The Good Cancer

So I'm trying to work through some of this "good cancer" rage and part of the process is realizing that my cancer is, in fact, a good cancer.

Now, don't get me wrong. I still want to dickpunch anyone who tells me that my cancer is the good cancer. I'm not reversing my insta-hate policy on suggesting I be grateful because my cancer doesn't require chemo (this has been word-for-damn-word said to me.) I'm just trying to acknowledge the hard parts and the not-so-hard parts of my experience with thyroid cancer and it's kind of shocked me that the actual cancer part of my illness has been the easiest part.

Before I go any further, I want to reiterate what I've said in the past - please, for the love of all things good and holy, don't ever - EVER - tell someone they have the good cancer. There is no good cancer. Even if you get to the end of this post and think "hey, thyroid cancer doesn't sound that bad," I still strongly suggest that you refrain from telling someone with thyroid cancer that they have the good cancer. There are four main types of thyroid cancer and two of those types are actually really fucking grim. They may be much more rare than the two less scary types of thyroid cancer but they exist and they're terrifying and you would be the ultimate asshole if you told someone with either of those types of thyroid cancer that they have the good cancer.

My cancer is a good cancer because it is slow-growing and non-aggressive. It is a good cancer because it is easily treated and has a high cure rate.

My cancer has a high cure rate because if you are cancer-free for five years, you are considered "cured" - even if your cancer is slow-growing and typically recurs 10-15 years after the initial treatment. So let's examine that for a minute - I am going to be cured. Good cancer! But ... that high cure rate is skewed by the fact that it would be rare for my cancer to reoccur within that five-year cancer-free time frame required to be considered cured. I am, by nature, a worrier. It is taking a huge amount of effort to not get carried away thinking about stats and percentages. 

But! High cure rate. Easily treated. Good cancer! So let's talk about that treatment. Most thyroid cancers are treated by removing the thyroid gland. No thyroid, no cancer. Makes sense. But here's where things get complicated. When my oncologist talks about thyroid cancer being a good cancer and treatment being straightforward, he's talking about the removal of the thyroid gland to treat the thyroid cancer. He's not talking about the challenges presented by not having a thyroid gland. In my experience, the treatment for thyroid cancer (the removal of my thyroid gland) has been more challenging than my (best! ever!) cancer. 

I was not diagnosed with cancer until I had half of my thyroid removed and biopsied. I didn't know I had cancer until it was removed from my body. The difficulties I've faced since then have all been related to my treatment (the removal of my thyroid gland) and not to my cancer. My tumour markers have remained low (lower than my oncologist expected, actually) (that is a really good thing.) My last scan showed no sign of metastasis. My cancer turned my life upside down but I still have my life.

Thyroids make thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is kind of a big deal. It regulates the body's metabolism. It's essential to help the body use energy, stay warm, and keep your organs running the way they should. It's necessary for the health of all the cells in the body. You can't just get your thyroid removed and go on your merry way. Thyroid hormone replacement therapy is not optional. 

Finding the correct dosage for thyroid hormone replacement is difficult. My last surgery was performed May 31st and I began taking synthetic thyroid hormones immediately after it was complete. My thyroid hormones are not yet balanced, almost nine months later. There was a brief period in December where we thought I was on the right dose but it was adjusted again because of one worrisome blood test and it knocked me right back to where I was last summer. I have been on numerous different doses of synthetic hormones and each one affects me differently. I have experienced hair loss, anxiety, depression, bone pain, joint pain, insomnia, extreme fatigue, weird appetite / non-appetite, hot flashes, excessive sweating, chills, mood swings, dry skin (like, so dry it's cracking), wonky periods (oh hey, 23-day cycle! You can fuck right off), weight loss, weight gain, a really sad two-week period where I lost the ability to poop, and my latest super fun side effect: barfing. Daily barfing. 

I feel like a science experiment. I don't know where my dose is going to end up but I'm terrified that my symptoms won't disappear even when we find the perfect dose. Not having a thyroid gland, and not making natural thyroid hormones, has been the most challenging part of thyroid cancer.

We've got four parathyroid glands situated behind our thyroid glands. The parathyroid glands regulate calcium in our blood and bones. I lost two parathyroid glands during my surgeries. They're small - about the size of a grain of rice - and they can be compromised during thyroid surgeries. My calcium level has been dismally low since my surgery (not helped by the fact that I'm still lactating.) I take 2,000mg of calcium and 2,000iu of vitamin D every day. This keeps me just above or just below the lowest acceptable calcium level. If I miss a dose, I suffer from brain fog and body aches. My shitty calcium level isn't caused by my thyroid cancer, it's related to my treatment. It might never improve. 

And then there's the giant scar I have from my two surgeries. It turns out it's a keloid scar so I'm faced with more treatment to heal the scar from my initial treatment. Again, not something that is caused by my (oh so wonderful!) cancer but is a result of my treatment. 

I don't say this for sympathy or to whine. I'm not trying to prove that my cancer sucks. I just feel like calling someone's cancer the good cancer is so dismissive of the struggles they face. Cancer is hard. A positive attitude is never a bad thing but trying to rah rah someone through their own cancer experience is kind of ridiculous. My cancer is a good cancer. But it's still cancer. It's terrifying and life-altering and requires treatment that has caused my life to be at best uncomfortable and at worst unbearable every day for the last 10 months. It's going to feel so good to beat this bitch.