Part 3 of my Cancer Journal
When I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid carcinoma, the ENT doctor said the treatment of choice was a thyroidectomy, where the thyroid gland is removed surgically under general anesthesia. He told me that without my thyroid gland I’d have to take a thyroid hormone replacement pill – to regulate my metabolism – every day for the rest of my life. My surgery date was set for December 7, 2016.
During the weeks leading to the thyroidectomy, I had lots to do. (Don’t we all?) My kitchen calendar had something penciled in on most squares, such as a medical appointment, band practice, babysitting, chat room, or playing piano for evening church. If my voice hadn’t been so weak and raspy, I would’ve still had choir practice on Wednesday nights, too, for I love to sing.
Singing is part of my identity. From my toddlerhood up, I sang at home and at Sunday school. The congregation at church sang hymns in four-part harmony, which included my dad’s bass and my mom’s soprano. My mom also sang in a Gospel quartet that often practiced at our house. (Oh, how I loved the close harmony and the colorful, jazzy piano.) When I was in the fifth grade, we moved to Waukegan, Illinois, where we attended a big church that had a junior choir of maybe twenty-five kids who sang in three-part harmony. The director taught us to sing our parts by sight-reading the notes. I guess we learned to harmonize by ear from our parents by osmosis.
My voice was an average soprano, but that didn’t stop me from belting out my part instead of blending, which came later. Our family sang in the kitchen, in the car, just about anywhere. Nothing formal. We sang duets, trios, quartets, or ensembles with all seven of us, depending on how many were around. Part of the fun was trying to create a part no one else was singing. (It wasn’t unusual to hear, “You took my note!”) After I became a mom, it was natural to sing with our kids, too. When I lost my voice in the summer of 2016, I hoped it was only temporary.
A week before my thyroidectomy, I asked for prayer at church, and several women told me they’d been through what I was going through, which made me feel better.
I also emailed my sis-in-law, telling her I picked up an old book called Press Boners (humorous typos), read some to Lee, and laughed myself silly. (Was this to get rid of nervous tension before submitting to the scalpel??)
On the day of the thyroidectomy, we had to be at the hospital by 6:20 a.m. I remember praying the surgeon would have steady hands and wouldn’t slip and cut my airway. Oh, the things we think of, eh? While I was in recovery, the surgeon told my husband that he’d had no choice but to clip the laryngeal nerve that controlled the left vocal cord, and that he feared I might not be able to talk and would forever after speak in a whisper.
After I woke up, the surgeon came to check on me and asked how I was doing. When I answered, he beamed. “You still have a voice!” He described how he’d had to remove the not only thyroid gland and cancerous nodules, but also the laryngeal nerve they encompassed. At that moment, I felt very fortunate to be able to talk at all.
I asked him why my voice was better in the mornings. He explained that lying horizontal all night allowed the fluids in my body to spread evenly throughout my organs, including my vocal cords. Even the left cord (the one without innervation) would be plumped up and firmer, providing resistance to the right cord as it vibrated, thus producing a stronger sound.
The surgeon also said that because of cancer, he had to remove one of my parathyroid glands. They regulate the blood calcium level, and calcium controls muscle contractions that make the heart beat normally. I was prescribed 12 Tums per day for several weeks and then gradually weaned off of them.
I sent an email to another sis-in-law on 12/9/16:
Thanks so much for writing. My surgery went well, I came home from the hospital yesterday, and I’m up and around and getting used to the Frankenstein scar across my neck. Today I ordered a couple of turtleneck shirts. Bekah brought some homemade soup yesterday, and Laurie and Matt both called, which was nice. I’ll let you know if I need anything. Thanks for praying.”
On December 18, after getting the okay from my surgeon, my husband and I flew to Idaho for my dad’s 90th birthday and to see my brother and sister and extended family.
Back home for the Candlelight Service, I tried to sing along with carols, struggled to hear my voice, and pondered how glorious the angel choir must have sounded to the shepherds on the Bethlehem hills. Thank God we’ll get new bodies – with strong new voices with which to sing praises – after the resurrection!
Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”
– Lyrics by Charles Wesley, 1739, music by Felix Mendelssohn, 1840
Thanks for stopping by today!
Next week: Radioactive Iodine Treatment (RAI)
Part 3 posted on February 13, 2018