A lump that changed my life
Please email me the report.
That's what I said as I sat stranded on my living room floor at the mercy of my short iPhone cord charging in the wall. My thyroid ultrasound results had just arrived at my doctor's office and finally the assistant could tell me the news.
You know that annoying person who calls her doctor's office a trillion times and is just as impatient as her three-year-old nephew when he suddenly wants chocolate milk?
How much does my doctor's office hate me?
TBD. But I feel like I'm growing on them.
(they hate me)
Instead of waiting for the doctor to call me back with his interpretation, which could take several days, I had a sudden surge of confidence and blurted out I'LL INTERPRET IT. Please email me the report. I don't have a medical degree, but I have Google.
I didn't say the last part out loud, thank goodness.
But I'm sorry. My normally healthy body began betraying me and I NEEDED ANSWERS. Night sweats, high fevers, rapid heart rate, dizziness, nausea, hair loss, anxiety, fatigue, swollen/painful lymph nodes and unexplained weight loss (wasn't complaining about that one).
And all of this coming from a girl whose medical history for the last 10 years only consisted of getting a shot in the butt at urgent care from a lipgloss reaction. I didn't even have a doctor. I had never been to the hospital. I never got sick.
HELLO, CAN SOMEONE HELP ME?! I'M DYING!!!
In one week, I had been to urgent care twice, the ER four times, had been strapped to EKG monitors, undergone extensive testing, ordered to be on bed rest and wear a heart rate monitor at all times. And all of this with no clear diagnosis.
At first, they suspected many things, including lymphoma, but then narrowed it down to my thyroid and ordered an ultrasound. While laying under flickering fluorescent lights as the ultrasound tech nonchalantly rubbed the probe over my throat, I strained my eyes to glance at the monitor. Soon she discovered my strategy and made me turn my head the other way.
But nevertheless, I quickly learned the signs of a suspicious discovery. She would stop on it and click click click with her finger on the mouse. Measure measure measure. Label it. Click click click some more. Then move on.
When we finished, I asked her what she found and she said she couldn't tell me. I rephrased the question, made a joke and hoped my charm would do the trick.
She didn't budge. Great.
JUST GREAT. I'll figure it out on my OWN, I thought, as I walked with purpose down busy Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles. I googled thyroid ultrasound images and TA-DA! I found samples that showed thyroid "nodules" (or lumps) that looked similar to what I saw on the monitor. I called my mom and told her they found nodules. "What are nodules," mom asked. It's a LUMP, mom. I'M DYING.
In my non-professional opinion, of course.
And a few days later, as I sat there on my living room floor waiting for the results to be emailed to me from my doctor's office, I was sure it would show nodules. But luckily I learned that thyroid nodules are common, with only a small portion of them being cancerous. There was no need to worry.
I was mentally prepared to see nodules. I was ready. I knew it was coming. No biggie. And suddenly, as soon as I opened the document and scrolled to the 'findings', my heart dropped and tears flooded my eyes.
They found nodules.
OH MY GOD! I HAVE NODULES. THIS IS IT. THIS IS HOW I GO!!!
One nodule was large and suspicious (anything over 1cm is considered significant, mine was 2.2cm with rough edges, solid structure and other abnormalities that point to non-benign). The report recommended a biopsy ASAP.
Then I realized I COULD FEEL IT. I could feel the lump in my throat and I immediately wanted it out.
CUT ME OPEN. CUT IT OUT. I DON'T WANT IT. HERE'S MY THYROID. TAKE IT BACK.
I called my mom in tears, and in true mom fashion, she was on the next flight to Los Angeles. I picked her up from the airport and noticed her tired, puffy, swollen eyes. She grabbed my hand and stared at me the whole way home.
MOM, STOP STARING AT ME!!!
Just kidding. I let her, for once. And for 3 days, we laid in bed, ate macaroni and cheese, binge watched Fixer Upper and became honorary endocrinologists based solely on the number of hours we researched thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer.
And then she left :-(
I wasn't able to get in with an endocrinologist to do the biopsy for months (that's a whole other blog post), but I decided to get on with life while still being cautious and taking it easy. I ate more healthy, cut out sugar, finished binging Fixer Upper, had a quarter life crisis, wanted to move to Waco, TX and renovate an old home, changed my mind, started feeling better and got back to work.
