What I Wish I Had Known Before My Thyroidectomy
This is one of the hardest experiences I’ve ever gone through. I’m just about three months out from my total thyroidectomy and the lessons I am learning are growing with every passing hour. I feel like I’ve been out in a position where I can share my experience and so here I am – casually over-sharing per usual. 😂
1. This is NOT an “easy” surgery to recover from.
I had so many well-intentioned people send me encouraging messages like “you’ve got this!” and “it’s a piece of cake!” and “God has this.”
The truth is, I didn’t have this. The only reason I’ve survived is because time doesn’t stop. That’s it. It’s not because this recovery has been easy, or that it’s a delicious slice of funfetti cake. Time kept marching on, regardless of whether I was passed out asleep, hysterically crying because of the pain, leaning against the wall and trying to walk because the nausea was so overwhelming. Time just kept going.
The truth is, those messages meant so much to me. They were reminding me that I had a support system and even though their thoughts and prayers weren’t physical things – they cheered me up.
2. I absolutely underestimated what recovery was going to be like.
The last time I had surgery, I literally was up and shooting a mountain wedding less than 48 hours after getting my gallbladder out. Sure, it was less than ideal but I was able to soldier through.
This time? Not even close to the same. I spent the first four days sleeping – not kidding! I literally spent 18-20 hours a day sleeping. I slept through the chaos of four kids and five dogs, I slept during the night and during the day. I just slept and slept.
I’m not sure if I slept because of the anesthesia, my age (I’m 36), the type of surgery I had (a total thyroidectomy that ended up taking nearly 4.5 hours) or the resulting emotional and mental fall-out. Someone much smarter than me said that my body needed the rest and my heart was making decisions for me that my brain couldn’t process.
So I slept. And slept, and slept.
Oh, and the nausea from anesthesia? A total nightmare that lasted nearly 10 days. I ended up in the ER because it got so bad.
3. The mental effect is real.
The thyroid controls so much of the inner workings of your body and I totally underestimated just how much of an effect the thyroid has on me. Since my thyroid surgery, my TSH surged to 17, and it’s been rough. When my TSH is high, above a 3, it wreaks havoc on my anxiety and depression. So, if your numbers are high and you’re suffering from mental health issues: please just know this. It’s normal, and it will get better!!
4. Weight gain is an issue.
Just like mental health, weight gain is a real issue with post thyroidectomy patients like myself. I think part of it has to do with my raging TSH levels, but according to my surgeon and endocrinologist it’s something I’ll contend with for the rest of my life.
I’ve been struggling and battling with my weight since I was a kid. I was always 20 pounds overweight, but it wasn’t until my first baby at 18 that things started getting out of control. I hovered at the same 50 pounds overweight through 3 more babies, but once my thyroid really started acting a fool and developed cancer – I shot up an additional 50 pounds in less than a year.
So yes, the math is right there: I am officially 100 pounds overweight. I am working with endocrinologists and oncologists and anyone else who will help, trying to get my thyroid under control so I can drop this weight.
5. Survivors guilt is also very, very real.
When people first heard that I had papillary carcinoma, many would say “you’re so lucky, this is an easy cancer.”
Those words cut through me like a knife. Anyone who has ever been sitting in a doctors office and hears “you have cancer” never feels lucky. I literally wanted to punch people square in the jaw when they would say that to me. So, if you’ve been given a thyroid cancer diagnosis, prepare yourself for people to have the best intentions but absolutely no idea the right things to say.
After my brother in law passed away from brain cancer, only 6 weeks before finding a 2.3cm cancerous tumor on my thyroid … to be told I was lucky to have this kind of cancer set off some serious survivors guilt that I am still struggling with more than half a year later. What made me so special, to have this kind of cancer? Why did I get to survive, when Ricky did not? And so many other more worthwhile people in this world?
I don’t have an answer for that, not yet.