3 Weeks Post-Surgery: Mostly Good (Even the Cancer Part)

Three weeks ago, I went to the hospital for surgery. They removed half of my thyroid, because it had developed nodules (what they call thyroid tumors they suspect are benign) and had swollen up enough that it pressed against my trachea, and the nerve that controlled my vocal cords. I was having trouble breathing, at times, and my voice had started to go froggy. Of course, there was the year, going on two, before that of me starting to go downhill physically  – tired all of the time, gaining weight, struggling to stay on task or complete things on time – but after dealing with a doctor who insisted it was just me being a woman, getting older, I’d found one who was actually willing to do lab work and sort it out. I was diagnosed with anemia, and started medication for that. Aside from the pressure on my throat, I should have been on the mend.

I didn’t quite feel it, though. A little better… but still, something was wrong.

We agonized over the decision to cut out part of my thyroid. It’s a simple, safe, outpatient procedure, except that it’s still surgery, which is never guaranteed 100% safe. My SO and I talked it over, made plans for dealing with what would come next if I didn’t make it out okay, and decided (supported by my surgeon’s opinion) that it’s better to get the swollen part of my thyroid out now before it got bigger and did some real damage. I felt it, a literal lump in my throat, every time I swallowed. Every time I tried to exercise and had to breathe harder. When I laid down for sleep, and the lump shifted a little, pressing on a new spot I hadn’t yet learned to ignore.

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that lies flat, for most people, and has the volume of a peanut on each side. My right side wasn’t visible from the outside, so you wouldn’t know unless you saw a sonogram that it was the size of a jawbreaker, and growing. Inside were two nodules; the bigger one had been biopsied three times since it was found three years ago, and declared benign, though I was told in 2013 that it was collapsing and would get smaller – we discovered in May that it had actually gotten larger.

The smaller one was labeled “suspicious” by the sonogram tech during this round of tests, but was .1 mm too small for a biopsy to be considered necessary, according to the current medical guidelines, so I was told not to worry. We’d wait, they said, and check on it again next year.

If I hadn’t opted to remove the larger side of my thyroid, that nodule would still be there. Continue reading

WILL WRITE MYTHOS FOR SCHOOL (Buy my new fiction, help me pay for college!)

Pre-order my new Mythos mini-collection through GoFundMe

Some of you know that the last few years, life has been extra difficult. I’ve had a bad landlord, a car crash, medical problems, lost my day job… with each new issue, I’ve struggled to keep my bills paid and care for my son, who has a severe speech disorder and special needs.

The overarching theme lately has been money: I don’t have enough of it. We’re officially living in poverty, my son and I, so when something happens, we can’t pay to fix it. I need a bigger income; I need to be more employable. Rather than continuing to need help over and over again, I went back to college in hope of finally getting my BA, and finding solid work.

tuition

Behold, my tuition bill!

Right now, I’m paying for it myself. I currently owe for one of my Spring classes (I paid for the rest) and one class this Summer. Together, that’s almost $1300. I’ve set the fundraiser for $1500 to cover the fees GoFundMe will charge, and to pay for one textbook this summer.

Paying for school is something I have to do on top of rent and food and basic utilities. It’s a cost above what I have to pay for my medical expenses. With thyroid surgery in two weeks, I don’t see any way to do it all. Plus, if I can’t pay for my classes by May 31, I won’t be able to register for Fall in time to get into classes only availble one time a year. My goal is to graduate with my AA in May 2017, before transferring for my BA, so this should be my one chance at Fall-only classes. I need to get into them.

As a reward, when I’ve met my goal, I’ll release an ebook of five Mythos fiction short stories to all of my backers, no matter how much you contribute. This will include two pieces previously published by Chaosium, that aren’t available anywhere else, and three new stories no one has laid eyes (or tentacles) on. I’m creating original interior art for the project, and the ebook package will include .epub, .mobi (for Kindle), and .PDF. There’s even reward levels if you want to get extra stuff back.

You can contribute because I’m a good person going through a hard time. You can contribute because you like my writing and want to see more of it. You can contribute because you haven’t had to roll a SAN check recently. No matter why you lend a hand, I appreciate you.

Thank you.

Carrie Cuinn

PS. If you’d rather contribute by PayPal, which doesn’t charge quite as much as GoFundMe, you can send money using this link . If you do, I’ll add it manually, so the total amount needed goes down.

#SFWAPro

Next up, surgery…

After a sonogram and two biopsies, we’ve confirmed that I have multiple thyroid nodules that have swollen one side of my thyroid to the size of a jawbreaker. It’s not visible from the outside; if it were a cosmetic issue, I could put it off, but my thyroid has grown inward, so it’s pressing against my vocal cords and throat. It doesn’t keep me from eating yet, but my voice has gotten a little froggy, I get sick more often lately, and when I’ve been sick, it’s taken longer to recover (I had bronchitis last fall for more than 8 weeks, for example.)

The biopsies showed that the largest one is benign (yay!) but growing, and there’s a smaller nodule that’s “suspicious”. Because of all that, I’ve scheduled surgery to remove that part of my thyroid.

