Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Change of direction

When I started this blog, I thought I would mostly be talking about how my small town upbringing affects my everyday life.  I will definitely post about those things...hopefully. For the time being, I have had a major life altering event occur.  I found out that I have thyroid cancer.  I wrote my story.  I hope it helps someone someday.  I will post more as I learn more!

August 26, 2013

“Chance” and “luck” are words that don’t hold a whole lot of meaning to me anymore. 

Tomorrow I will report for surgery that will remove the remaining half of my thyroid.  Five days ago, I got the worst news of my life.

Five days ago, Dr. R, my ENT, left a voicemail that said, “Hello, Dr. R calling for Mrs. B. So, the pathologist called me.  They say that that thyroid is just fine. However, they also said that a few lymph nodes I removed just some teeny ones right in the front, that one of those had metastatic thyroid cancer even though they don’t see that in that half of your thyroid I removed…”  The rest of the voicemail was a blur.  I felt like someone had just knocked the air out of me.  This wasn’t happening! It couldn’t be happening! I was healthy! I was feeling great! I was only 27!

Just eighteen short months ago in February 2012, I had one of the best surprises of my life.  Even though it had taken Jereld & I 10 months of trying to conceive our son Beau, only two months after trying we were expecting another baby—due October 27, 2012! We were beyond excited!

The following month, my sister found out that she had thyroid nodules and would need surgery to remove her thyroid.  Hearing about her thyroid issues made me paranoid that I might have the same thing.  I had always had a lump in my throat when I swallowed, but had always thought that it was “normal” for me.  I didn’t do anything about it right away, but decided to see a doctor about it soon. 

At 9 weeks pregnant, I began to spot heavily.  I was worried that I was starting to miscarry. The Mr’s friend from work (an ultrasound tech) did us a favor and gave me an impromptu ultrasound to check on the baby and my pregnancy.  Nothing appeared out of the ordinary and the baby was doing just fine.  There was no apparent reason for the spotting.  While there, I asked him to take a quick look at my thyroid, half expecting him to say that my thyroid looked normal and that I could stop worrying.

When he started the ultrasound on my thyroid and found a large nodule on my thyroid, to say I was disappointed would be an understatement.  The ultrasound tech called Dr. G (an ER doctor that was also a friend of the Mr’s).  Dr. G made the ultrasound “official” by writing an order for it and sent me for blood work to test my thyroid levels.  In the opinion of all involved, my thyroid looked bad.  Too much blood flow to the nodule and calcification are markers for cancer; my thyroid nodule had both.  I needed a follow up and biopsy with an endocrinologist and fast.

Scheduling an appointment with an endocrinologist proved to be difficult.  Every endocrinologist I called either couldn’t get me in for three months or more or didn’t take pregnant patients at all.  Finally, I found an endocrinologist who could get me in within a couple weeks named Dr. A. When I went to Dr. A, he explained everything and scheduled a biopsy.  I was extremely nervous for the biopsy and for what the results would show.  The biopsy ended up being easier than I expected and within a week or so I had the results—BENIGN! What a relief! I didn’t have cancer.  Biopsies can be wrong, but there was only a 1% chance or something that it was wrong.  I was fine! Dr. A recommended that I waited until after the baby was born before proceeding with anything.  He would monitor my thyroid levels during pregnancy, but there was no emergency.  In fact, he did not recommend having surgery at all until my nodule grew to 4 cm. At that point, my nodule was somewhere around 3.5 cm.

We had the answer that my nodules were not cancerous, but something about Dr. A’s recommendation to not have surgery after the baby was born did not sit well with the Mr. and me, but we figured we would address that issue after the baby was born.

In late May, we found out that we were expecting a baby girl! We had already decided what her name would be.  We were excited to meet our little Ten!

As my pregnancy progressed, the Mr. and I decided that I should have surgery before the end of the year because our deductibles would already be met. Ten’s birth would ensure that! So in September, the Mr. and I met with Dr. R, an ENT that had been highly recommended by a friend who had had a similar surgery.  Dr. A also recommended Dr. R but still persisted to strongly recommend that I did NOT have surgery.  He recommended that he could just watch my nodule and do periodic ultrasounds and biopsies and blood work to confirm that I was still doing okay.  Still, his recommendation did not feel right to us. 

During our meeting with Dr. R, he recommended surgery and disagreed with Dr. A’s recommendations to hold off.  We felt this was the right thing to do, so I scheduled my surgery for the middle of December.

On October 24, 2012, Ten arrived.  She was beautiful! She weighed 8 lbs. 10 oz. and had lots of blonde hair.

