I'm taking my own advice, or trying to. The other day, my daughter was trying to tell me the story behind her drawings (she draws a lot), and came to a part where she couldn't figure out how to continue the story. "And then... and then..." she kept saying. So I said "You're stuck, aren't you? Sometimes telling a story is hard, but you gotta keep trying,"
So here is the end of the cancer story, for the time being. I'm having a problem finding the words, or even believing that I have anything worthwhile to share or say. That said, I feel kinda stuck, so if nothing else, getting it out there will hopefully get me unstuck and ready to move on (to that now probably perennially neglected master's thesis).
After the thyroid was gone, and the replacement hormone adjusted, all that I had left was figuring out whether I wanted to get Iodine treatment to make sure all the cancer is gone. In my case, since the thyroid went and the lymph nodes to which the cancer had begun to spread (!!!!) were also taken out with the same operation) a thyroid treatment afterward was not, strictly speaking, necessary, according to my endocrinologist. "It's really up to you, at this point.". Faced with the choices of "wait a year and see what the scan says" and "get this treatment that can kill off any thyroid cells accidentally left behind while you wait for next year's scan", I chose the latter, in spite of it being an added pain in the ass treatment (more on that later).
My prognosis thus far is that if I take the proper care, I might be cancer free for 20 years or more. Or I might not, if I'm extra unlucky. This particular health scare might not have large repercussions other than being a painful reminder of the fact that my stay on Earth, like any other's, does not come with a particular guarantee, so I should make the most of it. For me the most of it now has become "see my family through my children's adulthood at the very least". In that sense, Iodine treatment gives me the peace of mind that I've tried my best to get there.
I-131, or Iodine Radiation Treatment, involves getting large quantities of thyroid stimulating hormones injected intravenously to stimulate leftover thyroid cells (or the whole thyroid, when this treatment is a starting point) to produce extra iodine to meet the thyroidal demand. Once the cells are chock full of iodine, a radiation dose sufficient to attack it is administered orally. Literally a poison pill. The compound given specifically targets iodine and makes it decay, but the side effect is that it destroys the cells harboring it. Perversely enough, that's the aim of the treatment, to kill off any leftover thyroid cells. Other cells in the body do not store iodine, so they would be left alone by the radioactive substances.
The only real inconvenient parts to this were (a) being on a iodine free diet for 2 weeks beforehand, and (b) a strict isolation period of 48 hours, followed by another 24-72 hours of keeping people at arm's length so they wouldn't accidentally be exposed to irradiated excretions (i.e., my sweat, mostly).
Iodine diets, quite literally, are tasteless. Since a lot of foods naturally contain iodine (cheese, green leafy veggies, milk, bread) or have salt with added iodine (chocolate, sweet breads, virtually anything packaged, like deli), that left me quite literally with rice, fruit, animal protein, and pasta as long as it wasn't salted. It was a minor sacrifice, but definitely not fun, especially as the first of those weeks coincided with my daughter's birthday and Halloween. I made the husband save me a bag of Halloween chocolate, and pined away for it the whole time.
The isolation was more of a pain. For about 48 hours I was basically in a room that was covered with cellophane-like wrappings, and only had access to a TV and my cellphone for company. This was preferable somehow to holing up in my own house, because hell hath no fury like a 2 year old who wants mommy and can't get her. So at the tune of over $40K (thankfully mostly covered by insurance) I spent two very boring days in a hospital having nothing but steamed veggies and various proteins.
The boredom wasn't even the worst part. The worst part was that I was supposed to have lemon drops in order to stimulate salivation so to avoid the possible side effect of dry mouth and nausea. Now, I've professed here and elsewhere my weird love of old timey and grandmother-ish candy before. Anise? Love! Licorice? Could eat it all day. Ginger candy? Where do I line up? --- That said, about 24 hours in, I was sick of the lemon drops. In fact, I could happily live without ever tasting a lemon drop again. Yuck.
I must have changed that around half a dozen times before being discharged from the hospital. The nurses/meal delivery staff/doctors opened the door as little as possible and did not cross the threshold. My radiation levels were measured from this 6 foot distance once a day. While my levels were technically pretty low 24 hours in, I couldn't be discharged before the 48 hours elapsed for the usual legal reasons.
I also get to carry a hospital issued certificate with me for the next three months in the event I were to travel or go into a government building for the next three months, since apparently I am liable to set off any metal detectors equipped to sense low level radiation (i.e., detect bomb-making components). As I told the receptionist at my daughter's speech therapy office the following week: "As far as radiation-caused special powers, this one is actually pretty boring."
But hey, 99% likelihood I won't have to do this again next year, from the way things look. I'll take that. Additionally, if that turns out to be true, the likelihood that I won't have to worry about any recurring or new cancer within the next 20 years is also raised. So now, after a couple of chocolate and cheese binges, I'm going back to trying to eat healthy and stay as healthy as I can with a toddler around.*
* I already had my first bout of gastroenteritis for the winter. Yay me!