Bad News

A few weeks post-surgery was the scheduled follow-up with my surgeon to review the pathology and determine next steps. I was feeling ridiculously tired ALL THE TIME and eager to get on with making some medication adjustment as I was gaining weight and unable to exercise. Sitting around and feeling sluggish is unbearable for someone like me who typically has a lot of energy, so even as I tried to get back to work (even part time) – I wasn’t myself, and this was no way to live. 

The night before my meeting with the surgeon, I didn’t sleep at all. It’s like I knew there was a “disturbance in the force” somehow (to put it in Star Wars terms!) and just had this horrible sense of foreboding.

The surgeon’s office was in the same hospital where my surgery took place so I already knew my way around, checked in, and waited. I remember thinking how glad I was that I had never made it to medical school as I don’t think I could stomach coming into a hospital every day. I was eventually taken into a scary little room to await the verdict and a young surgical resident came in to ask me a bunch of questions. They really do a good job of not divulging whether it’s good news or bad news, so I had no idea what to expect and felt like I was holding my breath until my surgeon came in to present the facts. It’s like time stands still and you’re in the slow motion part of a movie wondering “Well… can we cut to the chase? What’s the scoop? Did you get all of it?”

“Unfortunately, your cancer is more aggressive than we thought it was.”   

Pardon?  What does this mean? How bad is it? What am I supposed to do now?

My understanding going into surgery was that if they can get the tumours out with a “margin” around them that shows they are contained – then you’re in good shape. That was the only outcome I had envisioned and prayed for.

Apparently my cancer had spread beyond just the tumours they had identified and removed. I had secretly been hoping that the single surgery would take care of it, that they take out the tumours and BOOM – be done. But sadly, no. Oh, and by the way, they found cancer in some lymph nodes too.

The news was soul-crushing. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My eyes filled with tears as I started to process this new information, and then went into question mode as I didn’t understand what was going to happen next. I would need to undergo a 2nd surgery to remove the rest of my thyroid and then most likely radioactive iodine treatment to “zap” the rest of the cancer. OK. While not the news I wanted, I figured I can deal with that – as long as there is a plan.

I got back to my car and wondered how I was going to tell my parents. And what about work? And what about my friends and colleagues who had sent me prayers and positive messages? Was it all for naught? I had no idea what to say. And I was scared.

My Mom was remarkably composed and I was so grateful. She immediately reassured me that we would get through all of this together, and my sister pledged her neverending support as well. My boss was equally as composed and supportive. She reminded me to just take things one day at a time, and to ask for whatever I need. Throughout all of this, I think having such calm and steady support really helped me to stay task-oriented and not catastrophize too much.

I got into “action mode.”