My cancer journey began abruptly back in Spring 2015 I was out relaxing with friends when my cancer journey, abruptly began when one friend pointed out a visible lump in my neck. Initially unconcerned, I met with my doctor who booked me in for an ultrasound. Remarkably, by the time I saw my consultant, my huge thyroid was pushing my windpipe right over – no wonder I was having problems swallowing peppers and cucumber!
Following my first surgery, where half my thyroid was removed, I given a shock diagnosis of papillary thyroid cancer at my appointment 8 weeks later. Another surgery quickly followed to completely remove my thyroid, where tests confirmed that a second follicular cancer tumour had been found.
With my thyroid removed, the next stage involved a six week struggle on an iodine free diet and no medication to replace the job of the thyroid. This was followed by a disconcerting radioactive iodine pill, delivered by a member of the Nuclear Medicine team wearing full radiation protection! I then had to undergo three days in complete isolation. Fearful and shut off, I was left in a small hospital room facing an ominous lead barrier and stripy tape. Being suddenly alone was the most difficult part of my treatment and a huge contrast to the lively birthday party I had held just a week before for my young daughter. I was then allowed home but had to be completely on my own for six days. Separated from my family and without their close support I needed something to give me focus. Drawing on all my strength I became fully committed to helping other thyroid cancer patients during their journey and started writing notes down as to how I could help people who are about to go through this treatment.
Although I received exceptional care, I realised that
the NHS doesn’t have the budget to provide many of the human comforts that
patients in isolation need. It was little things like taking in snacks (hospital food isn't great and you can't leave to buy anything), nice toiletries (you have to shower and wash your hands lots during your time in isolation), citrus boiled sweets (I stupidly took toffees in but because the treatment kills your saliva glands you need sharp, citrus sweets to get them working again) ....... this list goes on!
My isolation coping mechanism was to follow similar stories on YouTube, film my own video blog and dance to songs by Taylor Swift (yes, the nurses must have thought I had gone mad but it was the only way to help with the muscle cramps I was getting) whilst chatting to family and friends over Skype - thank goodness I had 4G on my iPad as WiFi is not something that was available in the hospital.
I know how difficult it can be for family members when you go into isolation. Using the term ‘second smile’ to describe the scar left by my surgery, I was able to explain the situation and reassure my young daughter Taylor, but it was still heartbreaking having to be away from her for so long ....... and I ended up having to have the treatment twice!
Three years on from my diagnosis, the biggest piece of advice I can now offer others with the disease is to speak to the Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust.
Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust is a national charity dedicated solely to the support of patients with thyroid cancer. Kate, who runs the charity was a thyroid cancer patient herself over 15 years ago and could answer all my questions. Back in December 2016 I headed to a patient/doctor conference at the Royal Society of Medicine in London and it was fascinating to hear all about other cancer patients' stories and the findings from their research. My plan is to help them in September during Thyroid Cancer awareness month with their ‘Check Your Neck’ campaign ………….. I mean how many times have you heard of men being told to check their balls and ladies being told to check their boobs or make sure they have a smear test but I for one, had never been told to check my neck.
With all of this in mind I have set up ‘The Second Smile Project’, a project that aims to raise the awareness of thyroid cancer through random acts of kindness. I have already been back to the Oncology ward at Poole hospital and transformed their garden into something beautiful for patients. I have also delivered a vintage tea party to the local Macmillan Caring Locally hospice in Christchurch.
There are several random acts of kindness that I would like to do including providing all thyroid cancer patients at Poole hospital with a little box of goodies when they go in for Radioactive Iodine Treatment including things that I wish I had taken in when I went into hospital and things I did take in when I was unfortunate enough to have to undergo the treatment a second time.
These days I am feeling well and other than rocking a good scar and taking my thyroid medication, life is pretty much back to normal. In April 2017 I was given the news that I had been waiting for - after two and a half years, I am cancer free and officially in the low risk category of it ever coming back. I am thrilled and now it is time to start helping others who are on a similar journey!