THE ARTISTIC LIFE – Living the creative life in everything we do

Posts tagged ‘thyroid cancer’

Life is Beautiful!

After weeks of medical testing, and some scary and lonely moments, my doctor has now come to the conclusion that I am *most likely* CANCER-FREE! This is about as much certainty as can be expected at this point…possibly after a year of good results we will be able to say it with 100% certainty. However, one of the lessons that I’ve learned from dealing with cancer, is how to live with uncertainty. This really is a metaphor for life in general…life can be an unpredictable rollercoaster sometimes. My relief is still sinking in and my fear is gradually being replaced with such profound joy and gratefulness. I’m not resting on any laurels at all…there is always a chance of persistent or recurrent disease. And, of course, there is a higher risk for a 2nd cancer somewhere else…but reaching this milestone is a battle won. Cancer takes away enough from us as it is…I’m not going to let it take away my celebration and joy of relishing this good news. In fact, that 8K is tomorrow, and I’m going to run it with all my heart. I hope everyone else has a joyous weekend as well! And remember…life is beautiful!

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Why Run?

So, as I was thinking about my recent fun and successful 10K race and my desire to run more races and even work my way up to a half marathon, I was thinking more about WHY I am running. Of course, there’s the obvious health factor. Not only the cardiovascular benefits, but keeping weight down, boosting the immune system, and (hopefully) minimizing my chances of a recurrence or another kind of cancer (after my thyroid cancer and radiation, I’m at higher risk). However, continuing with the cancer theme, as one goes through the diagnosis and treatment phases for a serious condition like cancer, one feels dehumanized. I became a piece of meat, a pin cushion, a set of lab numbers, an appointment slot, another seat in the oncology waiting room…This isn’t to say that I didn’t like the care from my doctors and nurses overall. In this situation, it’s something that can’t really be helped, when you’re in a sterile environment (both literally and figuratively as you’re sitting in a clean, white medical room without personality), focusing on your bodily functions and measurements, and not on your soul, mind, or personality. While running does focus on your body, it also focuses on your other aspects of humanity as well – your mind, your determination, your drive, your goals, your enjoyment of your surroundings, your musical taste as you listen to your choice in music, etc. It is a way to control your body after a time of losing control and also rejoining your body with your mind and soul.

Also, having racing events to work towards can get you through the tough times. In the near future, I will be getting more medical tests done and seeing doctors to try to decipher if my cancer has been successfully and completely treated. I will admit I am nervous about this and not looking forward to it (although I do blissfully dream of hearing the words “You are cancer-free!”) However, I’m thinking of signing up for an 8K race that’s 2 days after a big medical appointment. Is this a good thing? Well, I figure, if I receive bad news during the prior medical appointment, this will be a way for me to cope and not dwell on the bad news. If the appointment goes well, it will be a joyous way for me to celebrate! I even may sign up for a Half Marathon in the Fall, not knowing for sure if I will need any more medical treatment (RAI or surgery) during that time period. Worst case scenario – I’m out 70 bucks if I can’t run the race. Best case – I stay in top physical shape, with this goal keeping my mind busy through the tough times, and I reach the goal of completing a Half Marathon.

Running is also good at forcing one to seize the day and make the most of each moment, which is something that many cancer patients learn. When life is short (and it is for everyone, not just cancer patients), make the most of what time we’ve got. Running involves counting minutes (even seconds), timing oneself, and celebrating the big finish – what a great way to live in the moment!!

10K or Bust

Happy Friday! Hope you have some fun/creative/productive plans for this weekend! As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been running as part of my strategy of overcoming cancer and other health issues. Well, we’re almost 2 months away from my first race, Richmond’s Monument Avenue Ukrops 10K. I’ve signed up with my husband and some Richmond-area friends for this fun event. Training during the Winter months has involved using the treadmill at the local Y, but I’m looking forward to when there’s enough daylight and warmth in the evenings to run outside again. It’s a lot more fun to view neighborhood scenery than to just stare at the row of treadmills in front of me at the Y (or worse yet, whatever cheesy show is currently on USA Network on the gym TV…).  My goal is to run the whole distance. I haven’t been able to work up to the full 6.2 yet (came fairly close when I ran 5 miles outside a couple Saturdays ago when it was really warm.). With more mild temps expected this weekend, hopefully I can squeeze in a nice long run outdoors and get closer to my goal!! Hope you all set or reach some of your goals (big or small) this weekend too!

Wooo! 10K or bust!

Spread Thyroid Awareness All Year Round

Thyroid Cancer Survivor and Awareness Shirts

On a previous post I talked about my thyroid cancer survivor and awareness shirts I designed in honor of Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Well, September is long gone, but we should spread the awareness all year round.

