Hi, I’m Yiannis. I am currently working towards a doctorate in the field of art education. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in November 2013. I am delighted to be able to say that the illness was successfully treated by March 2014.
My experience with thyroid cancer began in July 2013. When I noticed a persistent ache under my jaw, I assumed I was suffering from dental pain. My dentist identified a slight swelling in my neck and suggested that I had strained a neck muscle.
When the ache refused to go away, I visited my GP, who examined the swelling and referred me to the head and neck unit of my local hospital. By September the growth had become larger and more painful, making it hard to swallow.
After an ultrasound scan and an inconclusive biopsy at the hospital, I was told that I would need to have a partial thyroidectomy, to remove the growth on and around my thyroid gland. At this point I was alerted to the possibility of cancer.
The operation was successful, though, in the consultant’s words, ‘challenging’: a large growth was removed from my thyroid gland as well as one of the lobes of the gland itself. I recovered well and was able to return to work after three weeks.
The diagnosis that followed, together with all the information about the necessary course of treatment, was a lot to take in. The thyroidectomy showed that the growth was cancerous: Hurthle cell carcinoma. A second operation would be required to remove the rest of the thyroid gland.
The consultant explained to me that I would need radioactive iodine treatment after surgery, to destroy any remaining cancerous cells. I would also need to take thyroxine for the rest of my life. Before I could fully digest this news, I found myself preparing for the second surgical procedure.
After my relatively swift recovery from the first operation, it took longer to recover from the second, a total thyroidectomy. For several weeks after surgery, I experienced pain in my neck and felt very tired. Keeping to the prescribed low iodine diet before the radioactive iodine treatment wasn’t too problematic, though I really disliked the isolation of the hospital room once the treatment began.
The overwhelmingly positive news that I received after the uptake scan one week later, however, was that the cancerous cells had not spread and that the RAI treatment had been effective in eliminating the remaining thyroid cells. The oncologist who treated me commented that my case had been a ‘textbook’ success.
If I’m honest, my experience of thyroid cancer and its treatment was sometimes frightening and often exhausting. The diagnosis was a shock, the gravity of which didn’t completely hit me until after the second operation. Beyond the discomfort of the surgery, I simply wanted to know how long the treatment would take and when I would be able to return to ‘normal’ life.
Over the course of the treatment I tried to find strategies for coping. I was determined to stay as positive as possible, despite doubts and anxieties. I found it important to keep my illness in perspective, knowing from the outset that the prognosis for a full recovery was very good. I did my best to avoid spurious information about thyroid cancer on internet sites and blogs.
When I discovered the Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust website, however, it quickly became a trusted source of information. Patient’s stories on the site were very helpful to me during my darker moments: seeing how other people had responded to their diagnosis and treatment, and how they had fully recovered; seeing, in short, that there was life after thyroid cancer.
I am incredibly grateful to all the healthcare professionals who treated me and made my return to health possible. While things seemed pretty grim just a few months ago, I can now look forward to making the most of life and realising long-held ambitions.
I am also indebted to my family and friends whose support was invaluable in so many ways. I was very moved – and proud – when my cousin and her daughter recently went on a sponsored run to raise money for the Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust. My mother has been extraordinarily supportive to me, having coped with illness for many years herself.
When she received several unseasonal visits from Red Admiral butterflies just after my diagnosis, she took these as positive signs. She was unaware of the Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust at the time, though the image of the butterfly subsequently came to hold a special significance for her. In fact it inspired her first tattoo – a Red Admiral on her forearm.
Yiannis, April 2014