As my surgery edged closer and closer, I began to feel anxious.  Thinking it was just pre-surgery jitters, I tried to brush it off.  Everyone gets nervous for surgery, right?!?!?  But, the closer it got the more I realized that I could not go through with it.  At the time, I thought it was because Ten would only be 6 weeks old, and it would be too hard to leave her.  I know now that that was not the only reason. The moment I cancelled my surgery, I felt relieved and peaceful.  I would have surgery, just later.  It would be more expensive, so at the time I felt silly and as if I was wasting money, but I still felt peaceful.

The end of January brought more surprises.  the Mr.’s employer informed their employees that payday would be late.  They were struggling financially and could not make payroll.  Any thoughts of thyroid issues were gone at that point.  We were frantically submitting resumes to every job opening that seemed half plausible for our family.  The following weeks proved difficult as payrolls continued to be late and unpredictable.

In February, our little family made a trip to Winslow, Arizona for an interview at the Little Colorado Medical Center.  The Mr. was offered a job (with a significant RAISE!), but we soon realized that what appeared to be a raise would be a slight pay cut when the medical benefits were considered.  On our drive home, both the Mr. and I got the distinct impression that Heavenly Father was saying, “Just be patient, this isn’t it!”  The Mr. went to the temple to confirm our answer and felt confident that the Winslow job was not for us.  So, with the prospect of being out of a job at any moment, we forged ahead.

We continued to submit resumes everywhere!  The Mr. also started applying to our city's Police Department and was excited about that option.  In April, we found out that the hospital my husband worked for would be shutting down.  The Mr. would be out of a job!  Shortly after, we found out that the branch of the hospital (the branch that the Mr. worked at) would be purchased by a BIG name hospital and that the Mr. might possibly be kept as an employee with them.  After lots of worry and stress about who would be out of a job and who would be staying on, the Mr.found out that BIG name hospital would be keeping him.  Relief! the Mr. was able to keep his tenure, vacation days, and pay.  A couple months later, he even got a teeny, tiny raise. His new hours were a hard adjustment for our family (Mon-Thurs 1pm-11:30pm), but that was a small sacrifice for the blessing of a JOB! BIG name hospital’s health insurance was also MUCH better than the benefits we had through the previous hospital.  In fact, they were equal to or better than any benefits we had ever seen!

In June or July, I noticed that my thyroid nodule was starting to bother me more and more, and I was concerned because my hair was shedding.  I wanted to be sure that my thyroid was still functioning properly.  With the new insurance in place, I went to my Uncle’s doctor’s office.  I saw his PA , Jay G. who asked me why I was waiting to get my thyroid out.  He was of the opinion that Dr. R was the best and that if he thought it should come out that I should follow that advice. I got a referral (required by new insurance) to Dr. R and Dr. W (a new endocrinologist recommended by a friend).  Dr. W agreed with Dr. R that it needed to come out soon. 

I scheduled my surgery for August 15, 2013.  In the weeks leading up to the surgery, I was nervous, but the feeling was different.  The feeling I had was that the surgery needed to happen.  So, I kept my surgery date.

Meanwhile, the Mr.'s application to the Police Department was almost complete and was just lacking a few steps in the background check.  We were pretty sure that the Mr. would be offered a job very soon, but he did not feel right about continuing to pursue this option for some reason.  He attended the temple and received a confirmation that it was not the right thing for our family at this time.

The Sunday before my surgery, the Mr. and my brother gave me a Priesthood blessing.  I don’t remember the specifics of my blessing, but I know that the blessing told me that the doctors would be guided.  I also remember the peace I felt as the Spirit washed over me.    

Two days before my surgery, I was able to attend the temple while the Mr. watched the kids.  I had a lot on my mind.  Just a few days prior, the Mr. had gotten news that his fertility had declined even further (he has had fertility issues in the past), making me question whether we would be able to have more children. The thought of not being able to have more children is very painful to me. I have had many occasions where I have felt like there are more spirits waiting to come to our family.  Add to that stress the stress of my impending surgery and it was a difficult combination.

I had had many thoughts about what would happen if I died in surgery or if I went into a coma or other things like that. 

As I sat on the bench waiting for the session to begin, I thought I was going to be sick to my stomach. My stomach was churning.  My Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) was rearing its ugly head and there was nothing that I could do about it but pray for help.  I prayed silently to myself for what seemed like 20 minutes, asking God to settle my stomach and help me relax.  I tried reading the Bible in front of me, but found myself speed reading and not really understanding the words.  The only saving grace was the soft sound of the organ playing over the speakers.  I sang each hymn in my head.

