In January of 1997 at the age of 45, Elaine was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. “This came as a total shock. My family doctor thought I was a picture of health” says Elaine. During her annual physical, an intern found a small lump on her thyroid. Her family doctor drained it and the results of those fluids came back as normal. However, the cyst kept growing back and larger in size. Each time the cyst was biopsied, pathology results were normal. Finally, Elaine was told she would be referred to an endocrinologist if the cyst reappeared. Needless to say the cyst did come back and Elaine was scheduled for surgery. The operation to remove the cyst was successful but when she revisited her surgeon to remove the sutures, Elaine was told that in fact she had papillary thyroid cancer.
Elaine’s cancer treatment was a rather lengthy and complex process. After receiving the news that it was cancer, she had a total thyroidectomy. The cancer had metastasized to several lymph nodes that were also removed during surgery. Six weeks after the second surgery, Elaine had her first radioactive iodine (RAI) treatment; and a 6-month follow up with a whole body scan to detect any thyroid cancer cells. The results of this scan suggested that Elaine have another RAI treatment. Even after having a second RAI, the whole body scan once again showed suspicious lymph nodes. As a result, Elaine had a radical right neck dissection to remove the cancerous lymph nodes. Since the thyroglobulin count (the blood marker test for thyroid cancer) was still very high, Elaine underwent more RAI. These treatments were done in isolation at the Cross Cancer institute in Edmonton except for her last one in October 2000 which she was able to recover from at home (in isolation from others). At the end of all this treatment, Elaine’s scan and her blood levels indicated that that she would be kept under observation. Every six months she has regular checkups and blood work done.
It was only four years ago that Elaine had to face more disheartening news. After changing oncologist due to a move, it was determined with an ultrasound and a fine needle aspiration (FNA) that there were still a few lingering lymph nodes with thyroid cancer tissue cells. This required some consideration for surgery once again. However Elaine decided not to have surgery because of the location of these lymph nodes. Instead, she was closely monitored with yearly ultrasounds and regular blood work. Fortunately at the end of this story there is delightful news. Elaine’s thyroglobulin levels have been considerably lower than any previous counts which signify that the cancer is not growing. This allows Elaine to have some peace of mind.
Elaine’s story is one of hope that is most certainly inspiring to the rest of us. Her journey was difficult but her perseverance speaks loud. Perhaps it is these defeats in life that can help an individual realize what they are able to rise from. Elaine went on to take a personal development course called "Life Directions”. Furthermore, Elaine made it her mission to help thyroid cancer patients living with similar experiences. Elaine came across TCC while searching for sites that would allow for this opportunity to support others. When asked what she enjoyed most as a volunteer, Elaine responded “reassuring newcomers to TCC that they are not alone in this battle. They are not the only ones experiencing the challenges that go along with thyroid cancer. It is my hope to pass on some positive vibes”.
As a moderator for TCC Online Forum, Elaine gets the opportunity to transmit her positive energy and support new members. She expresses that her cancer experience has taught her many lessons. Among those lessons learned, the most important is to advocate for oneself. Elaine encourages all newbie’s to take charge of their body and health. She reiterates that one should inquire about suggested treatments rather than be passive to what doctors prescribe. “If your gut feeling is not good with the plan, get a second opinion!!” says Elaine.
Elaine wants doctors to closely listen to patients’ concerns. “Each individual is unique which means that we may not all fit into the normal range of things. We have different symptoms and experiences. So many times I have seen posts in thyroid cancer groups about doctors wanting to treat patients for depression. It seems like they (doctors) are failing to acknowledge what patients are saying, that is, they are not depressed but that something is really wrong.” says, Elaine. She expresses her wish that doctors ought to stop saying that thyroid cancer is the ‘good cancer’ “This is not the case because although your thyroid gland is removed with only a scar to prove it, one’s hormones and body function is changed forever.” This downplay of the illness has been a common theme and a concern among patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer For anyone interested in sharing their experience or attaining additional support, Elaine also blogs about thyroid cancer at www.papillarythyroidcancerguide.com