Thyroid Health and Cancer: My Story and Top Tips To Protect Yourself

When was the last time you had your thyroid function tested? I don’t have the stats, but I’m willing to bet that the answer for most of you will be ‘sometime back in 2004 when I first got pregnant’, or even more likely, ‘never’. I don’t blame you for this, as thyroid health checks are not routinely offered by healthcare systems around the world. Nevertheless, thyroid disorders are becoming increasingly common and varied, ranging from a small, harmless goiter (enlarged gland) to life threatening cancer.

After everything that’s happened in my life this year, I have made it my aim to help redress this balance and show YOU, my readers, why taking your thyroid health seriously is of utmost importance. Please read to the end, take note and share widely.

You never know, it might end up saving a life.

Thyroid Health and Cancer: My Story and Top Tips To Protect Yourself

Here’s my story…

If you read my blog or follow me on social media, then you won’t have failed to notice that things have been a little amiss this year. I talked openly about my miscarriage which took place at the end of March, and then things were a little bit quiet on the blog for a while. Less than two months later, I broke it to you that I had been diagnosed with cancer.

What many people don’t know is that in between these two earth shattering pieces of news, I was undergoing a rather traumatic journey which would ultimately lead to the dreaded ‘C’ word being uttered.

To explain it all properly, I’ll have to take you back a bit.

Back when I lived in London, I was feeling lousy and visited the doctor for a check-up. I couldn’t pinpoint what the problem was exactly, but I just felt a bit out of sorts. He ordered a series of tests, one of which was a blood test to ascertain the levels of Thyroxine (the hormone produced by the thyroid) that my body was producing because he thought I might have hyperthyroidism, a condition which is brought about by an overproduction of the hormone. As it turned out, I was actually very slightly hypothyroid, which meant I was producing less of the hormone than the average person. It wasn’t severe enough to require medication at this stage, but he told me to to a repeat the test in a year’s time to make sure that the condition hadn’t worsened.

Fast forward five years, and I had completely forgotten about this advice. I had been too busy moving to Doha, starting a new job, getting married, travelling the world and loving life. I had never felt better. Then I found out that I was pregnant.

Thyroid Health and Cancer: My Story and Top Tips To Protect Yourself

It’s amazing what you start to think about and what comes back to you when you’re told you’re going to have a baby. Some call it intuition, others might pass it off as the normal thoughts of a mother who is suddenly safeguarding another life outside of their own. Lying in bed one night, I remembered what that doctor had told me back in London and decided that I had better get myself tested.

It’s lucky that I did, because my Thyroxine levels had now dipped low enough for me to be diagnosed with hypothyroidism and I was immediately prescribed 25 mcg of synthetic thyroxine to boost my levels. Left untreated, hypothyroidism can pose a danger to developing foetuses, and I was glad that we’d managed to catch it before I reached 8 weeks.

Sophia was born in March 2016, a 2.7kg bouncing, bubbly, happy baby and all was well with the world.

Needless to say, once she arrived and we were thrown into the seemingly endless cycle of sleepless nights, breast feeding and nappy changes, I forgot about taking my Thyroxine altogether.

That was, until I became pregnant again in 2018. This time around, knowing my history, I was far more prepared for the tests that I might require and requested a blood test to check my thyroid hormone levels on my very first visit to the doctor. Once again, they spotted that I was hypothyroid and back on the Thyroxine I went.

I was confident that I had done everything in my power to protect my growing child. I was eating well, trying to get out and about and keep active as much as possible, and wasn’t letting myself stress over the small things. I was excited to tell Sophia about the new baby sister or brother that would soon be making an appearance. We were blissfully content.

Thyroid Health and Cancer: My Story and Top Tips To Protect Yourself

It was around ten weeks pregnant when I found out that our baby’s heart had stopped beating. A big hole was shot through my heart and an emptiness ensued that I’ve stopped trying to fill. Six months later, I’ve grown to accept that this new hole is there to teach me so many things: how much I can love; how I deal with loss; how life can go on DESPITE this loss; how strong I can be.

Strength was going to be required for this next stage.

My doctor ordered another thyroid test post-miscarriage to check whether it had any part to play in my loss. After nearly five weeks of waiting for my miscarriage to complete naturally, and everything stubbornly staying put, I had given in and gone for a D&C. I was weak and tired post-op and ready to agree with anything the doctor suggested. Anything to make me feel more human.

