Thy-What?!: The Beginning
It was 1991 and I was 19, just finished with my freshman year in college. I was getting ready to spend the summer as a counselor at a sleepaway camp in rural Massachusetts.
During the week or two after school ended and before camp began, I’d scheduled an annual visit with the ob/gyn. I sat on the examination table in that impossibly-thin and useless paper excuse for a robe and tried to think about anything but the exam itself.
In the middle of the routine “pat-down” portion, the doctor stopped short. She returned her fingers over and over to a bulge in my neck that she said she didn’t like (I later learned this was called a “goiter.” What an ugly word.).
I wasn’t paying much attention, but I remember thinking it seemed weird for a gynecologist to care about what was going on in my neck. When I checked out up front after the appointment, I learned that she’d ordered further blood tests, a follow-up visit and the whole nine yards!
Seemed strange, but I soon forgot all of it, as I was far more focused on the summer adventure ahead than I was on whatever it was she thought she was looking for in my neck.
Fast forward six weeks: Camp is in full swing. The gynecologist’s office and the vials of blood they took from me before I left for Massachusetts are a distant memory.
“You have a phone call from home. It’s your mom.”
No one at camp gets phone calls unless it is some sort of an emergency. And in 1991, no one was texting, emailing or Googling so the phone was the main means of getting the most important – and sometimes dire – messages across.
Panic. If my mom was calling, it couldn’t be about something good. I immediately thought of my beloved grandmother, of my grandfather, of my sister or my dad.
What? Who? Please let it be something I can live with….
I raced to the camp office, huffing, puffing and sweating.
“Mom?!” I half-asked, half-barked as I grabbed the phone. “What is it? What happened?”
“Everything is ok, calm down,” she told me. (I didn’t.)
“Remember when Dr. H took all those vials of blood from you, right before camp?”
Yea…that weird neck thing….
“Well, it turns out you have some abnormal levels in some areas, either blood something or hormone something. I can’t remember, all I know is that it is nothing life-threatening. Turns out your thyroid isn’t functioning as it should be.”
I have something in my neck by that name? Me? Really? I don’t even get colds or fevers, and now I have some condition? In my neck? With some thy-thing? It can’t be that important because I’m not sick…but then again, she is calling me…
“So what do we do now?” I asked.
“Well,” she started to explain, “You have two options: Come home now and visit a special doctor, or wait until the end of camp and then come home and visit the special doctor. Dr. H. seems to think now is the better option.” (The “special doctor” turned out to be an endocrinologist.)
I’d certainly be calling lots of attention to myself if I were to leave early from camp (it was unheard of unless death or grave illness were factors). I’d also be bummed to leave because, in all honesty, the real reason I’d chosen that camp in the first place was because my boyfriend at the time was also a counselor there. I certainly didn’t want to leave that situation…but thoughts of my own bed and a hot private shower were more than tempting after six weeks in a bunk and shared bathroom with 15 13-year-old girls.
“OK, Mom, let’s do it. Let me know what the flight arrangements are.”
The next few days was a whirlwind of cars and planes, civilization with its showers and clean toilets, medical appointments and words like “hypothyroid ,” and “underactive” and “Hashimoto.” Lots of photocopied pieces of information were given to me (remember, no Google or WebMD in those days!) with reassurances that as long as I took this innocuous little pill from then on out, I’d be fine. And in the process, I was told, the overwhelming fatigue I’d felt my entire life would magically disappear.
Wow, that’s a bonus!
Maybe this whole drama, and this thy-thing that I still didn’t totally get, weren’t so bad after all.
Maybe, I was excited to think, this was all happening for good reasons and now that I had this magic pill everything would be even better than before!
Maybe I wasn’t really a tired person, but an energetic person whose thy-what made her tired.
And maybe, just maybe, now that I had all the answers and the magic pill everything would be perfect.
What about you? What is the story of your beginning?
–Written by Allison Nazarian, our latest columnist. We are so proud and honored to have her on board. Please give her a warm Dear Thyroid welcome.
Tags: discussions about initial diagnosis, do you remember when you were diagnosed with thyroid disease, do you remember when you were first diagnosed with thyroid cancer, the beginning of thyroid disease, Thy-What?!: The Beginning, thyroid column written by Allison Nazarian