A Twinge of Fear and Dash of Cinnamon: Thyroid Cancer Survival


"If I had my life to live over, I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I'd have fewer imaginary ones." ~Don Herold

I'm feeling a little anxious about my cancer.

Just a twinge so far. Not anything full-fledged or paralyzing. But that typical end-of-the-year anxiety is now inextricable from my upcoming RAI scan, otherwise known as the Moment of Truth. It crept up on me one “how are you doing?” and “do you know anything yet?” at a time.

Honestly, things haven’t been that bad. Thyroid cancer has been more like a smack-you-in-the-face disease than a burn-your-house-down-with-no-insurance disease. I haven’t had to completely readjust my life or lose my hair or go through chemo. I take a pill every day. If I don’t, the worst consequence is extreme fatigue, which has the upside of reminding me to take another one.

Emotionally, it has been exhausting. And the first round of surgery and radiation was painful and terrifying. I certainly do not want to diminish the experience of thyroid cancer by joining those who stereotype it as the "easy" or "good" cancer. It is neither of those things.

My thyroidectomy scar has been fading quite nicely, thanks to Mederma and sunscreen, and my only complaint is that it itches occasionally. I actually am pretty bad about remembering to put on Mederma. I maybe apply it once every few days rather than three times a day as suggested. Those who are more disciplined in application may have even better results. Here is what my scar looks like today.

Two weeks before my next scan, I will go on the strict low-iodine diet. This diet actually introduced me to cooking, and contrary to my life-long belief that I cannot cook, it has proven a somewhat amusing and moderately easy task (maybe even a hobby if I’m being generous). Also, I have discovered that food tastes much better when you cook it yourself and I no longer crave fast food like before. I am by no means the epitome of health, but I definitely eat healthier (not quite sold on kale or beets yet).

The question still lingers though: Am I cancer-free?

Or perhaps more accurately, is my cancer under control? I don’t really feel like I can listen to what my body is telling me. I feel fine now, but I felt fine before the diagnosis. Tiredness, moodiness, and stress are more recognizable as symptoms of life than of cancer. When I was waiting to hear the results of my biopsy, I became paranoid about sore throats and neck pains. Is it still paranoia if the thing you are afraid of is real?

I can be having a perfectly nice day, completely free of cancer thoughts and suddenly it will hurt to swallow or my neck will feel strangely hollow (weird, I know) and I’ll think “Is that it? Is that the cancer??” Because what if I’m not fine? What if it is still there or has spread further or I have to undergo another operation? What if, what if, what if.

There is a scene in Pollyanna where the lovable hypochondriac curmudgeon Mrs. Snow makes one complaint too many about her “pills and bills” and Haley Mills snaps at her and says something along the lines of “A person shouldn’t think about dying all the time. You’re so busy dying, you don’t make any time for living!” Then she storms out.

It’s an age-old lesson no one likes to listen to. Worrying won’t change the outcome and won’t push my exam date closer. (In fact, I am going to have to wait an extra month if I want my test to be covered under insurance.) So I will just stay as busy as possible. I started my own company. I am designing multiple websites. One of my children’s books got a publication offer. And of course, it’s Christmas, so if I didn’t have the five-latte jitters and a crazed look in my eyes, I just wouldn’t be a part of the holiday spirit. (Seriously, stay away from shopping centers; it just isn’t worth it. Noah and I are living off canned goods until it blows over.)

Instead, I suggest you curl up with a cup of homemade no-iodine cocoa, a plate of low-iodine peanut-butter chocolate-chip cookies (recipe below), and watch some holiday classics with a loved one. What could be more normal and cancer-free than that?

My Top 10 Holiday Must-See Movies:

10. Home Alone (One of a very few films that I both loved as a kid and find enjoyable now.)
9. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (I will never truly grow up. These claymation films captivated me when I was five and captivate me still. How can you beat Hermey the Dentist Elf and the Misfit Toys?)
8. The Sword in the Stone (One of only two underappreciated Disney films (the other being The Emperor’s New Groove (not a Christmas film)).)
7. The Nightmare Before Christmas (Generally I am a fan of the classics, and the boogeyman in this really creeps me out, but it is a wonderfully weird twist on the whole wants-more-but-discovers-life-is-already great.
6. The Shop Around the Corner (I love all things James Stewart, and while this is not his best, it is a sweet love story that has inspired several contemporary remakes).
5. White Christmas (Is there anything more hilarious than Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye singing “Sisters?”)
4. The Family Man (Noah introduced me to this one. Another backwards Wonderful Life themed movie with a cute love story mixed in.)
3. Sleepless in Seattle (Christmas plays an even smaller role in this one, but it is the remake of An Affair to Remember and the Ryan-Hanks dynamic is almost as good as Grant-Kerr.
2. An Affair to Remember (Only the ending takes place at Christmas, but it is the best part. The Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr dynamic is unparalleled.)
1. It’s a Wonderful Life (Does anyone not watch this every year? I get chills every time that bell rings.)