The results that came back revealed that my hypothyroidism had developed into Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder which signals the body to attack your own thyroid tissue. Left unaddressed, the thyroid eventually stops producing hormones altogether. I was immediately referred to a specialist.

The specialist very quickly ascertained that I had a visible lump in my neck. He could feel it when I swallowed, and he predicted that it was over a centimetre in diameter. One inconclusive ultrasound later, and they decided to order a biopsy, where they put a huge needle into your neck to extract some cells for examination. This would tell us for sure if the lump we were looking at was benign or malignant.

On the 20th May 2018, I received the news that nobody wants to hear in their life. Cancer is a virulent and destructive disease, that consumes energy, hope, and lives and, aged 32, it was something I had not even contemplated creeping into mine.

Thyroid Health and Cancer: My Story and Top Tips To Protect Yourself

It wasn’t long before I was being prepped for surgery, and I was waking up with one less gland than I had before. One less, very important gland. But I was alive. I might have to endure being absolutely exhausted for the next six months and to take artificial hormones for the rest of my life, but I had lived to tell the tale. I was victorious.

…Until several weeks later when, post-Ramadan, the medical board finally got around to examining my case and explained to me that not all of the cancer had been removed. It turns out I actually had two tumours growing on my thyroid, and one of them was right on the edge, so close to other vital glands and tissue that they couldn’t be sure that they’d removed it all without damaging something else.

Just as I thought this incessant rollercoaster was nearing the end, I realised that I had just been suffering through a series of loop-the-loops as we built up to its climax. I was now shunting along up the side of the final precipice, ready to reach the top and plunge down the 500m drop into oblivion. I needed to get some straps on quick, to prepare myself for the fall.

You might think that all of this sounds a little bit dramatic, but allow me to explain.

After everything that has happened so far this year, this final mountain feels like the hardest one to climb. 

I’ve prepared my body for treatment by depriving my body of Iodine, with a special low-Iodine diet for twenty days in the lead-up. That means no dairy, no cake on my birthday, no chocolate on the hard days, no seafood, no salt and no food with additives. No eating in restaurants. No takeaways.

In two days time, I will stop taking my thyroid medication altogether. I will quickly become severely Hypothyroid, which will result in extreme tiredness and lethargy, depression and numbness. That day, I will also have a Thyrogen injection administered to help alleviate some of the symptoms. The next day, I will have another. On the third day (Tuesday), I will ingest a dose of radioactive iodine, and will return home to be in partial isolation for ten days.

During this time, my family will move out of the house to protect them, as I will be giving off radiation. I will not see Sophia at all during this time, but my mum and husband will be popping in and out to ensure I am eating and alive! They will have to stay a few feet away from me at all times and spend only a few minutes in the same room.

During my isolation period, I have to shower three times a day, washing the shower down after every use. I have to flush the toilet three times every time I go. I have to brush my teeth with special brushes and toothpaste and suck on special candies. I have to wash my clothes and sheets at least once a day and must wear slippers when moving around and surgical gloves when I touch anything. Anything I’ve touched with my bare hands must be isolated following its use until its radiation levels have gone down.

…I could go on!

I’ve been through so many battles this year, and I am praying so hard that this is the final one now.

I know I’ve got the strength deep down inside of me to face it, just like I’ve faced everything else that’s come before, but the thought of it just keeps on beating me down. If only I could hold Sophia close during this time, I think I’d be OK.

Thyroid Health and Cancer: My Story and Top Tips To Protect Yourself

So how can you prevent this happening to you?

Sadly, very little is known about the precise causes of thyroid cancer (or any cancer for that matter!). It seems to be a combination of lifestyle factors including exercise and diet, whether a person smokes, and their wellbeing, etc., as well as a genetic predisposition. There are certain factors that are thought to increase the likelihood of developing thyroid cancer however, including living close to a nuclear power plant, and not using a thyroid guard when undertaking dental x-rays. If you are ever having an x-ray of your face, neck or jaw, I can’t urge you enough to always ask for a guard! They aren’t always offered, and the consequences of risking it can be extremely damaging.

There is a strong family link, so if thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, and especially thyroid cancer, runs in your family then I suggest that you ask your GP for regular blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels, and ask to be referred to a specialist if anything untoward is detected. Very occasionally, conditions such as Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism can be linked to the early onset of cancer, as they were for me.

