Cancer – it is a scary thing, and it recently became part of my life. It is only two weeks ago today that I got my cancer diagnosis, and I am already out of surgery and recovering. It has been a very speedy process, and hopefully this will be the end of it. Getting a cancer diagnosis is a bit rattling, but there is no reason to panic.
According to the BBC More of Less podcast, one in two people will get a cancer diagnosis during their lifetime, while far fewer than that actually die from cancer. Cancer is perfectly survivable, and it seems so far that I got a pretty benign case with a very high probability of recovery and survival.
The Initial Discovery
This all started a few months ago with a regular health check at work, where the doctor doing the check found a suspect lump on the left-hand side of my thyroid gland. Follow-up examinations revealed that I had a noticeable cyst, which I could even see some times when at the gym and straining the front of the neck.
Some cell samples were taken from the cyst in order to check whether it would be malign. While looking at the cyst, the doctor doing the examination also found a second growth on the thyroid, on the right hand side, and took some samples there too. I had to take these samples twice, since the first batch of samples came back without any cells having been found. Taking thyroid cell samples is slightly bruising exercise – the sampling needle had to be pushed through the front neck muscles for some important angles. This gives you quite a neck-ache afterwards, to be honest, but nothing worth complaining about considering what was found.
The tests from the cyst came back as harmless, and the doctors I talked to did not expect to find anything else since all blood tests I took came out looking entirely normal. Basically, I expected it all to be over at this point in the process. There was no cause to expect anything else.
However, it turned out the right-hand-side growth was indeed cancer. The doctor called me the day I got home from the DAC, feeling pretty good about myself after a successful show and fully expecting to hear that there was nothing going on with the tests either. Which definitely was not the case. All of a sudden, I was a “cancer case”, changing from feeling entirely healthy to rather concerned in the span of a few minutes.
The indicated treatment was to remove my entire thyriod gland, and doing that as soon as possible. It took a little more than a week before I went into surgery. Everything ran very quickly and smoothly.
The Waiting Time
Working and living up to the surgery was a bit odd… on one hand, all the indications and communications from the doctor was that I should expect good results and a recovery no different from any other surgery. The prognosis is good. On the other hand, there are always risks and unknowns. The logical thing to do was to make sure to finish up as many things as possible, and not plan anything for the next few weeks. Make sure to put some things in order in case anything happens. Expect the best, but plan for the worst.
The diagnosis felt like a dissonance – usually when you are ill, you can feel it. There is something that aches, some general sense of weakness, of something being wrong in the body. In this case, I felt like there was nothing much wrong at all. The day before the surgery I had an appointment with my personal trainer and did a great workout, despite the diagnosis. While afterwards I paused my gym membership, expecting at least a month of recovery time. Dissonant is the word.
For some reason, I felt very calm during this entire process. No running around with my hair on fire, and no real reason to panic.
Surgery is incredibly non-dramatic when you get general anesthesia. One moment, I was in the operation room getting set up and wondering how long it would take to go to sleep. The next moment I was in post-op waking up. With a scar on my neck, an incredible sore throat, and aching neck muscles.
So far, a few days later, everything seems to be recovering OK. The neck is finally recovering enough that it does not hurt laying down or sitting up, but I do feel incredibly tired. It appears that my voice is still working normally – the most scary potential side-effect of a thyroid gland removal is that you damage the nerves controlling the voice box, which could lead to either hoarseness or a total loss of speech facilities. This would have been rather annoying in my line of work. Not to imply that I like hearing my own voice, but I do like being able to hear it.
I am yet to hear back from the analysis of the tissue that was removed. There might be a need for some additional treatment later on, but right now this is simply an unknown. Maybe the tumor was small enough that one operation was all that was needed.
Living without a thyroid gland basically means taking daily medication for the rest of my life. I think I can live with that, seems like a fair enough trade-off…
Update 2019-10-26: See https://jakob.engbloms.se/archives/3068 for the next part of the cancer story – radioiodine therapy to get rid of the last remnants of the cancer cells.