Letter from the Editor: Check your neck this month

  • If you have a suspicious lump in your throat, see your doctor right away. The first test you'll have is usually a thyroid ultrasound. It looks like it could be uncomfortable, maybe a little choke-y, but it isn't. I had no problem, and I'm pretty squeamish about my neck.

    If you have a suspicious lump in your throat, see your doctor right away. The first test you'll have is usually a thyroid ultrasound. It looks like it could be uncomfortable, maybe a little choke-y, but it isn't. I had no problem, and I'm pretty squeamish about my neck. iStockPhoto

  • Melynda Findlay Shamie

    Melynda Findlay Shamie

 
 
Updated 11/14/2020 4:50 PM

Just for this week, I'm going to use my platform for a PSA: September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month and, by the time you read this -- Sept. 17 -- it'll be exactly one year since I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

I should start by saying it's not quite as dramatic as it sounds, and I'm definitely not telling you this to get sympathy or so anyone will fuss over me. I'm telling you my story to raise awareness.

 

While thyroid cancer has its downsides, of course, it's one of the "good" cancers, and of the various types of it, I had the "good" kind of thyroid cancer.

I actually discovered there might be a problem in spring 2019 completely by accident. I was seeing a new doctor for a planned surgery to treat a chronic medical issue.

We were chatting away about a lot of things, but the one that stands out is the stupid-expensive price of almond flour. Because that's when he suddenly stopped talking.

"I don't like this lump on your neck," he said. "Has it been there for awhile?"

I wasn't sure, I said. I shrugged.

"It's pretty big," he said. "You should get this checked."

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Once I thought about it, the collars of my shirts were getting tight and I stopped wearing necklaces, because they were uncomfortable. That had been happening for a few years. I've been having a little trouble swallowing for even longer than that. I'd also had a persistent sore throat and dry cough I'd chalked up to allergies. But allergies all year?

I'm not sure how all of that didn't ring any alarm bells.

I'm a little bit of a hypochondriac: I get a bruise, it must be The Plague!

I'll certainly be calling my brother and cousin, both of whom are in the medical field, to talk me down from whatever rare disease I've talked myself into.

But neck starts swelling and I'm having trouble swallowing? lol, wut. (What's the point of hypochondria if you don't even notice the actual things? Have I only trained myself to recognize Level 4 biohazards?)

Actually, if you look at my mugshot here, you can see the lump pretty clearly on the right side of my neck.

I went through a battery of tests and, long story short: I had a suspicious mass a little bigger than a golf ball -- that I somehow didn't notice. So I had the originally planned surgery in June then had my thyroid out in September. After the surgery, I also found out I may have a platelet disorder -- they're going to check again in a couple of years. But I was one giant bruise from chin to belly button. (this is not what usually happens, I promise). While that may sound like bad news, it isn't really. If I ever need surgery or some kind of dental work, they'll know to be ready, just in case, because this is possibility.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Because it was definitely cancer, I had to be treated with 150 millicuries of radioactive iodine. I was warned about many side effects; I had two nobody told me about: disappointment and boredom. Boredom because I had to be isolated -- I was, literally, radioactive.

Disappointed because, as it turns out, you do not get super powers if your cat bites you while you're radioactive. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.

Oh. I also gained approximately eleventy billion pounds REALLY quickly -- with out a significant change in my eating and workout routine -- which put a temporary kibosh on running. And my pants fitting.

Ups and downs, sure, but overall, I've been lucky. And I fully expect that will continue next month when I go for my one-year whole body scan.

But that's not the point here. Learn from my mistake. Read Dr. Block's column next to mine. If you have any symptoms, see your doctor. The sooner, the better -- because it's likely the treatment will be easier than mine. You may not need your whole thyroid out, for one. Maybe you'll also need a smaller dose of radioactive iodine.

Check your neck, friends.

• Melynda has worked at the Daily Herald for more than 20 years. Sadly, early detection still won't give you superpowers. She checked.

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