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One Year After Thyroid Cancer Surgery and Divorce: One Mile High Mama’s Story

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One year ago, on June 12th, I underwent a thyroidectomy (complete removal of the thyroid) surgery, and a neck dissection to remove almost all of the lymph nodes in my neck, because I had cancer. (You can read more about the surgery here, After Thyroid Cancer Surgery. I have posted some other pictures at the end of this post, I thought may be helpful to others who are facing a similar surgery.)

A lot has happened during the past year. At the time it was my biggest challenge. Cancer is a big deal. Even thyroid cancer, which most every doctor will say is the “best” cancer to have is a major, life changing event. I haven’t talked to one thyroid cancer survivor yet, who hasn’t experienced some type of problem, or issue with their recovery. For me, it was a mistake the endocrinologist’s office made, and I ended up without any thyroid replacement hormone (usually synthroid) for three months. I developed severe hypothyroidism. There were some days, I could not physically get out of bed, and I felt like I was 100 years old. I had extreme pain from the surgery still, and I was confused, exhausted, and I could barely function. A year later, the left side of my neck is numb, and I still have shoulder pain.

I receive e-mail’s weekly from other thyroid cancer survivors who are on synthroid, but the dosage is wrong, and they are experiencing hypothyroidism. It paralyzes your life, and for me, the surgery ended up being the “easy” part. When any organ is removed from your body, and a drug has take over the function, there are going to be complications. Fortunately for me, when I finally was able to take synthroid, after radioactive iodine (RAI), my dosage was correct the first time. I felt better hours after I took it. One year later, I still have not had to have an adjustment in the dosage. My doctors tell me this is extremely rare. However, I still feel like I lost three months of my life. Time with my boys, I will never get back.

Four months after my surgery, I started running. I was going to run in one 5K race- the Race for the Cure for breast cancer. I enjoyed it, and it gave me a new appreciation for my health and fitness. I think it is very important to become active as soon as you can. It helped me get out of a “cancer patient” mode, and on to the next stage, which is a new life- cancer free. Running made me strong again, physically and mentally. I could not have known at the time, how strong I was going to have to be, in the very near future.

At the time I was diagnosed with cancer, I had been separated from my husband for three months, and in the process of divorce. It was not an easy divorce to say the least. There was a small “break” if you can call it that, while I was recovering, but after the RAI treatment, the divorce continued, adding an enormous amount of stress to my life. I had a friend tell me after cancer, getting divorced would seem like a vacation, but this sadly, was not the case. There wasn’t anything I could do, except plow through it until it was over. The divorce was finalized last month, at the end of May. Divorce was far harder emotionally than cancer had been.

But the hardest thing- harder than cancer or divorce- was the unexpected death of my mother in February of this year. It is the most devastating thing to lose a parent. My mom came out last July (she lived out of state), a few weeks after my cancer surgery, to help me recover. At this point, I had hypothyroidism, and she took care of me, and Ryan and Cole during my parenting time. It was one of the last times we had together. I saw her for a few days at Christmas, and then I watched her die.

Her friends all came to visit her, and they told me how utterly worried and scared my mom had been over my cancer. My mom had never let on to me she felt that way. She had always been so strong- always telling me I was going to beat cancer, and I was a very healthy person. Her friends also told me how distressed she had been over my divorce-over the tactics that were being used, and the high stress I was under. Again, she never let me know she was feeling like this. She gave me strength and encouragement to keep going. She told me all the stress the divorce was bringing to me was like cancer itself. I could let it consume me, or I could fight, and beat the stress- knowing there would be a bright future when it was all over.

I had seven days with my mom, while she died. A day and a half later after I had returned home from her death, I had to jump right back in to divorce mode, and meet with a child family investigator (CFI) and a forensic psychologist for interviews and psychological testing. These interviews and tests would result in parenting recommendations for the judge in the divorce case to consider. This was in March, and cancer seemed like it happened a million years ago.

Now it is a year later from that day. A year ago, I thought having cancer was one of the worst things that could happen to me. Over the last year, I have learned-harshly-there are worst things than cancer.

I remember thinking if I could get through this cancer, I could get through anything. In a way I was right. It turns out, cancer was the “easiest” of the three things I faced during the past year.

I would not have gotten through any of this without my family and friends. I hope I tell you enough how much I appreciate and love you all. You are the ones who got me through this past year. From the moment I checked into the hospital a year ago, to just the last few days- thank you for being there for me when I needed you.

