“We found cancer in four of your lymph nodes, so we’re recommending radioactive iodine comes next.” The doctor had said.
It’s the common second step for people with thyroid cancer. Step one is to get that cancer riddled thyroid out of your neck, and then step two is to swallow radioactive iodine to destroy any remnants of that thyroid – and the cancer along with it.
Submission to the weird ‘whatever comes next’ has become my normal.
So when the doctor put it to me that way… your choices are try to live with the cancer inside you still, or cut it out of your body and then swallow some poison to hopefully get the rest of it… I opted for the surgical poison route. I dunno, I was feeling kinda crazy I guess.
“Wait. Why are those my only two options?!” I might have been caught saying once in awhile over the past few weeks.
I don’t know why I am having to go through this, but I do know there has been no way around it, only a way THROUGH it. I also know that God is with me as I embark on the journey of ‘through.’
I researched and tried to prepare as much as possible. “We’ve never had a patient ask us that question before? Hold on, I’ll go ask my supervisor.” She said a few times as I sat in this little office inside the nuclear medicine department at the hospital. To be clear, last year at this time I didn’t know there was a nuclear medicine department.
And then came the day of. I was to be quarantined from all people in my back bedroom and bathroom for 3 days. Food was to be dropped at my door in disposable dishes, and I’d count to ten before opening the door, giving my husband time to run away before I’d snatch my food like a suspicious prisoner. I had been on a low iodine diet for two weeks prior, and it had been manageable before the final two days. I had been quite happily eating egg whites with kale and unsalted nuts for days. I had been starving my body from iodine so that when it showed up inside the radioactive pill… the joke would be on the cancer who was so hungry for it.
“So I’m going to take you to the other room here, I’ll hand you the vial, you knock back the pill with that water cup there, and then you leave this hospital immediately, ok?” She said all this to me while wrapped in one of those X-ray gowns and holding a lead lined shield in front of her midsection. Mercy.
In my pocket was the card she had just given me. On one side it said ‘Do not deny emergency medical treatment to this person.” Complete with my name and dosage received.
And on the backside of the card… It said, “In case of death, call this emergency number for corpse and cremation instructions.” Yeesh. That took a dark twist. “Dear Lord, I need boring right now, with no allergic reactions.”
There’s nothing quite like existing in a constant space of ‘What’s gonna happen next?’
That room they took me into looked like a scientific greenhouse filled with tiny little metal jars underneath big lights. “I feel like I’m inside a movie set right now.” I said to her. “I know.” She answered. Bless her heart, her job day after day is guiding people like me through this weird unknown. I thanked her and then tipped back that vial and exited the hospital with exceptional speed and stealth.
I sat in my chair covered with multiple sheets and blankets all by myself, waiting.
Then like an opening act of a show, it started. First nausea. Then it felt like burning on my insides, like a mild sunburn. Weird, but ‘weird’ was the theme of this event. Then it was like a force was starting to travel on my insides. First my head started to hurt, then one side of my face felt frozen like I was at the dentist. The other side now. Oh my word, my teeth all feel like they’re loose and about to fall out of my head. My neck was tingling. Then kinda swollen. I fell asleep for a few minutes because I was tired and had popped so much Gravol since I’m the world’s weakest stomach barfing kind of girl. (Not a technical term, but you get my drift.) I woke up to an aching foot, and it kept travelling.
I envisioned a tiny little army of radioactive soldiers blazing a trail through my insides slaying every cancerous cell in their path. At least that’s what I was hoping for, and what I had been asking God for. He’s pretty big into army imagery, and this battle was His now. I had done my part, now I just had to be still, until…
It was time to drink the water.
“Don’t drink anything for 2 hours, let the pill do its work, and then start drinking a LOT. You want to flush the stuff out of your system within the first 48 hours.”
Challenge accepted. I’m a professional water drinker when I’m a healthy soul, and I was eager to ramp up my water intake. We even threw some of the world’s most expensive organic juice in the mix. I was going to counteract the poison I had just ingested with 46 lbs of produce.
“I feel tired, but kind of jittery too.” I said to my husband over FaceTime. “And my eyes are so dry and sore… and more blurry than normal.” I adjusted my glasses that didn’t seem to be working yet again. He was safely dwelling on the other side of the apartment, not so well rested since he was sleeping at night in our 4 year old’s twin sized bottom bunk.
“Well, you have just been poisoned.” He answered.
Oh yeah. There’s that.
I called my kids. “How was it Mom?” He asked with big eyes.
“Well, it was pretty exciting… the craziest bit is that when I flick my wrist ever so slightly – these webs come shooting out of it?!”
He shook his head at my response. We had all been 10% hopeful this would result in some sort of Marvel worthy comic book.
That would have been fun. No dice.
When the 48 hours had passed my low iodine diet lifted. Waiting that final two hours til scrambled eggs with cheese and buttered jam toast felt eternal. If I told you I was pacing anxiously awaiting the delivery, would you believe me? You should.
I sat with my bedroom door open now, my husband was on a chair about 18 feet away from me at the other end of the hallway.
“Has food always tasted this good?!” I asked between bites. Losing your tastebuds temporarily is one of the common side effects of radioactive iodine. I felt like mine had come alive, and it was this marvellous gift of exploding flavours.
“Maybe pace yourself with your new eat everything again diet?” My husband suggested, always the voice of reason in my ear.
Phase in we did. Slowly I made my way to a sheet covered chair in the living room. He had moved the couches and even used the measuring tape to ensure a 6 foot separation for us. We have a lot of little kids, and we were going to be overly cautious for 2 weeks just to safe. He’s brought me all my food and drinks for days now. He refers to himself as my personal butler as I’m placing continuous orders of ‘I need 3 days worth of vitamins again.’ Or “Can you bring me some more paper towels?”
Meanwhile, my four kids are living their best life at my sister’s house an hour away. “Two weeks and it’s a free for all again.” The nuclear medicine expert had told me.
“Mom, I don’t want you to damage my thyroid.” He had said to me when we were talking about how they needed to leave our house for awhile.
I didn’t want to damage anybody’s thyroid either. I miss my kids though, and I miss my normal predictable ordinary old life, but I know how important this fight is too. I’m hopeful that there’s a glorious spring on the other side of it all. I’m staring at the brightest bouquet of flowers as I type this. A tangible reminder that indeed, SPRING IS COMING. Hold on to your seats folks.
I’m feeling stronger everyday. I’m so proud of my body, and its God given ability to bounce back from all the jarring nonsense I’ve been throwing at it in the past few months.
Tomorrow is an hour long scan of my entire body and we get to find out if all of this actually worked. They’ll be looking for any cancer existing ANYWHERE on my insides. How crazy is that?
I know it could really swing either way, but I also like to spend plenty of time thinking, “What if?! What if this worked? What if we get to put this all behind us now?”
I feel peace, God-given peace. The past few weeks these words keep coming to my mind repeatedly, “I will strengthen you.” It’s been so amazing to feel my weak body regaining strength day by day. I feel like I’m living inside a miracle.
And like my tastebuds felt so alive with that first meal filled with salt and cheese, I feel like maybe my soul is feeling more alive now too. I’m so excited to have my kids home again. To be mom again with full strength. It’s been since last summer since I truly felt like me.
I’m looking forward to all of those things that used to be just ordinary, because after this arduous journey, all that ordinary stuff is going to feel anything but.