Cancer has always been a very big concern for me. The thoughts of a loved one, or myself, having a diagnosis of cancer is the one thing that can strike fear in my heart. When my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and then died in 1999, it became much more real to me. It has never been something that I obsess over, but the fear does occasionally rear its ugly head.
In the spring of 2008, I began having intermittent chest, back, and neck pain. I have always been one to put things off until I could no longer let it go. This time was no different-until one afternoon in June when the pain was too strong, and continued too long to ignore. Concerned that I was having a heart attack, my husband and I rushed off to the emergency room. EKG’s and blood work were done, as was a CAT scan to make sure there were no aneurysms or blood clots. Everything looked good, and there were no signs of heart trouble. In fact, my doctor told me that most heart problems were not seen in women my age, and that he thought that my pain was coming from my gallbladder. He gave me something to help with the pain that evening, and I went home.
Over the next few months, the pain stayed away, and I decided I did not have time to go to the doctor to get testing done on my gallbladder. After all, gallbladder pain can be bad, but it isn’t fatal.
In September, when I went to my family doctor for a regular checkup, I was brought back to reality very quickly. As he was flipping through my charts, he said, with concern in his voice, “You have two nodules on your thyroid.” What?!!! How did he know that? He said that he had a report from the hospital 3 ½ months before, that the CAT scan on my stomach and chest caught pictures of my thyroid, and that I had two nodules. I needed to get them checked out immediately, and he would make an appointment for me as soon as he could get me in to see someone.
I was shaking, and sick at my stomach. I had five children and a husband who needed me! How were they going to take this? Why was this the first time I had heard about it? What if I died because someone just slipped that information into my file, and said nothing about it?
Over the next five or six weeks, I was sent for ultrasounds and nuclear scans. Each test would lead to another. It was discovered that one of the growths was a “cold” tumor which meant that it had a higher chance of being malignant. In mid-November, I finally got scheduled to see an ENT specialist who could actually compare all of the tests and decide what to do. I was ready to get them taken out. I didn’t care what they were. If they were tumors, I didn’t want them in me. I wanted them out NOW! I had a large benign parathyroid tumor removed when I was 23 years old. Why was removal not being considered this time ?
He said he still needed to do a needle biopsy to see what was in these nodules, and he could do that the week before Thanksgiving. Two weeks later, I went back to his office to have the biopsy. The nurse came into the room, and got me ready. She put a numbing cream on my throat and said she and the doctor would be back in after the cream had been given the chance to deaden the nerves.
About thirty minutes later, they were back to do the biopsy. I don’t believe the cream did much to numb my throat. It stung like a wasp sting when he inserted the needle. It was not that bad, though-very much a mind-over-matter thing. I think that the idea of a needle in my throat was much worse than the actual pain it caused.
Now the waiting began. The doctor said the results would be back within two weeks, so I went home to wait. By now it had been five months since the scan had shown the nodules.
Other than being scared to death, especially for my husband and children, I did not feel particularly bad. Everything I had been reading said that thyroid cancer is usually very slow to spread. It was conceivable to me that I could have cancer, and may not yet be feeling sick.
On December 8th, I got a call from the nurse who told me that the biopsy had come back negative for cancer. The diagnosis was goiters. I told her that she had just made my day. At some point, the goiters will probably grow too large, and I will need to go on medication or have them removed. As of now, my thyroid seems to be functioning well enough that I don’t need to do anything about them. Hopefully, that will be well down the road. I still procrastinate way too long on these things.
In the end, I finally gave in and got testing done on my gallbladder. In May, 2009, I went in for outpatient surgery to have my gallbladder removed. The doctor said it was very diseased, so I guess the ER doctor was correct.
If there is a moral to this story, it is to be certain that you always ask about test results. Don’t just assume that someone will be responsible enough to make a phone call and let you know. Your life may depend upon it.