may go hiking this weekend to celebrate. It is frustrating to have to wait, but I think it'll work out for the best.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pre-Surgery Meeting

So, yesterday I had a pre-surgery meeting at Kaiser. I have to give very huge thanks to JB for being awesome and coming with me; it made the experience almost entertaining.

We got there at 8:45 in the a.m., and the morning progressed like this: Check in with clerk, sit in waiting room, wait, fill out paperwork, wait, meet with anesthesiologist, waiting room, meet with registered nurse, waiting room, meet with another nurse, waiting room, meet with admitting clerk/nurse, pay for surgery, finally leave. The whole process took two hours, but we had been warned to expect this, so it wasn't a big issue. And the wait times between meetings weren't too bad. We got to see the same faces several times in the waiting room, as people who arrived at around the same time we did were cycled thru the system. Everyone had a buddy with them, tho some buddies stayed in the waiting room. Most folks were middle aged to elderly, tho there were one or two on the younger side. No one seemed freaked out, and it was kindof amazing to think "We're all here because we're going to get operated on soon." Oh, delicate bodies.

I think nearly every major ethnicity was represented in the nurses and clerks I talked to; that was kindof cool. Also nearly every personality type, which was less cool, but thankfully I got most of my questions answered.

The anesthesiologist was an older man, who definitely had an air of "I've done this a million times before." He explained the basics: no food after midnight the day before the surgery, the anesthesia will be delivered in such-and-such a way, you might feel pukey for days afterwards so stock up on Jello, etc. He told me to stop taking my herbal supplements. I got a pamphlet that is full of happy looking people being put to sleep. So to speak.
He told me all I needed to know I guess, tho I would have liked him to be a bit warmer in his delivery. I understand he has to give this information dozens of times a day, but there's a pretty big disconnect between his boredom and what I can only assume is most patients' anxiety.

Next up was the registered nurse, who was maybe clinically o.c.d. - she delivered all her info rapid-fire, while straightening her pens over & over. Her job was to tell us how the day would go, where we needed to be, and what we needed to do. This is when I found out that I might be discharged same-day. My surgeon had said he wanted to keep me overnight, but my paperwork says I will be outpatient. This was an issue all morning - the confusion over my one-versus-two-day stay. I think it will be straightened out that day - I was told so; if I am struggling and feeling terrible, they will keep me overnight. I want to be out of there asap, but I also don't want to go home if I feel like utter crap.

The other nurse took my vital signs and asked questions about my medical history. Not sure why, as all this should be on record, but whatever. She was a pretty cool lady - much calmer and more personable than the other two folks, but I only saw her briefly. She listened to my heart and breathing, and let me go.

The last person we saw was a grim woman who basically just typed up all the information I'd written down, while we waited and JB's stomach growled.

It all served to make the surgery feel pretty inevitable, which I think is a good thing. I had been worrying recently about not getting another biopsy, and the possibility of it not being cancer and having to lose my thyroid for nothing. But JB made a great point, saying that even if it weren't cancer now (tho it probably is), it could turn cancerous later, when it's harder to treat effectively. Plus, and this comes from me not him, tho we both know it's true, I am a total worrywart, so I will always look at the lump on my neck and wonder. I was wondering even before my diagnosis, and it certainly wouldn't become less of an issue after this experience.

So, yes, it sucks but it looks like surgery is for the best. I think it'll go well, and I think, hope, that I'll recover well and adapt well to the pill-taking.

We shall see. One week from today.

In happier news, we went to the Alameda County Fair last Saturday and had an amaaaazing time. I can't wait to go next year! I wanted to post video, but Blogger was being slow. (Actually, it's probably my internet connection.) Maybe tomorrow. Soon!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Two Weeks.

Well, two weeks from today is the big day. I mentioned it pretty quickly in an earlier post, but my surgery date is Thursday July 30th. They haven't scheduled the actual time of day yet, apparently. I have a pre-surgery meeting on the 22nd, perhaps they'll reveal it then....? I need to ask some pre-pre-surgery questions.