As I made it into the session, anxiety of whether I would have to leave and be embarrassed overwhelmed me and brought on my IBS attack even stronger.  For what seemed like forever, I was fighting nerves, trying to make myself relax and breathe and calm my stomach.  Finally, the Spirit calmed my nerves and I was able to appreciate my time in the temple session.  During my time in the session, I cried.  I have never cried in a session, but this time was different.   This time I felt like my world was crashing in on me.  I felt like there was nothing left for me to do but pray for God to help! Once, I was in the Celestial Room, I prayed harder than I have ever prayed before and I cried. I told God that I was nervous about my surgery.  I told Him that I wanted more kids, but that without His help I wasn’t sure that it would be possible for us to have more.  I told Him that I have health problems that I need His help with. I told Him that I needed help with this surgery because my kids need a mother and the Mr. needs a wife.   Absolute peace filled me.  I wish I could have sat in that room forever.

The next day (the day prior to my surgery), I was a mess. Throughout the whole day, I would find myself crying and then I would pray for strength and comfort.

I put the kids to bed around 8:30 but hadn’t gone to bed myself. I was too nervous.  I stayed up a couple more hours before I decided I had better head to bed. That night I felt the Spirit stronger than I have ever felt before.  At the time, I was humbled and very grateful for this experience, but Heavenly Father knew that I would need this experience to get me through the days ahead.

The next morning, I was still nervous for my surgery, but my nervousness felt minimal. The surgery went great and I was able to recover quickly.  I did have pain, but much less than I expected from having surgery.

The Relief Society scheduled meals to be brought to me after my mom left.  A friend of mine in the ward came to get Buddy each afternoon to play with her boys which he loved! My visiting teacher came each evening to help me feed the kids, give them baths, and get them in bed. Before my surgery, I had wondered why I was given faithful visiting teachers when someone else could probably benefit more from having these faithful sisters come. Now I know why they were assigned to come to me.

After getting the phone call from Dr. R, my world has been turned upside down even further.  I have since researched my specific type of cancer.  According to Dr. R, there is a 95% chance that it can be cured.  I don’t like the fact that I have to worry about odds, but all doctors involved have told me that if you have to have cancer, then thyroid cancer is the one to have.  Specifically, I have Papillary Thyroid Cancer.

The first day after finding out about my cancer was the hardest. Both the Mr. and I cried so much that I wasn’t sure we could cry any more.  I have prayed so many times after hearing the news.  It almost doesn’t seem real.  I feel healthy.  I have the same amount of energy I have always had.  Physically, I feel fine; emotionally, not so much.

During my pre-op appointment on Friday with Dr. R for this second surgery I am getting, he told us that a few cancer cells were found in a lymph node that he “by chance” decided to take out.  He explained that we are lucky we found this.  The half of my thyroid that was removed showed no trace of cancer.  The cancer is presumably in the right side of my thyroid--the side that looks normal on ultrasounds and appears to have no issues at all—the side that is still in my body.  Dr. R said there is a chance that they may never find the source of the cancer since they cannot even detect it on an ultrasound. He’s preparing me for that possibility anyways. 

Even if he believes it, the Mr. and I know that it was not just by chance that Dr. R had the thought to remove the lymph node he saw.  We know that it was not just by luck that this cancer was found.  We both feel that had I had the surgery back in December, the cancer would have gone undetected as it probably had not spread to my lymph node at that point. We know that God has orchestrated the events leading up to this discovery and continues to guide our lives as we go through this struggle.  God has answered prayers before we even said them.  He has provided comfort and support that, at the time, we were unaware we needed.

We look back and realized that God has held our hand through this entire experience.  He helped me find my thyroid nodule so we could find the cancer. He gave the Mr. and me promptings that helped us decide to pursue surgery.  He told me that surgery in December was not the right timing. He helped us realize that the job in Winslow wasn’t right for our family.  He prompted my family doctor to suggest surgery.

Ultimately, I feel like I will be okay.  It’s not my time to die yet.  God is not done with me.

More now than ever, the Mr. and I feel grateful for the Atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is only through the Enabling Power of His Atonement that we forge ahead, not knowing what tomorrow brings. We know that because of His Atonement, death has no sting. We are grateful that we have been able to be sealed to each other and know that, regardless of when we die, we will be able to be together again! One thing we have both gained more of up to this point is perspective. 

We pray for added strength from God as we pursue a cure.  We have many family members and friends who are fasting and praying on my behalf as well.  For that we are very grateful.

We do have our doubting moments and moments of weakness.  We are only human. 

We pray that we will be able to accept God’s will for our little family, whatever that may be.