This, plus finding out I’m anemic, explains a lot about my health and energy levels the last year or so. I’m taking supplements to correct the anemia now, and with the surgery, I should be in better shape. I hope. I have too much to do, and I’ve been struggling to manage it all. It’s a relief, in some ways, to know why: I’m not lazy, I’m not a failure, I’m not giving up. I have a documented medical reason for why I’m exhausted and uncomfortable and falling behind.

Still, sometimes I have to tell myself that over and over, and it doesn’t help. Excuses, excuses, what are you going to do about it? Next up, surgery, and then getting my life back on track, and moving forward.

I can’t accept anything less.

Medical Update, or, So That’s What Happens When Your Blood Doesn’t Get Oxygen

Tl;dr: I have severe iron-deficiency anemia that went undiagnosed for the last couple of years. I not only don’t have enough iron in my blood, I lack ferritin, the protein that allows your body to store iron. Because my body won’t reserve enough iron from meals, I have to take in new iron every single day, and will for as long as I live, if I want to keep, you know, living.

After losing my health insurance along with being laid off last year, I got new health insurance in 2016 (thanks, Obamacare!) and last week, got into a new doctor’s office. I knew, before I went, that I was going to want to talk about my health and the way I’d felt it was going downhill the last couple of years. I’d done a lot of hard work to get in shape, to eat healthier, and I was getting there. Two years ago I was only 40 pounds away from my goal, and expected to be there by the end of 2014. I was walking an average of 5 miles a day, doing cardio and yoga and lifting a little free weight at home, starting to buy clothes I really liked to wear. Then, it all sort of fell apart. I was exhausted, constantly, sometimes sleeping 10 hours and then still having to take a nap in the afternoon. I started to be short of breath. I stopped walking so much. My skin got dry; my nails became ridged and brittle, and my hair started to tangle easily, even when it was short, to the point that I kept it tied up or under a hat most of the time. The dark circles under my eyes got worse. I was struggling to do everyday things. I got dizzy when I stood up too fast, and sometimes my fingers tingled like they were asleep. My hands and feet were very cold, and I noticed I was turning the heat on more than before.

I’d also talked to my old doctor about the same symptoms and his response was literally, “You’re getting older, so you’re just going to have to get used to that.” That didn’t seem right to me so I insisted, in a followup appointment, that no, really, there’s something wrong. Old doctor then said I was probably pre-menopausal, at 41, with no family history of that. I said it didn’t seem likely, so he ran tests, and found that no, that wasn’t my problem. He told me then to sleep more (I was already sleeping too much). He said I was probably depressed. (No. I’ve seen a therapist when I’ve felt I needed it before, and I wasn’t afraid to do so again. That wasn’t the problem.) He said I needed to eat better and exercise more and, again, to just accept that I was slowing down because I was a woman, and I was getting older.

The last appointment with him was a year ago. Knowing I had a chance to get the new doctor to maybe pay attention to my concerns, the night before my appointment I sat down and wrote out my medical history, and every symptom I had now. I printed out my calorie intake, sleep, and exercise logs from my fitness tracker.

When I went in to the office, two things happened:

  1. New doctor saw right away that I hadn’t been sent in for a followup thyroid ultrasound, even though it was in my file that I needed to get them every year or two after the (benign) nodule we found in 2013.
  2. He looked over my info, heard my frustrations, and promised to run every test we needed until we figured out the problem.

He took my vitals, and told me what he wanted to look for. My resting heart rate was 93 beats per minute, unusually fast, especially for someone who always felt sluggish. My lungs sounded clear, so it was unlikely an obstruction was the cause of me feeling short of breath. He asked if I’d always been so pale. He ordered labs. I fasted overnight and went back in the next morning, where they took 6 vials of my blood, to test for iron, and thyroid function, but also cholesterol, and various vitamin deficiencies. He added the test for ferritin, which I hadn’t heard of before.

And he let me know that my thyroid felt swollen and lumpy, a sure sign that I’d developed another thyroid nodule. We scheduled a sonogram for this week. (I’m hopeful it’s benign, like the last one; some people just develop these non-cancerous thyroid tumors without it affecting much else. My thyroid hormone levels came back okay, which is another good sign that the nodule is just annoying, and not dangerous.) But…

It turns out that I’m anemic in a big way. Like, wow, it’s impressive that I’m as healthy as I am, considering. I have very low hemoglobin, Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin, Mean Corpuscular HGB Conc and very low serum ferritin scores. In addition to taking iron supplements, I’m also taking daily B12 to help with the absorption of iron. Unrelated, but my vitamin D levels were also so low that I was prescribed a mega dose to be taken once a week for 12 weeks, with a smaller daily dose thereafter. I live in the frozen north, so lots of folks around here have lower D levels than usual, but my doctor said, “If I tested everyone in town, 98% of them would have low D, and you’re at the bottom of that group.”

It’s going to take a while for everything to kick in, and we’re going to monitor it closely over the next few months to make certain my health improves. I’d always thought of anemia as you’re a little pale, go eat a steak and you’ll feel better. (This diagnosis might explain why eating a good cheeseburger really did make me feel great, for a few hours.) In my grandma’s time, people with serious chronic anemia used to develop pernicious anemia and then die, and I’m hoping to avoid that. These days, with medical care, it should be that I simply take a pill for what my body doesn’t have, and then I’ll be fine. I can do that.

But I’ll be damned if I let a doctor tell me I’m just a woman getting old, ever again.