A recipe for iodine-free cookies, slightly modified from the one in the THYCA cookbook (and seriously the best cookie I have ever tasted):

Mary's Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ tsp almond extract
½ cup natural peanut butter, plus extra for tops of cookies
1 cup flour (I use wheat)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 tbs cinnamon
1¼ cup oats
½ cup raisins
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (no milk product)
¼ cup chopped walnuts

1. Cream shortening and brown sugar. Add egg whites, almond extract and vanilla. Mix well.
2. In separate bowl, sift together flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Add to
creamed mixture. Mix well.
3. Melt peanut butter in microwave until liquidy. Add to mixture.
4. Stir in rolled oats, chips, nuts, raisins.
5. Drop from spoonful onto cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes or until edges of cookies start to brown.
6. When cookies have cooled, press spoonful of natural peanut butter on top of cookie. Warm in microwave for twenty seconds if cold.



THYCA Cycling (Riding with Thyroid Cancer)

I am a THYCA Cycler.

Has a nice ring to it right? I have only been cycling once in the last two weeks and am a bit depressed about it. If you are in the DFW area, you have probably noticed that god is trying to make up for the drought this past summer by turning Texas into England. Gray everywhere. My mom would call this “Jane Eyre weather.” I’m leaning more towards Wuthering Heights.

When I did go cycling, I was motivated to ride faster than ever before by bitter wet winds, a terrible whooshing sound in my ears, and the pitch black skies of 5:30 p.m. You know the scene in "North by Northwest" where Cary Grant is driving drunk, at night, down windy roads next to sheer cliffs dropping off into the ocean, and all he can see is the blur of his headlights and the things he is about to hit? That is what it feels like when riding my bike at the lake after dark. The paths are narrow and windy and there are tall trees on either side blocking out all light sources except for my bike light, creating a kind of intoxicated, Blair-witch tunnel vision.

Needless to say, the weather of late has not been tempting enough for me to get back out there. Instead, I have been getting my exercise kicks from at-home yoga. Hulu now has all these free yoga channels like “Yoga Zone” and “Power Yoga,” which have seriously cheesy but effective workouts. I watch and follow on my laptop in the living room. If you are at all like me and cold weather makes you want to curl up in bed with cocoa and a book and never ever leave, you may want to check out these videos. They are mostly yoga-for-idiots style talkies, but the moves result in a good something-must-be-happening burn. According to the instructors, “Burn is strength.” Here is a good one:

Any THYCA cyclers in DFW?

Even though it is no longer bike-friendly weather, I am going to make another plug for cycling and invite anyone in the DFW area to join my currently one-and-a-half person THYCA Cycling team (one-and-a-half because my mom only rides with me every other week). Again, my idea is to start a cycling event in DFW that will raise money for THCYA research and awareness. I would like to eventually get on the level of sponsorship and participation that the current Tour de Cure enjoys.

I am by no means an expert cycler yet and would like to get to the point where I can do 60+ mile bike-a-thons without passing out. Most miles so far = 32. To motivate myself and begin my awareness campaign one person at a time, I have designed a THYCA Cycler shirt. You are welcome to steal my design and purchase your own if you are interested in being a THYCA cycler or just having a really awesome shirt. I ordered mine off of voler.com. Hopefully this link works: THYCA DESIGN

I understand that cycling is not for everyone, but it has been amazing post-op, post-cancer therapy for me. Just getting outdoors everyday and appreciating the beauty around me has made life better. I had a friend accuse me (unjustly) of “taking the fun out of cycling.” I guess she thinks I’m too competitive or something. She says she would rather enjoy the scenery. Which I do. Every single time I ride. Even those hard-core cyclists who go 40 mph probably look around them every once in a while. It is possible to both cycle (at a mere 12mph I might add) and enjoy your surroundings. To prove this, I took photos a few rides ago, when the fall colors were at their best. Here are some of my favorites; maybe they will inspire some would-be cyclists out there:
This is my favorite spot at the lake. I come here to write poetry and watch the egrets and cranes. At night nutria (also known as ROUS's) swim here.

Same spot captured through yellow flowers.

I had fun taking pictures from unusual angles. This is the dirt path to the shore.

This branch looks exactly like a moose head to me.

Spider webs are really hard to capture.

I love colorful grass. This reminds me of Van Gogh's wheat series.

Fun collection of branches near the shore.

One of many beautiful bike paths.

I love yellow trees. I pass under these while cycling.

This tree has flame-colored leaves.

I lay down in some rather uncomfortable thorns to get this shot. These plants are actually about a foot tall at most, but I tried to make them look like red trees towering above me. How'd I do?