Surviving Cancer

I realized tonight that I had mentioned a few times in personal history posts about my weight gain and how it started when my thyroid shot down, but I had not gone into much detail, so I thought I would write a short entry about that subject.

Growing up I was reasonably active. I started playing football in 9th grade and played a few years and was a pretty decent player. I also played soccer, ran track, on the weightlifting team. In the Navy it continued as best it could with running and softball, but my sports activities did slow down. I had the normal weight gain you get from getting older, but mine was more a of a filling out than a tummy. I was a very skinny kid
growing up, but about the time I was 20 I started becoming more muscular … and really did not have to put much work into it to get that way.

Me at 14 years old

About the time I was 27 I started gaining weight in my mid-section. I was getting near the end of my ten years in the Navy, and really didn’t pay it much attention, just figuring it was normal gain. I was 185, which crept to 200 pounds, than 220, and reached 250 in about 6 months time. In June of 1991 I was going through my exit physical from the service, and in true military fashion, the doctor noted an “enlarged thyroid gland” in my medical file, but nothing was said to me. I was released without anything being said and I entered the civilian world for the first time since I was 17.

About the time I started college, August 1991, I noticed a protrusion in my neck. A small lump that didn’t hurt but was noticeable. I was also unable to lose weight even though I was trying to run, and was attempting to play beach volleyball with my younger brother, but was unable to keep up and got fatigued very quickly. Without insurance, though, seeing a doctor was out of the question. Once I started working at TJ Maxx in March of 1992 I gained medical insurance and sought help in what was going on with my body. I was newly married and had a child on the way, but I thought it wasn’t a big deal … something I could take care of rather easily if I knew what was going on.

My family doctor sent me to a specialist in Orlando, Dr. Samuel Crockett, and he checked out my blood and felt the enlarged growth in my neck and told us it was my thyroid, but that medicine would probably shrink the tumor and get my hormones back in check. I was deemed hypothyroid, which would explain the fatigue and weight gain. He put me on synthroid and we waited to see if it worked.

It didn’t …

Surgery was determined to be needed to remove half of the gland. I was told it was a routine operation and usually went without a hitch, but there were chances of damage to the parathyroids and vocal nerves, but that it was rare.

So much for rare …

Once they were inside they saw that the gland was so swollen that it wrapped almost entirely around my neck. They removed the entire gland, with slight damage to the parathyroids behind them, but also losing my left vocal nerve which render my left vocal cord useless. I had to go to a ENT doctor later to have a silicone “shunt” placed so that my right cord did not have to work as hard to allow me to talk. I still have trouble swallowing at times, and the nerve damage causes my throat to seize up at times, where I cannot breathe (although I have learned techniques over the years to relax the muscles so that air can get back through). Jennifer was witness to this occurring while we were at the Disney Triathlon. She can attest to how scary it looks when it happens, as can any member of my family. It’s not fun.

I came home from class one day and my wife was crying. She said that Crockett’s office had called and he wanted to see both of us in his office the next day. It was scary as Hell. We went in and he said it right away. After biopsying the gland I was found to have cancer present and would have to start under going radiation treatment to ensure that all remnants of the thyroid were eradicated from my body. I was under going treatment when my son was born, and could not be around him for weeks while the radiation was in my body. It was a hard time for us all. My weight continued to grow and never really started getting under control until May 2010 when I found Dr. Heim here in Tampa.

I went through radiation treatments, and anxiety provoking sessions in the tube for MRI’s, for years but I am now cancer free for almost 15 years. Of all cancers to have I am told this is one of the better ones (if there is an animal such as that), but Cancer is Cancer. There is NO good kind to have.

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