When I sought medical help after losing my voice, my ENT doctor ordered diagnostic tests for cancer, just to be on the safe side.
The doctor called me the same day with the results. He said the scan showed nodules on my thyroid gland that might be putting pressure on the laryngeal nerve, which would explain my vocal cord paresis (paralysis.) He also said they’d found a small nodule at the top of my right lung, which could be a vascular deformity, and would repeat a CT of the lung in six months to assess its progress, whether it had grown or not.
Based on the CT scan, the ENT doctor ordered another diagnostic test ASAP, an ultrasound-guided needle biopsy of the thyroid, and specifically, the four nodules around my thyroid. It got postponed from the last week in August to September because of scheduling conflicts.
In the meantime, I kept up all my normal activities that summer, which consisted of blogging, going to the gym, babysitting grandkids, vacationing at the coast with family, and attending church. My voice was still weak and high, but it didn’t keep me from singing along with the hymns and praise choruses.
On the second Tuesday of September, I reported to the hospital for a biopsy, a procedure where they took an ultrasound of my throat, pinpointed the location of each nodule, injected local anesthetic, and removed a tissue sample. As you may know, to get a “good sample” – one that’s small enough to be sucked up into the needle – the practitioner jiggles the needle up and down like a pneumatic drill to break up the tissue inside the nodule. Not as painless as it sounds!
The very next day, the doctor called and said two of the nodules on my thyroid looked like papillary thyroid cancer. Hearing the word cancer made me catch my breath. Cancer? Me? It was so unexpected, I had no family history of cancer. But then I thought, why not me? (I jotted down notes as the doctor explained what it meant.) It’s treatable, he said, and won’t kill you. He told me he wanted me to have another ultrasound, this one higher resolution. (Performed a week later, the test confirmed my diagnosis of papillary cancer.)
From a Journal Entry, dated September 16, 2016:
Mulling over the news, I thought about how our bodies can change internally while we’re not even aware of it. I’m glad I sought help when I did. The odd thing is I don’t feel panicky or depressed. While driving to a writers’ conference in Chehalis today, I caught a glimpse of eternity and for an instant felt less-attached to this world. Not that I’m maudlin. Quite the opposite. As I drove, I enjoyed hearing a favorite Gospel Quartet sing about heaven.
Lee took the news of my cancer diagnosis with concern and poise and compassion. The only thing that makes me gulp is how to tell the kids and grandkids. I don’t want to scare them or to have it be a big deal. I’m also a bit reluctant to share my diagnosis with friends at church. Not sure why. After all, they’ll pray, and that’s exactly what I need! Maybe it’s because I don’t want to draw attention to myself; having cancer makes me seem older, weaker, more decrepit. I’m only in my sixties. But God is with me, has given me strength as I’ve gone for tests, and has assured me of his love – that’s what counts the most. I’m trusting him to give me all that I need for what’s ahead, new territory for me.”
My doctor said the treatment for my cancer was to remove the thyroid gland, which means I’d have to take thyroid replacement therapy for the rest of my life. He told me his scheduler would call to set up a surgery date, and when I checked my email, I found a consent form for a thyroidectomy. Soon after, I was scheduled for early December.
In the meantime, the ENT doctor referred me to an endocrinologist, the one who’d be regulating my thyroid hormone replacement drugs and keeping tabs on my blood work. During my appointment with her, she examined me, agreed with the plan for thyroid surgery, and ordered another CT scan to further investigate the lung nodule.
The day after I got the scan, the results came back, indicating the lung mass had grown. According to the pathology report, the lesion was suspicious of lung cancer and measured 1.7 x 1.6 cm compared to 1.0 x 0.9 cm previously. My endocrinologist ordered a biopsy of the lesion.
Within ten days, on the date I was to play in a band concert,
I went instead to the hospital for a ultrasound-guided needle biopsy of the lung, this time with sedation.
Soon after, the doctor told me the path report said the mass was a “necrotizing glanulomatous inflammation” (whatever that was) and didn’t show any cancer cells. I breathed a sigh of relief. But one question lingered – why was it getting bigger?
On the next Sunday, these words based on scripture renewed my hope:
We’re in limbo, groaning with all creation as we wait patiently and faithfully, trusting that Christ will fulfill all his promises.” (from Romans 8:22-27)
Thanks for taking time to read my blog.
Part Two, posted on February 6, 2018