Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Thyroid cancer and life with out a thyroid

A pop quiz: What does your thyroid do anyway?
  1. Something to do with weight.
  2. Some weird gland thing that we all have but doesn't do much.
  3. I have no idea.
  4. The master gland of metabolism and energy.
If you answered #4 you get a gold star. If you answered any of the others, you are not that different from the average person.

The thyroid is our master gland of metabolism and energy. Every single body function that requires oxygen and energy -- basically, everything that goes on in our bodies! -- requires thyroid hormone in proper amounts. That means we need the proper balance of thyroid hormone in order to feel and live well. We need thyroid hormone to think clearly and remember things, to maintain a good mood, to grow hair and nails, to have basic energy to get through the day, to see well, to digest our food, to burn calories, to be fertile, to get pregnant and have a healthy baby, to have a good sex drive, and much, much more. In some ways, you can think about thyroid hormone as the gasoline that makes the car go. No gas, and there's no way to move forward. 

So if you don't have a thyroid, life is very different.

There are millions of Americans with thyroid cancer issues. But for the first time I have found something that explains, in layman's terms, what hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and the implications of a thyroidectomy after thyroid cancer.

If your loved one has thyroid cancer, they have an entirely different challenge. The majority of thyroid cancers are considered highly treatable and survivable, so doctors and others often cavalierly refer to thyroid cancer as "the good cancer." But the reality is, no cancer is "good," and someone who has thyroid cancer has cancer, "the big C." Cancer as a concept is frightening, and raises fears and concerns. Someone with thyroid cancer initially may have few, if any, symptoms. In some cases, however, they may have hypothyroid, hyperthyroid, or a combination of symptoms of a thyroid imbalance. Most thyroid cancer patients require surgery to remove the thyroid -- and this can be daunting, including the idea of a several-inch incision in the neck and resulting scar. After surgery, many thyroid cancer patients will need to have followup radioactive iodine treatment to ensure that all the cancerous tissue was removed, and it can be many weeks after surgery before a thyroid cancer patient -- who by that point is typically quite hypothyroid -- can start thyroid medication to again get lifesaving thyroid hormone they need. And the thyroid cancer patient in your life will require lifetime of medical treatment for the resulting hypothyroidism, along with periodic -- and sometimes physically challenging -- follow-ups and scans to monitor for a recurrence of the cancer. 

You will note a few key statements:
  • No cancer is "good"
  • Require lifetime of medical treatment for th resulting hypothyroidism, along with periodic -- and sometimes physically challenging -- follow-ups and scans to monitor for a recurrence of the cancer.

So please take a few minutes to read and understand what your thyroid does and what is life like with thyroid problems. These are chronic problems and can be treated but cannot be cured.