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Rachel's story


2003 was a stressful time for me both professionally and personally so I decided to go on a long holiday to get away from it all.

On my return I made a routine trip to the GP because I had what I thought was an infected mosquito bite on my calf.

Two weeks later my GP rang me at work to tell me that the bite was in fact a malignant melanoma tumour (the most serious form of skin cancer) and that I had to be referred to hospital as quickly as possible.

I had a wide area excision of my calf and further tests in my right groin to check if the cancer had spread any further. Unfortunately it had spread slightly to the lymph nodes in my right groin and so I had a second operation to remove this.

A month later I had a full body PET scan, on one of the country’s leading machines, where you get injected with a tiny amount of radioactive dye attached to some glucose to see if there are any remaining fast-growing cancer cells in your body.

The results confirmed the unthinkable. I had another tumour. And this time it was in my neck. The doctors were worried that it was the melanoma that had spread up from my calf to my neck.

The next day I met a leading Head and Neck Surgeon who explained that they were going to have to operate on my neck to take out the tumour.

He did some tests and that night rang me to say I was “the luckiest girl alive” as the tumour turned out not to be melanoma (with the subsequent serious implications of spread) but was thyroid cancer.

I had been diagnosed with a completely separate form of cancer. Two types of cancer in three months at age 29. But the doctors were saying I was lucky as, comparatively, thyroid cancer is relatively treatable (if detected early).

A month later, I was readmitted to hospital in London to remove the thyroid cancer. I was operated on for eight hours. Afterwards my neck and face were badly swollen and I had 40 staples holding the stitches in my neck together.

Fortunately these only stayed in a few days but for the first time since all this had happened I agreed to being taken back to my parent’s house in Northumberland.

I didn’t want to see anyone. I was miserable. I focused on doing yoga in the sunshine and eating my mum’s fabulous dinners.

The next few months were spent trying to adjust to life without a thyroid and starting on the thyroid replacement hormone, thyroxine.

I went through periods of being hypothyroid where you are sluggishly tired and cold and fuzzy in the head. A horrible feeling.

It was about that time that I read about Kate Farnell and the great work of Butterfly North East in the “Newcastle Journal” newspaper.

I was desperate to talk to someone else that had been through the same as me to see if what I was feeling like was normal, and to find out how long it would really be before I started feeling like my old self again.

Kate supported me personally over the next few months and just hearing her calm and friendly voice when I felt so tired and ratty made me feel better. I am sure she got the rough end of me on more than one occasion!

During this time, I was admitted into an isolation unit to be blasted with radioiodine treatment, the normal procedure to try to eradicate the remaining thyroid cancer cells from the body.

It was lonely and I wasn’t allowed to have visitors for more than 10 minutes a day for a week. But I was able to ring Butterfly North East and they kept me going.

I have felt exhausted over the last two years returning to work part time but the Butterfly Thyroid Cancer Trust have continued to be a much needed backup resource for me since returning to London and my attempts to get back to “reality”. 

In November I had the all-clear from my thyroid cancer so far (although I will have life long follow up).

I started planning a trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. I decided that if I could reach the top of the 4,986 meters I would have proved to myself that I was better.

It was hard but I made it, raising £4,000 for Butterfly. A small thank you for what they have done for me.

 

Rachel Thomasson

 

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Rachel at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro