Your life can turn on what you notice and what you ignore. You focus on the ringing telephone and not on the tick-tock of the wall clock in the kitchen; you focus on the game and ignore the child holding the football ready to play; you focus on the woman walking down the street and not on the bus as you step off the curb … yes, your life can turn on what you notice and what you ignore.
In November 2006, while singing in front of a mirror, I notice a large lump on the right side of my neck. The lump descended into invisibility when I spoke normally. It was only when singing that it was amazingly present. Two weeks after my initial discovery, I was sitting in front of a doctor explaining my symptoms. As a child of technology, those two weeks were spent learning everything I could about the thyroid gland.
The Internet will tell you that the thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck. It is responsible, in part, for regulating the metabolism, heart rate, and releasing hormones that make life bearable. When it’s working properly, you never think about it. If it’s even off minutely, it is all that you think about.
There were tests—fine needle biopsy, radioactive iodine, and a ultrasound. Surgery was determined to be my best option. I used the Internet to find out as much information as I could. I read books. Two I wholeheartedly recommend: You: The Smart Patient and The Complete Thyroid Book.
Both these books helped me to be my best advocate and client for my health concerns. “You …” gave me a framework of what questions to ask concerning a hospital and how to find the best doctor—period. It also cued me in on which questions to ask and when to walk away from a doctor that wasn’t looking out for me.
“The Complete …” gave me a gentle crash course on the thyroid and what to expect about surgery and possible complications. Both books were adamant about being present in your own process. Basically, don’t be a spectator and expect that the doctor will handle everything or know everything.
I watched as many thyroid surgeries as I could. Thanks, YouTube! It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I know. But, it helped me to process what I would experience and made the surgery less of an X factor. Reading and watching as much as I could made sense for me. Some people like the mystery.
There was the physical exam, which confirmed the presence of the lump—medically, referred to as a nodule. There was an ultrasound, which reinforced the physical exam; a FNA (Fine Needle Aspiration); which is when a needle is used to withdraw fluid from the nodule. This is done to test for the presence of cancer cells. It also gives the doctors an idea of what’s going on within the nodule. Blood tests indicated that my thyroid levels were fine. So, according to medical science, there was nothing wrong with my thyroid. I just had a nodule growing on it.
Most people present as asymptomatic. That is, there’s nothing to indicate there’s a problem. If I didn’t sing, if I weren’t inquisitive, if I ignored my nodule, instead of probing—I might very well be dead now. My nodule began encroaching and threatened to deviate my trachea. It definitely needed to be removed. The first doctor told me he was going to do a total thyroidectomy. He wanted to remove my entire thyroid gland. Since I only had a nodule on my right side that was completely unacceptable. He wanted to do what was convenient for him, not for me. It was time for a second opinion.
My second opinion was in a different hospital. A lot of the same tests were performed. The nodule was still the nodule. This time around, the conversation was different. The doctor only wanted to remove the compromised thyroid lobe. I would still have a functioning half. That half could take up the slack for the errant one. It pays to shop around.
I had a right thyroid hemectomy. They removed the right lobe of my thyroid gland. My pathology report indicated no cancer. I felt a great deal of relief. The nodule was out; I could breathe properly. I had peace of mind. There was a surgical scar. The surgeon used a minimally invasive procedure. This procedure limits the amount of area needed to perform the surgery, while yielding excellent outcomes. If I didn’t tell you I had surgery, you would never know it.
Prior to my own experience, thyroid issues were a non issue for me. Problems with the thyroid gland affect women more often than men. So, while my experience was slightly unusual, it isn’t an unheard of occurrence. If you’ve noticed something out of the ordinary or something unusual for you, tell your doctor. If you notice a lump—tell your doctor. If you feel the least bit unwell, tell your doctor. You see where I am going with this. You are a co-equal partner with your doctor where your health is concerned. You are not a patient. You are a client.