In August 2012 I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer and now, nine months on, I am sharing my story. I am a 26-year old junior doctor, and on 1st August 2012 I had just started a new training post in Guildford. Rather ironically I was working for an endocrine firm, the branch of medicine that deals with thyroid problems.
Thirteen days into my new job I was shaving one morning when I noticed my neck didn’t look symmetrical. That same day I casually mentioned this to my clinical supervisor – an endocrine consultant on the firm. “How exciting”, he exclaimed, and within two days an ultrasound, biopsy and clinic appointment had been arranged.
The day I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer was surreal. I had never considered that I could have cancer and as a result I hadn’t even taken a day off work, just dropped into clinic in my lunch break. I initially felt numb – I walked back up to my ward in a daze and re-started my jobs for the day but when I told my colleagues they insisted I go home and take a few days off.
That evening all I could think was: surgery, metastasis, five-year survival . . . stark medical terminology I knew too well that only served to amplify my fears. I had been told that if you were ever unfortunate enough to get cancer, thyroid cancer is the one to get. However, it felt so unjust that at my age I had to consider the possibility, no matter how slight, that I may not be alive in five years time.
I anticipated that telling my family, friends and girlfriend would be incredibly emotionally draining. I therefore spent an hour sitting reading up further on thyroid cancer, attempting to come to terms with my diagnosis before speaking to them.
Everything I read was very reassuring and at that point I said to myself: “I’m not just going to beat this, I’m not even going to let it affect my life”.
I should not have been so concerned about my friends’, girlfriend’s and family’s reaction: everyone was fantastic. They provided all the support I could ever have wanted and allowed me to stay positive throughout.
That same evening I resolved to go to work the next day, to continue revising for the exam I was sitting, and to continue applying for jobs next year. Two weeks later, I even signed up to run a marathon in April 2013. Life was going to go on!
I decided to have my surgery and further treatment back in Newcastle where I’m from, as having family around me would be invaluable. Surgery went very well with no major complications. However, a few days after the operation I began to feel awful. I became extremely tired and so anxious I couldn’t focus on anything.
I was worried that this would be permanent but fortunately it was just that my thyroid replacement dose was too low. After a dose increase, I felt like I was back on track and my optimism returned.
My radioiodine treatment was scheduled for mid-October and it was therefore in September that I met the thyroid team at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care (NCCC) as well as Kate from the Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust.
Speaking to Kate and hearing other patients’ stories encouraged me to remain optimistic and Kate’s advice about the seemingly little details was very much appreciated and exactly what was required. It was great to hear what to expect during my treatment – to hear from someone who had been through it all before made everything a lot clearer.
The radioiodine treatment itself was very smooth with boredom being my main obstacle. I had promised myself a fish and chips with extra iodine for when I left hospital though which served to encourage me through the worst of the daytime tv. The radioactivity restrictions also weren’t too taxing – I had to take two weeks off work to ensure I didn’t come into contact with children but I could think of worse treatment ‘side-effects’.
In March 2013, I re-attended the thyroid clinic after all my follow-up investigations where Dr Mallick was delighted to give me the all clear so far. I can’t express enough gratitude to the whole team at the NCCC and at Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust for helping me to continue to live my life as I want to.
In terms of my year goals – I passed my exam, have recently accepted a job in surgery, and achieved the time I wanted in the Paris Marathon. Life did indeed go on!