For the most part I'm operating (heh) on a low-level amount of stress at this point, just sortof waiting for the day to get here. I freaked out a little yesterday evening, when I was at Big Longs buying two of those weekly pill boxes (you know, they have a little box for every day of the week.) It really hit me then: I'll be taking pills for the rest of my life. I know, I know, I'm a giant baby about it - lots of people have lots of problems that are so much worse than mine. But still - two months ago life was easy street, and in two weeks I'll be without a vital organ. Assuming all goes as planned, I expect to recover pretty quickly and be back at work in a week or so (semi-part-time, maybe.) But it's just so weird to feel that I have all my parts right now, and two weeks from today there's no going back: I'm tied to the medical establishment forever. I can't even hold on to my long cherished wish to time-travel. (This is a far more crushing realization than you can probably fathom.)

But these are ultimately the complaints of a privileged person. If I take the time to think, I realize that this is just the way my life was always going to go, and down the line I'll look back and think "Yeah, that happened" but will probably not miss the old me so very much. Tho even typing that made me start to tear up, because I don't want to say goodbye to this me, now. It's not the old me yet, it's just "me" - and I wish this didn't have to happen.

This time next year I'm expecting to be in a much better place, damn it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Photographic Proof

Here are a couple photos of my thyroid nodule, to give you an idea of what it looks like from the outside. It doesn't hurt, or feel like anything, really. At some angles you can't see it at all: it's most obvious if I'm leaning forward.
Apparently it's grown about a centimeter in the past year, but to me it looks about the same as it always has - ever since I first noticed it about three years ago.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

At The Medical Center

We drove up to Sebastopol on Wednesday to check out the Amitabha Medical Clinic and Healing Center. Unfortunately we were running late - the appointment was at 10 and we didn't get there til 10:30, so I was feeling rushed and stressed. Fortunately it is a very calm environment, and Elaine was a lovely individual, who tried her best to get a feel for my situation and what the center could do to help. She suggested a few relaxation methods, and gave me some instructions for a "cleanse", which is essentially a way for me to clean out my system by eating super-healthy foods as I prepare for the surgery. She also gave me some herbal supplements to take. Those I feel iffy about - I'm not entirely sure what they do, and I hate swallowing mystery pills. I'll do some research on their ingredients and see what can find out. Of course she told me what they were for - helping to rid the body of toxins - but it's unclear to me if that's totally necessary. Since I'm pretty sure it can't hurt, I'm starting off by taking one or two a day, rather than the prescribed four or six, to see what my body has to say about it all. I'll likely take them thru the middle of next month then take a break. If I feel all full of toxins, I'll start up again. (Just kidding: I'll be more intelligent about the process than that.) Another worrisome thing: Elaine didn't think about the fact that I'll be taking thyroid hormone pills first thing in the morning, and that it might not be a good idea to mix one of the supplement pills with my hormone pills. I actually called her to check on this, and her response was along the lines of "Oh, right. Yeah, don't take them together." Hey! That's not confidence-building!

But I do think I benefited from going - it gave me some alternative approaches to dealing with stress and surgical trauma, and it was great to have someone devote an hour to listening to my concerns. It was a little like medical psychology. The talk of chakras, toxins, meditation, and of visualizing healing light was different from anything I'd get from Kaiser - again, I don't have to accept it all, but I'm happy to have more options available to me. Certainly as regards relaxation techniques and ways to treat my body better. Kaiser has offered me zero information on the former, and as to the latter it pretty much sticks to "eat more fruits and veggies + exercise more." All well and good, but there's so much more that can be done!

The folks at the clinic would like to see me after my surgery, but partly that's because they recommend something called vitamin i.v.s, where they basically inject vitamins into your bloodstream in order to help the healing process. I am both repelled & fascinated by this. We'll see.

