Q: Tell us a little about yourself
A: My name is Alysia. I am a 36 year old wife, teacher, and mother of two young children. My life took a dramatic turn in September of 2015 when I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma. Never in a million years did I dream I would be going through something like this at this young of an age, but my journey over the past 10 months has taught me a lot about myself, my disease, and how to seek out rays of sunshine through even the gloomiest of days. I want to share my story to help give hope to those who might find themselves in a similar situation and to educate others about thyroid cancer.
Q: What did you know about Thyroid Cancer and Thyroid Disease before being diagnosed?
A: Before my diagnosis, I admittedly did not know much about the thyroid. As it turns out, it is a pretty important part of your body. Your thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that sits at the front of your neck. It produces a hormone called thyroxine (T4) that helps your body maintain a healthy metabolism, as well as regulating your weight and body temperature. When the thyroid isn’t working properly, it can cause a whole slew of problematic symptoms for people. In my case, it brought about symptoms that I never would have thought could be related to my thyroid…which can make diagnosing something like thyroid cancer a very tricky thing. My symptoms began in the spring of 2013, which means I had been living with this cancer for at least 2 years before I was diagnosed.
Q: How did you first find out there could be an issue?
A: In the spring of 2013, I went in for a routine physical with my primary care physician. Everything looked great, but I did share with her that I had been having heart palpitations pretty frequently. She ordered for me to wear a heart monitor for a few weeks. It showed that I was having palpitations, but that my heart was otherwise healthy. Fast forward to the spring of 2015 when I went in for another visit. She asked about the palpitations and I explained that I was still having them, but that I was trying not to be overly concerned about them. It was at that point that she decided to have some bloodwork done to check my TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) levels. The results of that test showed that my TSH levels were suppressed, which indicated hyperthyroidism. She quickly referred me to an endocrinologist.
Q: What was your timeline like from the initial awareness of a Thyroid issue to your thyroidectomy?
April 2015 – I went in for my first visit with my endocrinologist. During our initial conversation, Dr. Thomas was confident that mine was a classic case of Graves’ Disease. Toward the end of the appointment, he decided to do a quick “neck check” to feel my thyroid. It was during that check that he discovered a nodule on the right side of my thyroid. When he had me feel it, I couldn’t believe there was this lump on my neck that I had NO CLUE was there! At that point, he got me on the schedule for the following week to do a 3 part thyroid uptake test.
August 26, 2015 – Biopsy day. During the biopsy, to ensure he was collecting from the right spot, he also used the ultrasound machine to locate the nodule during the procedure. It was when he showed the nodule to my husband and I on the screen and described that the shape of it was different from most typical nodules, that I knew things were not okay. Let the nervous waiting begin…
August 28, 2015 – My phone rang and I immediately felt my heart drop. The biopsy results were back and it was considered “atypia of undetermined significance”. In other words, the biopsy was abnormal, but they weren’t able to conclude 100% that it was cancer. I met with Dr. Thomas in his office that afternoon and asked point blank what he thought I should do. He told me that if he was giving this news to his sister or his wife, he would tell them to have the entire thyroid removed. That was the moment I knew how serious he thought my situation was.
September 3, 2015 – I met with the surgeon to discuss the plan for my operation and schedule my surgery date. At that appointment, I learned that the surgeon wanted to take the least aggressive route possible. The plan was to start by removing the right side only and then to have it checked out by pathology.
September 25, 2015 – Surgery Day.
Q: Do you feel like everything went smoothly or were there complications along the way?
A: During surgery, the right half was removed and sent to pathology, as we had discussed in our consultation. Because the surgeon was so confident that there were no malignancies in my nodule, he was preparing to stitch me back up for recovery. It was at that time that the lab called back with the surprising results that they had found cancer. The folks in pathology were even so surprised that they got a 2nd opinion on it to make sure. So, the doctor went back in to remove the remainder of my thyroid. Having a total thyroidectomy means that I will have to take a special medication every day for the rest of my life to do the job my thyroid is no longer there to do.
Q: In addition to taking medication, how has the thyroidectomy changed the way your mange your nutrition, exercise and fitness goals for yourself?
A: Living without a thyroid also means living with a lifelong, chronic illness. While my medication helps my body regulate the functions of the thyroid, it is by no means perfect. There are days when I feel totally normal, and there are days when it takes every ounce of energy just to roll out of bed. Since my surgery, I have made every effort to live a healthier, more active lifestyle. I have had to increase my intake of calcium-rich foods and supplements because my thyroidectomy affected the work of my parathyroid glands. I also recently began taking yoga classes, which has been both physically and spiritually healing for me.
Q: What are some of your thoughts about your experience participating in the Run On A Mission Virtual Race for Thyroid Awareness?
A: When I first found out about the race, there was no question that I would participate in it. I am always looking for ways to bring more awareness to this disease. When I shared information about the race through social media, the support of friends and family from across the country was overwhelming! I was also able to complete my own 5K with a group of close friends, which was a total blast.
Q: How can others connect with you to hear more of your story and find support in their own Thyroid disease journey?
A: There is a lot more to my story, and I invite all of you to check out my personal blog if you’d like to learn more or connect with me there. In my blog, you can read about my experiences with RAI treatment, the low-iodine diet, scans, scars, and more. I am happy to say that I am currently cancer free and back to living a normal, healthy life. What I hope you will take away from my story is that there are hidden symptoms of thyroid disease. If there is something going on with your health that concerns you, speak up! Seek out a doctor who will listen to you and take you seriously. For more information about Thyroid Cancer, I highly recommend checking out the ThyCa website. It is my go-to resource with any question I have had throughout my journey. This process has not been an easy one by any means, but it has certainly taught me how important it is to live life to the fullest and not to take one single day for granted.