More on the Good and Bad of Treatments for Thyroid Cancer

 The First Two Days After Receiving Radioactive Iodine Treatment.

Are kind of a blur. The only real distinction between them was that each day brought a new privilege. On day 1, I was allowed to begin my Synthroid dose. Nothing happens right away of course, but after such a lengthy anticipation, simply taking the pill was a kind of communion. I wouldn’t have been surprised if moonbeams had shot out of my fingers and toes. (They didn't.)

Mostly I spent these days sleeping or trying to sleep. I was in quite a bit of pain, but I think it was related more to a stomach virus than the RAI. The list of side effects for radiation suggested mild stomach issues and rarely nausea. My stomach churned, my intestines did the mambo, I vomited twice, and my urine (in the interest of total disclosure) "burned" in the sense that it gave off a lot of heat (it did not hurt, but made me feel even more like an alien). So if you are thinking a few days of isolation are going to be like a mini-vacation or will be a fantastic opportunity to catch up on that ever-growing to-do list, think again. It is, however, a great chance to get in all those naps you’ll be missing when life returns to normal.

Losing Your Taste Buds After RAI. 

Day 1 is also lemon candy day*. Although the studies done on the effects of lemon candies seem inconclusive at best, many doctors (including mine) recommend you suck on lemon candies to save your salivary glands from excess radiation damage. I recommend them for another reason. Save yourself from your taste buds!

The worst side effect of by far is a horrible mutant after taste left by the RAI. I had read many personal testimonies regarding the side effects of RAI, several of which mentioned the loss of taste buds for 1-2 months. A loss of taste buds would have been a godsend. I hate to once again be the bearer of bad news, but radiation has a taste and it tastes like death. Neon green death. (I know the color of the taste because I was one of those “rare” people who puked.) More specifically, my mouth was suddenly and strongly filled with the metal-and-salt taste of blood. Hardly Hallmark movie material, but not exactly pleasant. And unless you are really into the whole vampire culture, not likely to make food or drink of any sort appetizing.

This also affects day 2 and its privilege: getting to the end of  the low-iodine diet. I have spent quite a few hours during that diet dreaming of the foods I was going to indulge in as soon as I could eat regularly. My first meal was going to be something low-calorie and nutritional, like fried chicken and ice cream. Unfortunately, after radiation, food of any kind seemed adversarial, and I subsisted mostly off of lemon candies and water.

*I started eating those little lemon candies as soon as I woke up on day 1 and ate hardly anything else the next two days. I recommend eating Lemonhead candies, because they are small and round and less harsh on gums than the Brach’s brand. Also, the outer coating of sweetness helps prep what buds are left for the bitter lemon taste. Between these two flavors (lemon and blood), I ended up experiencing a very strong aversion to anything salty during these first few days; I’m sure this has something to do with the iodine.

Resuming Human Contact, Post-RAI.

However, the night of day 2 also meant that I could finally be within 3 feet of another person. If you are not familiar with RAI contact restrictions, they are basically 2 days of complete isolation from humanity, 6 days of freaking out if anyone comes within your imaginary 3 foot personal bubble, 12 days of running away from children and pregnant women, and the vague promise that one day, with thyrogen, you will be allowed to rejoin humanity (but only until your next RAI scan).

If you are an RAI alien, you may be wondering:
• Who came up with these restrictions?
• How completely arbitrary are these restrictions?
• If the radiation is only secreted in bodily fluids, why is it dangerous to sit in cars with people or get closer than three feet to them?
• Is it safe to dance, oh is it safe to dance?

Let me know if you figure out the answer to any of these. Back to Day 2….

My husband agreed to meet me at the duck pond on the conditions that I shower and change clothes (he’s really quite a lovely person). I agreed to meet him on the condition that he bring me a loaf of warm French bread, the one food luxury I felt my stomach could stomach.

After two days of no human contact, I finally had a date, although it was truly the strangest date I have ever been on. I was as excited about seeing my husband as I had been on our wedding day. At the park, I found a bench away from most people and parked myself on the edge of it, trying not to touch it with my mutant skin.

As I waited I became rather conscious of how strange and awkward I must look: a woman alone at a duck park, not feeding or reading or drawing, but sitting perfectly upright, craning her neck around, and occasionally shooing the ducks away as if afraid of them. I was also becoming really anxious about the limited amount of time I would have to interact with my husband, given that it was getting dark and I was not allowed to use public facilities. When he finally arrived (an excruciating fifteen minutes later), I almost forgot the rules and ran into his arms. Instead, we had to wave hello and sit on opposite ends of the bench. He fed the ducks with some of the loaf from his end, while I snacked on some of it from my end.

I’m not sure what people might have thought in looking at us. Overly conspicuous spy meeting? Exchange of divorce papers? Most awkward first date ever? I am, however, pretty sure that we might have unwittingly scared the wits out of a young boy (maybe 9 or 10) who wandered a bit too close to our bench. He rather innocently planted himself on the shore directly in front of us to feed the ducks. Unfortunately, ducks are somewhat indiscriminate about which humans feed them and whether those humans are radioactive. A drove of them came too close to me, leading to the following very strange conversation, overhead by aforementioned little boy:

ME: Noah, the ducks are coming closer.
NOAH: Yeah, I see them.
ME: Noah, they are getting too close. Get them away from me!
NOAH: (Trying to lure the ducks by tossing bread near his side of the bench.) I’m trying.
ME: Noah, I might hurt them. Get them away before I hurt them!
NOAH: (Now shooing the confused ducks away.) I’m trying!
ME: (Screeching.) Oh no! Baby ducks! Save the baby ducks!! Get them away from me!!

Shortly after this, the little boy left. Now, maybe he was a very intelligent little boy who thought to himself, ah that lady is undergoing RAI therapy and has a 3 foot boundary to maintain when in contact with other creatures such as adorable baby ducks. Otherwise he may have left under the mistaken impression that I am some kind of psychotic who experiences uncontrollable homicidal urges when around ducks.

Your guess is as good as mine.

1 comment:

  1. I just went through RAI and went two weeks without seeing my husband and young kids. I just found your post and read it to my husband and we were in tears laughing about your description of the duck pond incident lol!!! Thanks for sharing in a fun way :) its definitely a rough time period to get through! Congrats on getting through it! :)