For anyone who is reading this, who has just found out they have cancer, is going to have to have cancer surgery, or is recovering from thyroid cancer, there will be good days and bad days. Don’t let the bad days devestate you. Cancer changes a lot about your life, but you also have an opportunity to really see a lot of love and support around you. It teaches you to let go of the small stuff, and to just enjoy the days you are given.

Some of these days will be dark. Some of these days you are going to have to fight with every ounce of strength you have just to get to the next hour. Some of these days you will have to let other people help you, because you won’t be able to do it all. Some of these days, you will have to let things go, and be okay with just being. Some of these days you will question if it is even really worth it. When you realize, without a doubt, yes it is- then the clouds start to fade away. Instead of feeling weak, you feel strong. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you feel grateful you are alive. Instead of feeling guilty, you feel content. Then you will know in your soul you have beaten cancer, and it is far from the end- it is your new beginning.


One day after surgery, recovering in intensive care, 6-13-2009


My scar, seven days after surgery, 6-19-2009


My scar, one year after surgery, 6-12-2010


6-12-2010

Guest Blogger Heather is a one-year thyroid cancer survivor, and a single mom to two boys. She lives near Longmont, CO, and has blogged extensively on her cancer diagnosis, surgery, and recovery at her blog, A Mama’s Blog. This is her third guest post at Mile High Mamas. Heather enjoys spending time with her sons (ages 6 and 4), running, cycling, hiking, and gardening.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson June 29, 2010

    Cancer. Divorce. Death of a parent. Any one of those things would warrant a horribly difficult year but to have all three happen and come out as well as you have? You’re truly an inspiration!

  • comment avatar Betsy @ zen-mama.com June 29, 2010

    I’m so glad the cancer is gone and you’re surviving! I just hope your divorce is over and that in the end you and your kids are all right.
    Thinking of you!
    most sincerely,
    Betsy

  • comment avatar Amamasblog June 29, 2010

    Thanks Amber and Betsy. Things are going well for us and the divorce was finally over in May.

  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz June 29, 2010

    It’s inspiring to see how you came through each of these challenges. It’s probably a strength you never knew you had until you just had to plow through.

    I’m really, really sorry for the loss of your mom, and I know you’re recovery from the other things will continue. Wishing you healing in all ways.

  • comment avatar Kimberly July 17, 2010

    Hello there!! My name is Kim (married 35) and I stumbled upon your truly inspirational story about your life! I have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer that traveled into my lymph nodes. I had a total thyroidectomy on June 26, 2010 and have a scar that goes up on my right side up to my ear. I am currently in RAI isolation at home. I am ready to start living my life again. Bein on a low iodine diet for 2 weeks and no synthroid for 4 weeks were almost harder that the actual surgery! ugh! But my Dr. started me on synthroid today(day right after RAI therapy, seemed kinda soon but?)
    have a few more days in isoation.
    Just wanted to say sorry for your loss of your mom and divorce. You have endured some of lifes HARDEST things it throws at you. Stay strong!
    Also, you look GREAT!! Can I ask you what you used on your scar!?! wow, its amazing how wonderful it looks! I will post a pic too. I was using vit E oil, then a friend gave me ScarFade which is a silicone based product from Hanson products.
    Thank you so much! Stay Strong!!

  • comment avatar Bill McClain August 4, 2010

    I have had all three, but not in the same year (thank God!). You are a strong lady!

    For any of you out there with thyroid cancer (mine is Medullary Tyroid Cancer – MTC), thyca.org is a great site with forums with very good information exchange and very supportive people.

    For any of you out there going through a divorce or working with friends or others who are going through a divorce, there’s a great new book out there called, “The Dogs of Divorce” by William Kenly.

    I happened on this site because I was trying to see if divorce increases the risk of cancer. Many of my fellow MTC survivors went through a divorce 5-10 years before the cancer showed up. I am coming to believe that cancer is not the disease, it’s the symptom. The disease is a lowered immune system, caused mostly by either stress or diet.

    Bill McClain

  • comment avatar Suzie August 15, 2010

    I started reading your blog and almost felt like I was reading my own life. I am going to hit a year since my thyroid cancer diagnosis and I have experience on crazy year. My mother did not pass away, there were some other family illnesses and I can’t imagine going through that. The marriage thing I understand as well but that is another story. It is hard to find someone who understands what is going on. Thyroid cancer may be the “good” cancer but it sure has turned my world upside down. Thank you for sharing your story and I would love to chat more sometime about your experiences.