Three months later, I met with a specialist and he recommended doing another ultrasound. If the nodule hadn't shrunk significantly, he would do a biopsy. He prepared me by saying they rarely just disappear or shrink, especially in just three months.
Even still, when I arrived for the ultrasound, I was inexplicably less nervous. I laid down on the bed and got it over it with. No peeking at the monitor. No overanalyzing. I heard some click click click's but it didn't bother me. At the end, I didn't even ask questions. I just left.
A few days later, the report popped up in my inbox as I was driving home. It was rush hour in Los Angeles, so I decided to simply focus on the road (probably not a good idea to get injured in an accident while attempting to read my hopefully clean bill of health).
When I got home, I avoided it for a while. I did the dishes. Changed into comfortable clothes. Got a snack. Why was I avoiding it? Open it, Lauren. I turned on CNN instead. Went through work emails. JUST OPEN IT, LAUREN. Okay, okay.
I plugged my phone into the same place on my living room floor and sat for a moment before finally opening the attachment. Again, my heart dropped.
My 2.2cm nodule DISAPPEARED. No trace of it, whatsoever. How does that even happen?!
I have no idea. I don't even know if the doctors know. But it appears that my thyroid is slowly recovering and hopefully will be normal again soon. Four long months of worry, stress, anxiety, pain, and discomfort are coming to an end. No more going to sleep afraid my heart rate will cause a heart attack. No more night sweats. No more anxiety. No more lumps.
It was hell. Far worse than I've made it sound. Much of those four months I felt helpless at the hands of our failed healthcare system and like I was all alone in this battle for answers. Even so, I know that most people go through far worse and my experience was sunshine and rainbows compared to others.
That lump in my thyroid was a wake up call. I was going too fast, doing too many things, too wrapped up in the world, too wrapped up in myself. Life has a way of distracting us, only to abruptly demand our attention back. Probably when we need it the most.
My lump may have shrunk, but it being there forced me to grow. And I will always be grateful for that.
(BUT STAY AWAY, LUMP. I'M GOOD NOW.)
WHAT I LEARNED FROM MY LUMP:
1. Surround yourself with people who love you and inspire you.
My mom flew to LA hours after our phone call. My husband stayed up all night with me, because I was afraid to go to sleep when the beta-blockers weren't bringing my heart rate down. My friend surprised me, when I was at my worse, by showing up at my door with books and magazines and chocolate, because she knew I wouldn't have let her come over if she asked.
Those are my people. They love me and I love them and that is what matters. The half-ass people who aren't genuinely supportive? I have no tolerance for people who don't have my best interest at heart.
2. Worry more about making memories and less about making money.
The first chance I got, I booked a ticket to see my family in Florida. It had been 8 months since I had been home. I don't have the money to fly back all the time, but I'm doing it. The moments together are worth more than the money in my account. Here airlines, take all my money!
3. Do what you want to do, not what you think you have to do.
A little over a month ago, I started feeling better but wasn't close to normal. I was offered a job and decided to accept. No one wanted me to do it, but I'm stubborn and kept calculating how much I could pay my student loans down with this 5 month gig. I put my health and recovery on the back burner and leaped back into 12-16 hour days on set. After 2 weeks, it clicked. I didn't want to be there. I hated it, actually. It was a paycheck and that was all. It wasn't fulfilling. I was treated like crap. I wasn't using any of my skills or talents. It didn't make me feel good, mentally or physically. I wasn't advancing myself or my career in the slightest.
I didn't want to do it. Period.
So I quit.
4. Push through your fears.
For so long I was afraid of putting myself out there, afraid of what people would think, afraid of judgement, afraid of failure, afraid of making mistakes... so much that it was all-consuming and hindered me from doing anything. But when we're faced with the reality that our time is limited, what other choice do we really have?
5. The time is now.
Thinking about it means nothing if you don't actually do it.
I was holding off on having kids. Holding off on writing more and starting this blog. Holding off on buying that plane ticket. Holding off on getting in shape. Holding off on making a change. And on and on and on.
Whatever it is you really want to do, now is the time. Now is always the time. If it matters to you, if it will bring you happiness, if it's one of those things that you always say ... "someday I will" or "when I have the time" or "I'll start later" or "I wish my life was like this" --
DO IT NOW.
Lauren + her little lump (may it rest in peace)
P.S. Who knew the thyroid was so important?