I’ve made a couple more designs since then, one that goes well on light and white t-shirts and another design which is less feminine, for male thyroid cancer survivors or loved ones. Check them out here. As before, 10% of net proceeds go to ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association. It might even make a good holiday gift for that survivor in your life, to show you appreciate the struggles and obstacles they have overcome. If you know a survivor, pass it on and help spread the awareness!

Running For My Life!

My latest endeavor of my anti-cancer lifestyle is that I have started running. Many factors seem to have come together, leading towards this, including family members and neighbors who have been running races (even marathons!) and, of course, my diagnosis this year. During my cancer treatment, when I needed (and wanted) to just rest, I would longingly look at the latest Athleta catalog that arrived in the mail and I would yearn for my treatment to be over, so I could start running like those women. I wanted to look like those tough-looking girls. Not ‘tough’, as in ‘steroids’ and ‘I’m-going-to-kick-your-butt’, but ‘tough’, as in ‘I can handle whatever obstacles come my way and run my way right through them’.

Yesterday evening, I ran my first 5K (3.1 miles) without stopping or walking. And I even felt good. Maybe it was due to my first dose of the recreational runner’s drug: endorphins.

I’ve never been a runner, although my 8th grade science teacher kept telling me that I would make a great runner. But since when does a 12-year-old listen to their teacher’s lifestyle suggestions? I have always been a walker, hiker and biker. But when it came to running, I just shuddered at the thought. The first run I attempted on the pavement lasted about 1/4 mile, before I had to slow down and walk. That was just a couple months ago, and I had radiation and isolation in the meantime. I figure that if I could make it through cancer treatment and my accompanying autoimmune disease I had for years (also my dad’s illness and passing during the same time period), that I can do just about anything that I want to do. Running should be no exception.

So, I run because it may help keep cancer, inflammation, and heart disease away. I run because I can, and who knows what the future brings. I run because it feels great (after the first aching mile or so). And I run because I want to look like a bad-a** like those girls in the catalog. I’m running for my life.

RAI of Hope

My nervously awaited Radioactive Iodine (RAI) treatment phase is almost over (at least for now – maybe forever?!) This treatment is indicated for many Differentiated Thyroid Cancer patients after thyroidectomy, and with my 11 malignant neck lymph nodes found at surgery, I was due for a fairly hefty dose (150 mci). As with most aspects of my cancer treatment, I researched a great deal about this treatment and its repercussions. Of course,  a lot of what I read on the Internet was not positive. The long-term repercussions in my case are still unknown, as certain side effects may not even develop for weeks or months. This process started with an endocrinologist appointment, who then made an appointment with their affiliated Radiation Oncology department. Rad Onc would be administering the RAI. For 2 weeks prior to the RAI, I had to go on a Low Iodine Diet (LID), which, for me, is one of the worst parts of the whole ordeal. Being on a healthy diet for years, due to my high cholesterol, has become part of my normal routine, and I am used to controlling what I eat for health reasons, so I thought this would be relatively easy. I was wrong. Although I appreciate the wonderful creative recipes that ThyCa.org provides, and somewhat enjoyed a couple of these recipes (the griddle cakes and chili, in particular), food without dairy just isn’t very satisfying. Also, with my extensive online research, I learned of the varying opinions and controversies regarding the diet, and I grew more worried that what I was eating actually might contain a lot of iodine. Or maybe not. In the end, I hardly ate anything, for fear that it was silently laden with iodine, which might interfere with my treatment. The premise of the diet (and according to most doctors, it does work) is that if I starve my remnant thyroid cells of iodine, these same cells will absorb the radioiodine like a sponge and the treatment will work better. The goal is for the RAI to ablate the thyroid remnants and kill any remaining thyroid cancer  cells wherever they may be in the body. So, during the 16 days I was on this diet, I went to a wedding, a tailgate, and a cookout…where the only things I could eat were carrot sticks and cucumber slices (without dressing, of course). It got to the point where everything just made me queasy because nothing was appetizing. I lost 6 pounds in just the first week. The countdown towards RAI (and the end of the diet) began.