The problem with thyroid cancer is that it is known as the ‘silent cancer’. There are very often little to no symptoms, and patients can live for years without knowing they have it at all. Luckily, it’s also slow-growing and only very rarely reaches the lymph nodes and spreads, so your prognosis once it’s caught it good. I had cancer for a year before they caught it. Who knows what could have happened if we had got wind of it any later.

See your GP immediately if you start to experience any of the following symptoms, seemingly out of the blue:

  • Hoarseness or a change in voice
  • Pain or tenderness to the neck
  • Anxiety, irritability, depression or moodiness
  • Sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures
  • A change to your menstrual periods

The other problem with this cancer is that it seems to be growing in prevalence. There are over 56,000 new cases that are diagnosed in the US each year, and it’s now the second most common cancer in Qatar, with at least one new case being referred to the hospital that I was referred to each week. Females are more likely to contract the disease, and its aggressiveness increases significantly in older patients.

The absolutely fabulous news about this cancer is that if you are diagnosed, then you have literally won the cancer lottery! CONGRATULATIONS! Thyroid cancer is unique among cancers because thyroid cells absorb iodine, and therefore the Radioactive Iodine Therapy (RAI) that I am about to undergo can be used, which is both targeted and effective. The prognosis is great, the survival rates are fabulous, and you get to sport the best of all battle wounds right across your neck for the rest of your life – your dinner party stories will never be dull again!

Thyroid Health and Cancer: My Story and Top Tips To Protect Yourself

Why is thyroid health so important?

Apart from safeguarding you against cancer, protecting this vital gland and keeping a check on your thyroid health is paramount.

The butterfly-shaped Thyroid gland, which sits at the base of your neck just below your Adam’s Apple, influences most metabolic processes in the body, and has a vital part to play in regulating:

  • Breathing
  • Heartrate
  • Nervous system
  • Body weight
  • Muscle strength
  • Menstrual cycle
  • Body temperature
  • And more!

With adequate monitoring of the levels of hormone that your thyroid is producing, you can be safe in the knowledge that each cell in your body is being adequately catered to, and that you’re in full thyroid health!

What’s next for me?

I’m busy stockpiling all of the things I need for the coming weeks and subscribing to all the things that I think will keep me sane (HELLO AUDIBLE!) during my time in isolation when I’m too tired and weak to leave my bed. Your Netflix recommendations would also be very much appreciated if you fancy dropping me a note below!

Thyroid Health and Cancer: My Story and Top Tips To Protect Yourself

On the third day after my RAI, I will have a whole body scan to determine whether there is any cancer left in my body and whether the treatment has been effective.

At the beginning of October, I will meet with my doctor again to collect my results and he will be able to let me know whether this nightmare is finally over.

Thank you a million times over to everyone who has sent warm thoughts, prayers or wishes my way over the past few months. Your kindness and care has touched me in ways that you will never know, and has helped to give me the drive I need to get out of the bed in the morning, and face the day with strength and gratitude.

The polarities that emerge in the darkest of times are almost comical. I’m fighting the biggest battle of my life, yet I have forged some of the strongest friendships of my life. I’ve got a physical disease, yet inside I’m stronger than ever before. I cry a lot, but my daughter’s gentle hugs and kisses have never felt so sweet.

Please do me one favour. Read the guidance above thoroughly, and next time you’re visiting your doctor for a check-up, keep your thyroid in mind. Less than 1% of Thyroid nodules end up being malignant, but being vigilant about checking on your Thyroid health could help to save your life if, like me, you are unlucky enough to fall into that 1%.

16 Comments

  1. Razeena Abdurahman
    September 14, 2018 / 7:20 pm

    Thyroid disease runs in my family and I suffer from hypothyroidism myself. I know very well the extreme exhaustion, depression and fatigue that not many people understand.

    I pray with all my heart that you get the strength to fight and come out a winner, and I pray for your little girl to get through the days of separation. The darkness of night is always followed by sunshine; and definitely with every hardship, comes ease.
    God bless.

  2. September 14, 2018 / 8:14 pm

    Thank goodness you had that initial check Polly, really hoping this next stage is the end of it. Life on thyroxine isn’t bad, no slowing down of your metabolism as you get older! I have lived with thyroid issues for ten years and four of those were controlling it well enough to have our miracle baby. It is such an important gland, for metabolism and heart and so few people even realise!

  3. September 14, 2018 / 10:36 pm

    Polly thank you for this! before I respond let me send you huge loving hugs – my gosh what a journey you had! And you are still so brave, so positive, so elegant and radiant through it all! An inspiration! truly..