The trip up there was great, tho. We found an amazing thrift store, had a tasty lunch, and then walked along the beach at Bodega Bay for a couple hours. Beautiful stuff.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Looking Forward to Tomorrow

I have an appointment tomorrow morning at the "Amitabha Medical Clinic & Healing Center" up in Sebastopol. A friend of mine who specializes in Traditional Chinese Medicine recommends this place. Well, more specifically he recommended the doctor who runs it, but that guy is on "extended sabbatical" (lucky dude) so I will be in the [hopefully] capable hands of Elaine, one of the center's nurse practitioners. Everyone there is in contact with the doctor, and Elaine called him on Monday to ask about his thoughts re. my thyroid cancer. We will discuss options tomorrow.
My main reason for going is to get another outlook on ways to keep my body as healthy & happy as possible leading up to surgery and throughout all the treatments afterwards. The Amitabha center specializes in combining Western & Eastern medical philosophies in treatments of various types of cancer, and I have been told to expect a strong emphasis on vitamins & herbs. I really doubt anyone at Kaiser will offer me anything more than painkillers & thyroid hormone pills after surgery (let alone before), so I'm super pleased to be adding another type of fighter to my team.
It's exciting, because the focus will be on keeping me healthy, not on cutting me open. (Which, yes, is done to keep me healthy, but still doesn't sound like a healthy thing to do. Make sense?)
I'm looking forward to the appointment, and will report back.

You can read about the clinic by clicking here.

p.s. the url of this image (taken from the Center's website) is cracking me up! "herbz.jpg"

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A month to go.

OK, so surgery date is still set, and is seeming like more & more a reality. July 30th is when all the excitement goes down! I have a pre-surgery meeting with the anesthesiologist and crew on July 22nd.

I had my 2nd-opinion-meeting a couple weeks back, and it was helpful. I liked the doctor's attitude - she was a very take-charge lady, and seemed intent on learning as much about me (i.e. my concerns and my medical status and history) as she could during our meeting (which was about a half hour.) Not entirely unexpectedly, she was very pro-removal of the thyroid. She says that the damage I could be doing by leaving it in is far worse than any inconvenience that would come from having it removed. While that's a valid opinion, it'd be harder to accept if it weren't also for the fact that the odds are apparently very high that my latest biopsy was correct, and I do most likely have thyroid cancer. (I've been hoping that perhaps it was a false positive.) As the doctor put it, your average thyroid nodule has only about a 5% chance of being cancerous. BUT, once a biopsy comes back indicating cancer, the stats are flipped, and now you only have about a 5% chance of not having cancer. Rough. Strangely, it's not the thought of having cancer that worries me so much (I am taking to heart all the reports that thyroid cancer is slow-moving and not terribly invasive when caught early on) it's all the other stuff - the living without a thyroid, the radiation treatment, you know - that I've just been wanting to be able to avoid.
But the doctor I saw (her name is Dr. Peng and she's an endocrinologist) was pretty convincing that surgery was a good idea. She made sure to point out out that they couldn't make me do anything, and that it was my body/my choice (yes!), but that if it were her sister, she wouldn't hesitate to give the same advice. She also volunteered plenty of information before I even got a chance to ask, which was comforting. Especially as regards the radiation treatment: Lots of people (myself included) worry about the effects it may have on the ability to have healthy kids, and she says no studies have shown ill effects. Doctors ask that their female patients wait at least six months before they conceive, but apparently this is more due to the risk of hypothyroidism than any damage caused by radiation. Hypothyroidism during pregnancy has been shown to have an adverse effect on the IQ of the child, and there is a strong likelihood that patients will be hypo during the first few months after treatment, as thyroid hormone supplements are adjusted to the correct dosage. According to Dr. Peng the radiation doesn't stick around in the body long enough to cause permanent damage to anything, except the cancer cells it kills on contact. This falls into the realm of "Stuff I can only trust my doctor to know" and since I haven't heard any evidence to contradict her, I'm accepting this information as truth. Pregnancy certainly isn't at the top of my to-do list right now, but I've always wanted kids, so this was (and is) an important thing to me.

I'm still toying with the possibility of going in for a second biopsy, but interestingly Dr. Peng cautioned against this. She says that the new biopsy could come back clean (non-cancerous) but that could be an incorrect result (since every test result has some possibility of being wrong - after all, that's why I'm thinking of doing another biopsy) and if I choose to believe this 2nd biopsy and it's incorrect, I will be allowing the cancer a chance to grow. I suppose the only way to guard against this possibility is to do an exhaustive series of biopsies, and I don't think I'm up for that. Should I be? I don't know! If I do a 2nd biopsy and it does come back showing cancer, I will at least be that much more confident that surgery is a good idea, but then again I think I already know that the results I have right now are probably correct.