Friday, January 21, 2011

Dearest Thyroid: I Was Wrong

My Dearest Thyroid,

I was really, really wrong about you.  I'm sorry.
Since I first wrote about you last fall, "The fastest growing cancer? Not what you thinkmy awareness about thyroid cancer and its associated disorders has been flipped sideways. Right off the top, I didn't realize that  thyroid cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in women and that women are three times more likely than men to be diagnosed.  You snagged my attention, right there. 

Before writing that post I was one of "those" people. I thought thyroid cancer was (she confesses, running for cover) easy. I came to this ridiculous conclusion when I was going through chemo. I'd checked into MD Anderson's GreenPark outpatient facility to have my 5FU "boost' following three days of adriamycin and cytoxin. While I waited to be called, oozing nausea from every pore, the woman across from me struck up a conversation. 

As it turned out, she was there to help a friend. She also was happy to tell me that she was a thyroid cancer survivor. She was awesome. "Look, " she said, with a big smile and pointed to the scar on her neck, "it's been ten years."  

Gentle reader, that's when I decided thyroid cancer was easy. Just like that. I was already admiring how beautifully her scar had healed, comparing cancers, stacking up odds, minimizing hers to make myself feel better. At that moment I wanted the easy cancer, the one-day surgery-go-home-and-be-finished-with-all-of-it cancer. I'd even jotted DONE on my calendar for the month of December, unaware that it would take much longer than another year to finish. That's probably the only place where ignorance has ever served me well.

As it turns our dear thyroid, I realize now that no cancers are good.  Period.  Anyone who receives a diagnosis is changed.  There's a reordering in perception, of risk, of vulnerability, and a new acquaintance with fear. There are practical consequences, and many of them are financial. Until health care reform was enacted, cancer could follow you everywhere, like a bad boyfriend.

We know that thyroid cancer (like any) in younger adults is especially hard.  If it's bad enough in your 40's, imagine being 25, or 35 and staring down a potentially frightening illness. The reality of taking replacement hormone therapy, when the thyroid has been removed, probably sounds a lot easier than it is in real life. 

When it gets right down to the truth dear thyroid,  you're amazing. Here are a few things I found today:

1)  Unusual shape: the butterfly-shaped gland is located below the Adam's apple at the base of your neck. 
2)  The thyroid packs a punch:  Hormones produced by the thryoid influence metabolism (i.e, read weight), temperature, and growth and development, including brain development in infancy and childhood. No one can live without thyroid hormones.
3)  Unique qualities: thyroid cells are the only ones in the body that have the ability to absorb iodine, which is required to manufacture T4, the thyroid hormone. The ability of thyroid cells, and most cancer cells, to absorb iodine creates a 'chemotherapy' strategy unlike other cancers. After   the thyroid has been removed and the survivor has recovered from the surgery, a dose of  radioactive iodine is given. Any remaining cancer cells then absorb the "poisonous" iodine and are destroyed.  
4)  Best prevention: routine check-ups. Some thyroid cancer survivors had no symptoms.  By and large the majority have painless nodules. It's estimated that 75% of the population will have nodules at some point and -- according to Endocrine Web - one in 12 - 15 young women have nodules.  The majority are benign.

Since January is dedicated to promoting thyroid cancer awareness and getting one's house in order, I realized my letter was long overdue.  I'm so glad to set this record straight. To read more letters written to "dear thyroid" please visit Dear Thyroid at 

With all good wishes,

Additional sources:
1) For a podcast that addresses the concerns of young women, iodine treatment and fertility: go to  Patient Power, with Andrew Schorr.
2) *James Norman, MD, FACS, FACE, 'Thyroid Cancer' at ENDOCRINE WEB 
3) excellent information
4)  The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
5) On Twitter: follow @thyroidmary and @dearthyroid


carmen2u said...

Thanks for writing on the reality of thyroid cancer. I never knew something so delicate could account for so much. It is quite a metaphor for life. I find it is fitting that it is butterfly-shaped. Your use of social media has made you a social butterfly, transcending your thyroid disease. Keep flying high!


Annemieke said...

Dear Jody,

Another enlightening post. As you know I have an aunt that has this kind of cancer and she is doing relatively well (she's an older lady) and a dear friend who might not survive the kind. I was like you but also realized I was wrong about it being an "easy" cancer and like you I'm now convinced there is no such thing. Thanks for listing the symptoms, very helpful. And thank you even more for bringing this to our attention. Big hug, annemieke

CancerCultureChronicles said...

Great post Jody. I learned something here today too. Easy cancer? Definition of oxymoron.

Jody said...

Oxymoron! I love it, Anna!

Thanks to all of you for your great comments.

Cheryl said...

Jody, thank you for your interesting, and informative, post on thyroid cancer. You have enlightened me as I simply had no idea of the stats.
Remembering Daria and all who have learned from her teachings.

Nancy's Point said...

Jody, Thanks for the info on thyroid cancer. I wonder why we have to always compare everything, even cancers. Plain and simple, there is no easy cancer. Such a type does not exist.

Beth L. Gainer said...

You make excellent points, and they are very insightful. Truth is, no cancer is easy. Thank you for sharing such an authentic posting with the world.

Cheryl said...

Jody having just checked in to see if you had posted again, I began to read your previous post which related to Steve having a bioppsy and waiting on results. Having had a previous melanoma myself, I have a particular interest when I learn of others in a similar situation. Just wondering if you are able to share how it went?

Shirley Donalds said...

Thyroid glandular supplement seems very good. It is a different approach using thyroxine-free thyroid glandular extracts, which provide the thyroid with peptides and cofactors that are found in the gland itself and are required as part of normal thyroid function.