    I was told as a kid that ‘ my thyroid has issues due to the place I was brought up in’ – Wroclaw city which they told me had a history of low iodium levels. We were given meds but once I came to the UK and settled here (over 12 years ago) everything was, I was told, normal… This post is so important to raise awareness so thank you very much for that and once again hugs!

  4. September 15, 2018 / 7:35 am

    Thank you very much for shearing. I send you a big hug, love & positive energy. You are so brave to handle all this in just 1 year.

  5. Saliha
    September 15, 2018 / 10:48 am

    Hey Polly, I wish you the best for the coming days and send all the love your way. Also, thank you for raising awareness about this issue that not many people know of. If you are into podcasts, I recommend ‘ Beautiful Stories form Anonymous People’ to pass your time. Hugs ❤️

  6. September 15, 2018 / 11:11 am

    What a time you’ve had, Polly. Thank you for sharing your experiences – you’ve such strength and resilience. Just to wish you all the very best for the future..

  7. Yvonne byles
    September 15, 2018 / 11:28 am

    Ahold luck with your treatment Polly. Sounds horrendous having to be so careful for ten days and not being able to be with Sophia and Richard. I’m sure you can cope and will come out of this stronger and happier than ever. Lots of lovexxxxxx

  8. September 15, 2018 / 2:48 pm

    You have been so brave during this journey and thank you for sharing the experiences. I will most certainly be getting tested. Thinking of you and your beautiful family my lovely.

  9. Rebecca
    September 15, 2018 / 7:52 pm

    Hi Polly, I haven’t seen you in years but enjoyed seeing snippets of your happy life pop up on my Facebook over the years with your lovely blog. This has just popped up on one of your best friends pages so I thought I’d check in to see what you’d been up to. I’m so sorry to hear what a tough time you’ve had this year and wanted to wish you all the best for the journey you have ahead of you. It’s amazing and so brave how articulately you have brought attention to your own thyroid cancer diagnosis to help alert others to the risk factors and symptoms. I just just wanted to send you all the best for your own treatment and hope you are one of the success stories for battling this horrible disease. I am sure you will get lots of Sophia cuddles following this treatment and am sure the battle will be worth it to see her continue to grow up so happy!

  10. September 15, 2018 / 9:48 pm

    Bravest person I know and will be right there virtually by your side through it all xx

  11. Margaret Witney
    September 15, 2018 / 11:09 pm

    Hi Polly, you are a true artist and communicator; to be able to break through your personal fears and ‘the tendency to retreat inwards under adversity’ — but instead to be generous of spirit enough to share openly your frightening journey -is terribly courageous. Like alchemy you take the fearful and bring it to the light –
    pull away from your own pit of fear and shine a light for others, use your bad luck to help others. Its remarkable and we will all be with you the next days when you are alone, we are with you as you have been reaching out to us. You are so strong – you will pull through this to the next journey of your life with your beautiful daughter and husband by your side ——– so glad I met you through social media – I will be praying for you and your family the next week – you are, as you already know, definitely not alone, all the souls you have reached out to on this journey are with you and sending you our prayers of healing

  12. Susanna Harrison
    September 15, 2018 / 11:59 pm

    I’m in complete awe of you – the way you write with no hint of bitterness or “why me”. I shall be thinking of you and so happy that Mary will be with you – as I’m sure Sophia will one day tell you, there are times when only your mother will do… A thousand blessings, Susanna xxxx

  13. Irum Ashraf
    September 16, 2018 / 10:03 am

    I hope all goes well Polly. I got diagnosed with Hyperthyroidism this June and on medication twice a day since. I could not imagine a period where by I could not hold or hug my loved ones. Hopefully once this time passes you can make up for the days you were apart xx

  14. Elsbeth Blekkenhorst
    September 17, 2018 / 7:30 am

    Thank you for sharing this Polly, and for pointing out the symptoms. I wish you all the strength you need to climb this very steep mountain. When in isolation close your eyes and see and hug your daughter. She will feel it. Go for all the feel good movies on Netflix and for a little giggle watch Jane the Virgin. My thoughts are with you and your family. Big hugs xxx

  15. Rosemarie Hall
    September 17, 2018 / 2:48 pm

    Hi Polly – you are a true inspiration. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. I am so looking forward to hearing the good news when you get the all clear. xx

  16. Katherine Latto
    September 19, 2018 / 12:15 pm

    Thank you Polly for sharing your story. PM sent

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.