  • comment avatar GKelly March 14, 2011

    Thank you for writing about your journey. I also had thyca, followed by divorce. And I too believe that if I can get through those, I can get through anything… but its nice to have allies & encouragement along the way!

  • comment avatar Fiona January 17, 2012

    Wow! You are one strong lady! I can’t imagine losing my mom and dealing with divorce at the same time. After 2 surgeries and radiation treatment I am now 12 yrs cancer free but reading your story really brought the memories back, mine too had gone to my lymph nodes.I don’t know how I would have managed without my Mom who practically thought for me through the bad days.
    I wish you happiness and continued strength, it’s now Jan 2012, I hope you are doing really well.

  • comment avatar Robin April 3, 2012

    I was diagnosed with thyriod cancer in Jan.. of 2011. My then Endo. decided not to follow through on any thing. Went and recieved second opinion. The new endo. stopped my synthriod for 2 weeks did blood work and now we are doing a cancer search. I two had a total thyriodectomy on Feb 17 of 2011. was doing ok , but stilll not myself. The new Endo decided to run more test and now I have to go through a nuclear scan of the whole body and deal with what should have taken place a year ago. Upset but handeling it. I too was engadged to someone who left this past nov. he couldnt handle me being sick. I have most men run instead of facing upto life. best of luck to you. I am finding time does heal all wounds.

  • comment avatar Joan June 30, 2012

    I was diagnosed with thyoid cancer in March 2011, exactly one year after my divorce was final and less than two years after my father passed away. I had surgery over Spring Break, while I was doing my student teaching, and found out I had cancer the first day after Spring Break. I completed my student teaching, graduated summa cum laude with a bachelors in education in May 2011, at the age of 50, and started cancer treatment in July 2011. I completed my first year of teaching in May 2012, all the while supporting 4 kids through college (with no financial assistance from their dad). I had a very large tumor/mass that had grown around my right thyroid and into my right chest cavity preventing me from being able to breath. According to the surgeon it had been there for quite some time, probably starting 20 years earlier when I was pregnant with my third child and suffered from severe anemia. The cancer was in my left thyroid though. One year later and I am still not stabilized on my medication. I still have all of the hypothyroid symptoms after taking 125 of Synthroid once a day. I too believe that cancer is a result of stress; from divorce, loss of a loved one ect.

  • comment avatar dina October 8, 2012

    Question for anyone who has had a abnormal result on an ultrasound 6 months after thyroidectomy and removal of 70 lymphnodes due to cancer: The endocrinologist says going in another time to remove a lymhp node is a more difficult surgery cuz of the scar tissue. Can anyone advise?

    TYVM!
    Dian

  • comment avatar parrry October 19, 2012

    hi there

    I just had lobedectomy on left side two weeks ago. It was cancerous nodule about 5mm in size and my doctor says u r cancer free now we dont need to do any further scan or tests because it is very small so he doesnt expect any spread.I kind of beleive him but sometimes still comes to my mind that i should get more scans to be on safeside. does anybody have similar situation, will help me calm down. thankyou.

    • comment avatar Mary June 5, 2013

      I am going to an endocrinologist since having a thyroidectomy in nov of 2012 My doc does blood work and now 6 mo after he has done and ultrasound. Found out today that I have enlarged lymph nodes on both sides, won’t know the answer until the radiologist reads the ultlrasound. I am scared but if you feel unsure rest assured to follow your instincts. My tsh was high then it was low , my energy level drops and I feel sad, irritable, and some days just ok. Yes your nodule was very small mine was 3cm on the right and on the left it was found during surgery. Not all doctors are good. Iwas a nurse for 25 years and can contest to that . Find a good endocrinologist that will be your back up But first go to your family doc and express your concerns and demands thyroid lab work. Include thyroglobulin, tsh, t4 , t3. This is your life not theirs. Expect to be sad, irritable, and tired you may need to be on thyroid med if your whole thyroid was taken out. Heed my advice take control of your health.

  • comment avatar Lori April 11, 2013

    Thank you for sharing your moving and inspirational story, Heather. I too am a single mom battling cancer, breast cancer, working a full time job and right in the middle of a divorce. Like you, I have an incredible support system with my 3 children and my friends. I get all of my strength from my children and friends and I feel so blessed to have them in my life. You are a very strong woman. I never realized how strong I was until now. I hope you are continuing to do well.

  • comment avatar jennifer October 30, 2014

    I will say I totally understand I had my thyroid removed and lost both of my parents in Feb and had to plan their funerals and have my surgery on valentines day.

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