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Thyroid Cancer: Navigating the new me

Isabella Noulton on Thyroid Cancer, boundaries and mental health

CW: This article discusses topics of cancer which may be distressing to some readers.

As I write this article, I’m hunched over my laptop, curled in bed and in my pyjamas at 7 pm. It’s been one of those ‘thyroid slump’ days as I call them, where I am once again sorely paying for the busy weekend that I’ve enjoyed the days prior – and I have no shame to admit that there’s been tears and plenty of snotty tissues to mark my frustration.

This cycle of energy bargaining is something I have yet to get fully under control after my thyroidectomy (thyroid removal surgery), and something I am yet to come to terms with as being without this organ means I need lifelong close blood monitoring and hormone replacement meds. But, before I get into my experience of thyroid cancer and how we can all learn to help each other, I wanted to use this platform to briefly introduce what a thyroid actually is.

Okay, so what is a thyroid?

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the front of your neck underneath your Adam’s apple. It is responsible for keeping your entire body’s endocrine (hormone) system in check by releasing thyroid hormones. It impacts your metabolism, energy levels, digestion, temperature regulation, heart rate, hair quality, libido, menstrual cycle and even your mood. When your thyroid isn’t working as it should, you may experience symptoms of hyper (overactive) or hypo (underactive) thyroids which can make you feel highly agitated or sluggish.

Some people like myself also have an autoimmune element to their underactive thyroid disorder. This is called Hashimoto’s disease, and it’s where antibodies in the blood attack the thyroid tissue, gradually destroying it and its ability to do its job over time. This inflammation can also cause swelling, goitres or nodules which appear as tender or painless lumps on the neck. And, very rarely, these benign lumps can actually be or become cancerous and this is slightly more common in people with this autoimmune disorder. As it goes, this is what happened to me – and it’s why this lump was wrongly laid off as benign for over a year until a late ultrasound found something suspicious.

Cancer is as emotional as it is physical

My heart sank, and I instantaneously felt weak as I sat in the surgeon’s office to confirm my biopsied lump was cancerous. Anger, terror, heartbreak, nausea, and disbelief struck me all at once, and I collapsed to the ground crying. I made a right old scene. And coming home after that appointment to begin the excruciating two-week wait for my operation was the hardest time in my entire life. I was isolated, I didn’t want to talk, and I couldn’t even watch TV – it all felt so trivial.

I cried a lot. And when I say a lot, I’m talking from the minute I finally fell asleep to the moment I remembered my waking nightmare when I woke. I had some incredibly dark thoughts during this time, and I can’t help but think more emotional support could have been offered.

After surgery, I had some issues with mineral deficiencies and adjusting to my new dose of thyroxine, but I was starting to see the light at the end of this dark period – that was until my lab results came back to reveal I had a rare, aggressive variant of cancer that required radiation. And there I was again; heartbroken, isolated, and afraid.

Navigating the new me after treatment

So fast forward a few months and I’ve had the radiation treatment and recovered well from surgery. I am scheduled for my follow-up bloods which is sending my anxiety haywire as I ruminate on worst-case scenarios, but I have one thing that I still must face: this fear is never going to go away – the fear of recurrence, new disease and distrust in my body. I am no longer confident in my future as I have realised that the future is an illusion, and my acute awareness of my mortality has caused me to feel both detached and often cynical. I think more and more about the impermanence of life now, and I wish I could say this blossomed some kind of deep artistic-philosophical lust for life, but in all honesty, it’s made me a little numb. And that’s okay. It’s important to honour how we feel, and I hope that with some support, I’ll sink into the new me a little more each day.

But there is one thing that can help people like myself who are dealing with traumas, illness, or disabilities with limited emotional and physical energy: respect our boundaries.

This year I’m saying no to

· Extra demands I know I can’t juggle

· Discussing details about my wellbeing that I’m not comfortable to share

· Going out of my way to ‘prove’ my symptoms

· Giving air time to toxic positivity and minimising comments

· Feeling like a wally when I cave on said boundaries!


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