The RAI week is very busy for the patient. On both Monday and Tuesday mornings, I received some blood tests and Thyrogen shots at the hospital. I was “fortunate” enough to find some Thyrogen. I also didn’t take “no” for an answer when my doctor and hospital told me that they couldn’t get any Thyrogen for me until 2012…you see, there’s a severe worldwide shortage of Thyrogen. Thyrogen, without getting too technical, prepares the body for the RAI, so that the treatment works. The alternative to Thyrogen or the “old-fashioned way” is to withdraw from our necessary thyroid hormone pills for a few weeks and become severely hypothyroid. Many people have awful side effects from this withdrawal, which may take weeks or months for the body to recover from. I work full-time and commute to work (driving could even become dangerous under this condition) so I did not want this option. So, when my doctor told me the bad news about not getting the Thyrogen, I started making phone calls. I called my insurance company to find out who their affiliated specialty pharmacy is. I contacted this pharmacy, who didn’t have any Thyrogen, but was aware of the shortage and suggested I call local retail pharmacies to see if anyone still had this important drug in stock. Thyrogen has a 3-year shelf life, so it was possible that some was sitting in a fridge somewhere in a local pharmacy. I called a local Walgreens and they did not have any. I asked if they could look up in their computer system to see if any Walgreens in the vicinity did have any in stock. He said that the system wasn’t always accurate, but it was worth a shot. He gave me a few phone numbers and I started calling. Finally, the last phone number the pharmacist gave me was the golden ticket! They did have Thyrogen in stock, so I left work with my insulated lunchbag, sped to the Walgreens (about 40 minutes away), drove home to place it safely in our fridge, and returned to work jubilantly.

On Wednesday, both Curt and I drove separately to the hospital, where I would get more bloodwork, then, finally, the RAI. Despite the crazy traffic heading to the hospital (it took us about an hour-and-a-half instead of a half hour), we arrived early. The radiation oncologist and nuclear medicine doctor both went over the safety precautions again and answered questions. Curt needed to leave the patient room and the doctor wheeled in a cart. On this cart was a heavy looking lead box and a Geiger counter. Inside the lead box was a lead cannister. Inside the lead cannister (kind of like Russian dolls) was the actual pill. We could not touch the pill, so she placed it in a cup. I was told to very quickly swallow this pill and use as much water as I  needed. I normally have a hard time swallowing large pills and was a little nervous about this for days. What if this highly radioactive pill gets stuck in my throat?? So, I knew what I needed to do…just chug the pill with no regrets as if my life depended on it. Maybe it does. I’ve never swallowed a pill so fast in my life. The big pill just slid down my throat and I drank 2 cups of water to make sure it was down. The doc measured my neck with a Geiger Counter and said “It’s down. Good. Now go!” The docs then scattered, as they didn’t want to be around “Chernobyl on Legs”…so, with my hands still trembling, I left the room, called to Curt in the waiting room, and we hurriedly left. Curt needed to stay 6 feet away from me and we drove home separately. I had taken prescription strength anti-nausea meds, and, luckily, felt fine. I didn’t feel radioactive at all.

Now the isolation…I was given restrictions that basically meant I needed to be alone for 7 days due to the radiation I was emitting. I needed to stay 6 feet away from people (and pets), sleep in my own bed, cook my own food, use a separate bathroom, flush twice, etc. The rules go on and on. There is also a lot of controversy and variation from hospital to hospital on these restrictions. In many hospitals, I would’ve been kept in the hospital for a few days, until I was less radioactive. In a way, that would’ve been easier. At first, it was lonely, frustrating, and stressful. But, by the 4th day or so, I was almost enjoying the “me” time alone in the attic! For the first time in a long time, I had time to read, sketch, learn new guitar chords, online shop, henna my hair. I Photoshopped the photos I took for a wedding, exercised, sang, researched new music on YouTube, texted, social networked…the time actually went pretty quickly and, here I am, on the last day of isolation! There is a possibility I will need this treatment again in a year. If so, I’m not looking forward to the diet, bloodwork, shots, radiation, possible side effects…but I won’t dread the isolation so much!

Now my hope is that this RAI will cure my cancer….

The Juicy Details

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As part of the revamping of my life, due to my thyroid cancer diagnosis, I decided to start juicing. We watched a movie called Fat Sick and Nearly Dead (thanks, Sam, for the suggestion!) that helped spark this interest, in addition to trying some freshly made juice at a friend’s house, although I had already added a juicer to my Christmas wishlist before this. Well, we figured, there’s no time like the present, so we ordered a Breville juicer right then and there. So far, it seems that whatever combination of fruits and veggies we use for the juice, it always tastes good.

Here are some recommendations we’ve tried so far:
-oranges
-grapefruit
-carrots
-blueberries
-watermelon
-canteloupe
-apples
-plums
-mango
-peaches
-ginger
-kale
-parsley

But, we’ll continue to experiment, and try other items like:
-pears
-kiwis
-cilantro
-pineapple
-strawberries
-raspberries
-lemon

To use, follow the manual’s assembly instructions and be prepared for a bit of a mess. But I think it’s part of the fun, as long as you don’t get too many blueberry stains on your ceiling. Wash, peel (if applicable), and cut your fruit as appropriate, then push them through the shoot a little at a time. You can even leave a little bit of any orange peel on, as the peel is very healthy and contains compounds called polymethoxylated flavones (PMFs) which lowers cholesterol without any side effects.

Voila! A fresh tasting nutritional drink full of antioxidants and other anti-cancer compounds!”

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