One common question people ask me is how I discovered my thyroid cancer. Cancer makes people (understandably) nervous, so it’s natural to want to know how to at best avoid cancer, or at worst detect it early. Well, Dr. Elliott helped me discover the cancer in 2014 (read more here), but my first clue was the goiter. I originally discovered the goiter back in 2006 – I felt a lump in my neck. I could feel it when I swallowed and it moved up and down. It felt like I was having an allergic reaction and my throat was swelling – not to the degree that it interfered with breathing or swallowing, but I was definitely aware of it. My son was only 6 months old at the time, and I later discovered many women experience thyroid issues during or shortly following pregnancy.
I checked in with my physician who ordered an ultrasound and blood test. I had the goiter measured by ultrasound, and at that time it was only about ½ a centimeter. The standard guidelines say you should generally be concerned when goiters are over 1 centimeter. I was told no further action was necessary, but it was something I might want to “keep an eye on over the years”. The instructions were vague – my doctor never said I should check it again in “x” number of months.
My blood test showed that my Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) was off the scale at greater than 100 (normal range is 0.4 to 4). You know how you get lab tests and there’s a range of normal and you sometimes get a “High” or “Low”? My TSH was so high it was off-the-chart unmeasurable – they couldn’t assign a number to it. My doctor almost fell off his chair when he read the results (I know now that an engaged doctor would have known the results in advance of my appointment instead of reading them for the first time in front of me, unable to disguise his surprise). He said I should weigh 300+ pounds and move like a sloth with a TSH like that.
I was given thyroid medication and told I would have to take it for the rest of my life – since my body wasn’t properly producing thyroid hormones I would have to get them from a medicinal source.
Basically my pituitary gland was pumping out copious amounts of TSH as an instruction to my thyroid to produce thyroid hormones, but because my thyroid wasn’t functioning correctly there wasn’t enough thyroid hormones in my bloodstream to tell the pituitary gland to quit with the TSH, so it just kept pumping it out. For more information about thyroid function here’s a great article on the topic.
I was tired, but I had a new baby and a good night’s sleep was a distant memory. I had dry skin and brittle nails, but I was washing my hands constantly after changing diapers, feeding, etc. etc. Other than the lump I really didn’t have symptoms strong enough to indicate something was wrong. This was true from my initial high TSH test through the next 8 years to my cancer diagnosis. Thyroid disease and thyroid cancer can be subtle, which is why it is wise to get a neck check and an annual thyroid blood test. For more information about thyroid screening guidelines, check out these articles about blood tests and checking your neck.
Do you or someone you know have experience with detecting thyroid cancer? I’d love to hear from you – please leave a comment.