Thyroid Cancer Canada
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Stories of Strength

These are individual stories of thyroid cancer survivors. Each is unique and all are inspirational. Share your thyroid cancer survival story – click here to submit.

Paula Smith

“I was 62 years young when I was diagnosed with multifocal papillary thyroid cancer with follicular variant”.

Paula was diagnosed with multifocal papillary thyroid cancer with follicular variant in 2007. As an active member in the Praise and Worship Ministry of her church in the Yarmouth, Nova Scotia area. Paula first noticed some changes in her voice during practices for a huge church production called “The Living Tree” staged at Christmas. During her weekly practices, Paula noticed she was not able to hit high soprano notes and had the sensation of a pea stuck in her throat. Realizing that she was feeling especially tired, she decided to see her family doctor who referred her to an ENT. In November 2006, Paula saw the ENT who informed her that she would need a procedure called laryngoscopy. She was only able to get an appointment for this procedure months later in February 2007. Once she had the scope she was told she needed a needle biopsy because something had shown up. The results of Paula’s biopsy came back inconclusive and she was referred to a local surgeon. After consultation, it was decided that surgery was the best option to confirm whether her nodule was benign or cancerous but that she not be alarmed.

In early June 2007, Paula had a hemi-thyroidectomy and her diagnosis of thyroid cancer was confirmed. There were some complications that resulted from the surgery. She had an allergic reaction to the sutures within hours of the surgery and had to have them all removed. In good humour, Paula says “the surgeon had to remove all of sutures and put me together with surgical tape. My poor husband was terrified that my head would fall off. He was afraid to take me for a drive in case we hit a bump.” In spite of being glued together, Paula was sent home two days after her surgery with very little discomfort. As a matter of fact, one week post surgery she drove to Cape Breton because her mom was very ill. Humorously, Paula explains “I drove myself seven hours to be with her. I was unable to turn my head but thank Heavens after years of hauling horses I know how to use side mirrors.”

Four months later in October 2007, Paula had a completion thyroidectomy with modified neck dissection. She had very little pain associated with the surgery; however she experienced some issues with her calcium levels which eventually were under control.

Four months after the surgery, she got RAI treatment. Many who have undergone this treatment would most likely relate to Paula’s feelings associated with the process for the RAI treatment. Paula says, “It was very scary in the beginning as you walk down the hospital corridor with radioactive area caution signs everywhere.”

Although RAI can be a rather lonely and isolating experience, having friends and family touch base with you by phone can be a great source of comfort. Paula’s girlfriends gave her a gift bag which included a small gift for each day she spent in the hospital. Every day at the same time she opened a gift. “I found this very comforting along with reading letters from loved ones which helped me during this time alone and in isolation.”

Once home, Paula was very fortunate to spend some time in the family cottage that was all prepped for what she calls her “deglowing” time. There is a short time after treatment that patients are still radioactive and must avoid contact with other people. Paula did experience some post RAI side-effects with her salivary glands and some taste issues, but for the most part it went well. The first “normal” foods that Paula ate after weeks of being on a LID were chicken wings and a Greek salad. Every patient who has undergone the LID knows how you long for that moment when you are able to eat regular food again. Although Paula portrays enthusiasm about the diet and states that it was a time to be creative and innovative with cooking and food, she also says “I thought I was in Heaven, it (chicken wings and Greek salad) tasted so good.” Paula saw a radiation oncologist and her endocrinologist who gave her information regarding the RAI treatment. However, it was through TCC and its online forum that she found information, advice and sympathy. She also found an indispensible support system with people who cared, made her feel accepted and, most of all, safe.

Hearing the word cancer may be physically and mentally paralyzing. A person may feel like nobody really understands what they are going through. Even loved ones may find it confusing and challenging to deal with the diagnosis, or make sense of the person’s behaviour. Paula volunteered for TCC and it was through the TCC forum that she gained strength and a new found hope for the future. Paula continues to volunteer as a moderator on the TCC forum. “Now I get to pay it forward. I can truly feel what people write on the forum because I remember what it was like. When people say 'I just want my old life back', I get it.” Her role with TCC brings her great feeling of satisfaction seeing other patients get well and themselves paying it forward. She states that although we are all separated by many miles and may never meet, we are a family and are all connected by this experience, “we love and accept each other, we root for each other, we laugh and cry with each other, I say we are all con-neck-ted.”

It is undeniable that cancer has instilled a lot of fear in human beings. I believe we need to rewire our thinking and learn to embrace the cancer. Let’s remove the negative connotation of the word and try to be enlightened by it. There are many things to learn from your journey with cancer. Paula reiterates that each day is a gift from God and one should make the best of it. “ I am thankful and I have learned to see my blessings, I learned to hug and kiss at every opportunity, I learned to be forgiving, and say the words ‘I love you’ everyday.”

Cancer does not define a person but it does teach you to reflect on life and be kind to yourself and your loved ones. Paula’s story can help others realize that tough times bring new strengths and insight for the "new" you.

In Paula’s case, she feels very fortunate with the doctors involved in her treatment at the Thyroid cancer clinic in Halifax, NS because they truly work as a team. Nonetheless, she does have a message for all doctors treating patients with thyroid cancer. “Blood work does not always tell the tale. The blood count may be right on but that does not mean the patient feels well.” She encourages doctors to demonstrate patience and listen more carefully to what patients are saying. It is not a list of complaints rather an opportunity to learn from the patient and move forward with the hopes of better understanding the illness. Some final words from Paula “I want to wish everyone on their personal journey with thyroid cancer all the best and I consider it a privilege to be able to contribute in some way (as a Moderator of the Online Forum) to making someone's day better. If I have done that, then I have done my job and I love it.”