Every month is a “national something” month. Pair that fact with the onslaught of increasingly meaningless Facebook holidays – “National Donut Day,” “Give Your BFF a High Five Day,” and you have what adds up to a lot of noise. I know it’s a lot to remember, and who has the mental bandwidth for that? Though I am always down for a celebratory pastry in the name of a holiday, I settle for keeping the spirit of Donut Day alive in my heart throughout the year. It’s easier to tune out.
That being said, January is National Thyroid Awareness month.
And unlike national “Eat Your Weight In Pizza Day” – a goal this author feels we should look to achieve every day of the year – it’s important to reflect on what that means because it could mean your health.
Your thyroid distributes hormones that regulate breathing, heart rate, central and peripheral nervous systems, body weight, muscle strength, menstrual cycles, body temperature, and cholesterol levels, among other things—no small feats, indeed.
In 2013, my mom headed to an ENT doctor she’d never seen before to address an issue so innocuous she didn’t even recall what it was. Being a new patient, she was given a thorough checkup. There, the – thankfully diligent – doctor discovered a goiter on the right side of her neck. (For all intents and purposes, a goiter is a “lump”). She was sent for an ultrasound which revealed this mysterious lump was attached to her thyroid gland and would need to be biopsied and ultimately removed.
Because of the nature of these, biopsies don’t always reveal if there is more of a drastic issue attached to them. Once it was removed and tested more thoroughly, it was discovered that the second most common thyroid cancer – follicular – was present. Should this type of cancer spread, it goes straight to the lungs. As a precaution, the doctors recommended she head to Mt Sinai and have the other gland removed.
After the second surgery, all that was left treatment-wise was to pop a simple pill to kill any cancer cells that might be remaining. “Simple” in that she could take the medication in her own home and one that didn’t even make her sick. The pill itself was radioactive. This meant she was advised to use her own silverware, plates, and bathroom, stay away from babies, and use caution while interacting with the general public.
It also makes you part X-Men.
Shortly after taking her dosage, my mom was driving, and she was pulled over. Having not broken any rules, she turned to face the concerned and confused officer. His radioactivity detector was going crazy – more in line with the detection of nuclear weaponry and not a middle-aged lady from the Bronx. She pulled out the card her doctor had provided that explained that calling Homeland Security wouldn’t be necessary.
Her course of treatment now is regular checkups (annually) and medication (daily). The meds are to replace the thyroid functionality she no longer has.
After my mom’s ordeal, she and I both encountered several people who had the same experience she did. A few were her contemporaries (late 50’s, early 60’s), but some were also mine (late 20’s, early 30’s).