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River Street Inn balcony in Savannah Georgia

I Have Thyroid Cancer (But I’m Going to be OKAY!)

February 24, 2020

River Street Inn balcony in Savannah Georgia

Over the last few months, something has felt ‘off’ within my body. I can’t quite explain the feeling other than it was a nagging subconscious gnat that just kept buzzing.

But never in a million years did I think it would be that I have thyroid cancer.

I’ve had thyroid issues for several years, and after my gallbladder surgery screw up in 2015, I developed Hashimotos disease. Hashimotos is an autoimmune disorder where my body is attacking my thyroid like it’s a foreign body, which causes its own set of issues that I would compare to having a nuclear explosion version of hypothyroid. Everything is just worse with Hashimotos – dry skin, weight gain, hair loss, anxiety, depression – all that fun stuff.

My doctor in Colorado and then my doctor here in Georgia tested and retested my thyroid numbers, because I was still presenting with thyroid issues even though my thyroid numbers technically in the acceptable range. Eventually, my doctor here switched me from generic to name brand Synthroid, and my thyroid numbers dropped to the lower end of the acceptable range.

But still, something felt off and I tried explaining it to any doctor that would listen – it’s not normal for 36 year old to have some of the issues that I’ve been dealing with.

Then, my doctor suggested we do a routine ultrasound to check on my thyroid, get measurements, just so we could get some baseline measurements since it’s common to develop goiters (WTF, who thought of that word!?) and nodules and stuff when you have Hashimotos.

My ‘Routine’ Thyroid Ultrasound Got Serious

During the ultrasound, the ultrasound tech got kind of serious and stopped joking around with me, so I knew something was up. The next day, my doctor called and told me they found a 2cm nodule on the right side of my thyroid and that I needed to go see an endocrinologist because it might need to be biopsied.

Super. Big needles. Going in my neck. Great.

Well, it took nearly 6 weeks for me to get in to see an endocrinologist because of the holidays in December and interspersed in January and endocrinology being such an understaffed specialty in our area. She came in, felt my neck and says “oh yeah, there it is. Let’s get it biopsied.”

Then she went on to say it’s probably not thyroid cancer, 90% of the time nodules are totally benign and nothing to worry about. Let’s just not panic, ok?

Yep, suuuure doc. Whatever you say.

My Thyroid Biopsy Experience

I went in for my biopsy last week, which was not a pleasant experience. I had a panic attack in the room, especially after the third stick. The needle itself isn’t painful, it feels like a shot in the throat because for all intents and purposes, that’s what it is. But when the pathologist was moving around and gathering tissue samples, it felt like my air supply got cut off and like I got punched in the throat.

fine needle aspiration biopsy for thyroid

Then he came back for a fourth stick and I just tried to breathe through it. I felt bad because the pathologist was trying to be as gentle as possible, but the module is just in a really crappy location.

Afterward, I lost my voice for 3 days. It legitimately felt like my entire right side of my neck had been punched, it was so sore – my lymph node under my jaw and my ear have been aching ever since and it’s been just about a week since the biopsy.

i have thyroid cancer but i'm gonna be ok_0014

You can see my eyes all rim-red from crying and my panic attack on the left. On the right, you can see the biopsy site – the bruising was very minimal.

Getting the Biopsy Results

I called my endocrinologist on Friday around lunchtime because of the pain and swelling, just to make sure that it’s a normal response and got their voicemail. At 4:34pm, the doctor’s nurse called me back, said that my swelling was probably normal but more importantly, the results from my biopsy had come back and I needed to come in right away to discuss them with the doctor in person.

Let’s be honest: good news can be delivered over the phone. Bad news, however, cannot and should not be delivered over the phone. And I really hope that nurse never plays poker, because she had absolutely no chill and made no effort to cover up that the results were bad.

She transferred me to the front desk lady, who let me know that the doctor had already left for the day and wouldn’t be back until Monday morning. Which meant, I had to wait two and a half days to confirm the diagnosis that the nurse alluded to so insensitively.

The weekend crawled by at a snail’s pace. I must have checked the clock every 11 minutes and I got no sleep. I was a zombie walking around in a complete daze.

brunswick hospital

Monday Finally Rolled Around

We arrived, as instructed, at 8am, to find out that I had never been given a proper appointment time. So we sat, and we waited. Then we were taken into a room, where we sat and waited some more. Eventually, I couldn’t handle the anxiety and I just started pacing back and forth.

Almost an hour and a half later, the doctor strolled in because apparently I had been scheduled at 9:20 in the morning.

Then she said, “you have cancer.

She pulled out this fat stack of paper print outs, talking all about Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma. It’s a common thyroid cancer (although rare for people to get) and she said bluntly that if anyone had to get cancer, this was the kind to get. She said it’s curable through surgery and possibly radiation, and that since I’m already on Synthroid daily, that that’s pretty much the extent of it.

I Have Thyroid Cancer (But I’m Going to be Okay!)

We left and I went out to the parking lot and just sobbed, threw up from being so upset, and sobbed some more. The idea of having another life-altering surgery is absolutely terrifying to me since the last surgeon messed up so bad. We told the kids today what is going on and all of them took the news very well. Well, Sierra got most upset but once we explained to her what papillary carcinoma is and that it’s nothing like Uncle Ricky’s cancer, she calmed down.

Randy is doing okay with it, at least he’s not letting me see how absolutely freaked out I’m sure he is. He’s so steadfast and strong in the face of awful situations, and I know he’s scared but all he’s doing is making sure I’m okay.

So, what happens next?

I am scheduled to meet with a surgeon next week to discuss the next steps. From my understanding, the first step is that I will need to have my entire thyroid gland surgically removed. Then, once the surgeon sees the extent of the cancer (whether it has metastasized to my lymph nodes), I might need to have radiation treatment. I should not need chemo at all, which is a big blessing because after watching Ricky go through chemo last year, that’s nothing I want anything to do with.

How am I feeling?

Honestly … kind of numb. I keep telling myself, “I have cancer” and it’s like I’m talking to someone else. I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet. But, the more research I do, the more people I talk with, the more survivors I hear from – the better I am feeling.

I’ve also already spoken to the couples for weddings we have booked in the next couple of months, to let them know what was going on and I have to say, I’m blown away by how kind and compassionate they have been. I don’t anticipate my upcoming surgery to slow me down for sessions or weddings – especially considering the last time I had major surgery, I shot a mountain wedding less than two days later (true story).

I just want to take a minute to say THANK YOU. Thank you to everyone who kept my health issues quiet when I needed to talk about it, thank you to everyone who has supported me over the last few weeks. It means a lot to me to have my tribe of support, and just know: I’ll be leaning on you guys fiercely over the next few weeks and months.

I’ll be sharing more about what this means for our upcoming move to Colorado soon (this is NOT the part 2 I have been hinting at!) … but I want to be able to openly talk about what I’m going through because for one, I HATE keeping secrets; for two, I am a TERRIBLE liar; for three, talking and writing is super cathartic for me, to the point where I’m an over-sharer most of the time.



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Heyyyy ... I'm Ashley Durham and I'm a luxury wedding photographer in Phoenix, but I travel all over Arizona and the desert southwest to hang out with the most incredible people. I am obsessed with puppies, extra hot coffee, sunrise and firmly believe that love conquers all.

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