A strange journey (memories of a teenage girl)

by GregP_WN

This weeks Wednesday's WhatNexter Of The Week is Tracy. She is a long time Thyroid Cancer survivor of 37 years. Here is a little about her journey through Thyroid cancer, starting as a 14 year old.

Tracy High School

I was a teenager in the mid 70’s when diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer after being sick for several years. Luckily I lived in Seattle at this time so I was sent to Virginia Mason Clinic which was the major west coast cancer treatment center at this time.

This clinic was so busy that you had to be accepted into the program. I joined a group of people in a room all wearing hospital gowns waiting for their turns to go in front of a board of doctors to see if they would be “chosen”. I was 14, extremely shy and scrawny wearing a small open-backed gown, on display, in front of a room full of men who are looking at me like I was a specimen. After reviewing the case notes they came up and started feeling my neck and asking me questions in a very brisk way. Since I had already dissolved into shyness, trying to respond was not possible. After a period of time, I was led off, I had been accepted.

I spent the next few weeks in a dizzy of torture tests that involved clamping my head down (literally) while a machine went back and forth over my neck doing scans (tightening the clamp if I moved), having to hold nasty barium in my mouth until told to swallow to take pictures of my throat and other tests that seem barbaric compared to the way they are done today.

During this time I was doing rounds with doctors trying to find the one who would be willing to treat me. When I met the one who ended up taking my case I was sitting watching two doctors discussing me (yet again) while my paper gown was dissolving at the seams because of my sweating ( a side effect of thyroid imbalance). I was still shy but getting less so after being poked, clamped, colored and inspected. I had learned to make jokes to keep myself from crying. When I met my new specialist he was distant and a bit cold. I did not know at the time that the reason for this was that he only took terminal cases and was guarding himself. I now know that his hospital nickname was “Dr. Death”. This man became my hero.

Dr. Nielson never told me how bad my illness was and I never asked. After so many years of being sick and being told it was all in my head, I had this strong person to make me better. I had total trust in my hero. He told us that this kind of cancer was caused by exposure to radiation in the womb, enough to mutate but not enough to miscarry (a very fine line) and it waited until puberty to be triggered by hormones. I am a mutant! That explains so much.

His plan was to do radical surgery to remove as many lymph nodes in my neck as he could and then do an experimental treatment involving radioactive iodine. My surgery lasted many hours and I was left with a scar from ear to ear. It was a very extensive surgery and I woke up in the Intensive care unit with tubes coming out of many places. I was told to sleep in a partially upright position for many months to reduce swelling in my neck (lymphedema).
After recovering from surgery I was treated with radioactive Iodine. My memories of this involve a very large lead container that opened to a small vial; I was given a long straw and told to suck up the liquid in the vial (strange water). They tested me with the Geiger counter and rushed me off to a room with a nuclear warning sign on the door. Then behind a large lead shield to my bed. Everything I touched or came out of me was put behind lead and taken to nuclear waste. It was a very strange feeling.

I was told later that I was not expected to live past 18. Dr. Nielson told me that it was my stubbornness that got me through this, not anything he did. The current treatment is based on the experimental treatment I had in high school.
I am now 53, with a grown daughter. I not only survived longer than predicted but managed to have an incredible life.

I have always been one that others have talked to about cancer. My scars are very visible (ear to ear) and I make a point of talking about it. It has been so nice to be able to share with more people on the WhatNext website in ways that I have in the past done in person. My cancer has in some ways been a blessing in that I have been able to support so many friends in ways that I would not have expected.
Thank you all for letting me be a part of your journey.

We thank Tracy for being a big part of WhatNext and sharing her story with us. Stop by her profile page on WhatNext and tell her thanks for sharing, and drop her a line of encouragement. Being a long time survivor she has experience and knowledge that might be able to help you, if you have questions for her, stop by her page and drop her a question.

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