Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Can I Do...

I haven't written about my mother's battle with cancer for some time. I kept starting and then I would stop, then start and then stop. Two weeks ago, I started and stopped.

Today I decided I should finish, only I can't. If you are a Tweep or a Facebook Friend you know that last week my mother lost her battle with thyroid cancer. It was a long and very brave battle!

When L was 5 months old, mom had her thyroid removed and underwent radioactive iodine treatment. Twice.

We thought that was it. Hormone replacement for life and all was well.

Until she underwent pre-op testing for a cervical corpectomy about 5 years ago and a routine chest x-ray turned up some strange spots. A PET scan, an MRI and a lung biospy,  and countless doctor visits later we knew... thyroid cancer... again.

After specialized radio-iodine failed to achieve the results we hoped for, we were out of options. Mom had always said she wouldn't do a clinical trial. She had seen patients who had been subjected to all sorts of experimental drugs. A good friend had participated in a few studies for breast cancer and had cautioned mom on the trials of a clinical trial. She had always said she wouldn't be a lab rat. It just wasn't what she wanted.

My mother changed her mind.

I know what or rather who swayed her. She was a 2 years old blondie with screaming blue eyes and she ran over to us in the waiting room at the super Endo's office one morning and squatted down, covered her eyes, and yelled "peek a boo!" and then burst into a riot of giggles. Her mother came over to collect her, a healing surgery scar and a worn out look in her eyes.

In that moment, I knew my mother was going to try the experimental chemo. People don't go see the super Endo, when their cancer is under-control. My mom was seeing visions of that happy little girl growing up without her mama. Mom was also very worried about L and I... and my brother - altho thyroid cancer affects men less frequently -  in fact she was worried about us in the last days of her life. Some thyroid cancers are genetic. I already have autoimmune issues and while L is still young, mom worried.

The chemo was tough, but it worked for awhile. The side effects became too much and the effectiveness questionable.

The cancer had won. We all knew it and we set about enjoying the last weeks and months. The end came sooner than we expected. We knew we were driving down a tunnel with no light at the end, but neither my brother or I knew how close to impact we were.

So now we are sitting quietly, thinking, assessing and figuring out how one goes on.

I have to say my friends and loved ones - my family - has been amazing. We have been well loved, well fed, we are basking in all the energy people have sent our way.

That said - I do want something. I have an answer to the question - "Is there anything I can do?" Today during YOGA it came to me - this is what everyone can do for me.  Learn about your thyroid. Learn about the signs of thyroid cancer. Don't ignore feelings of fatigue, a persistent sore throat, sudden weight changes and changes to your skin and hair.

If you feel off - see your doctor. Ask about a thyroid check. There is no way to know what the outcome would have been had my mother not taken the "oh it is early menopause" as an explanation early on...

So that is what you can all do... promise me you will take care of your thyroids. Women are more likely to develop thyroid cancer but it does occur in men. In fact the men in the clinical trial were showing wonderful results on the study drug... the women, not as much.

Sure we all burn the candle at both ends sometimes. Sometimes we drink too much, sleep too little, say "NO" too infrequently - but being tired is very different than feeling fatigued or so exhausted you can't move.

The down side of all of this is some problems with the thyroid are largely asymptomatic. So next time you have a physical, visit your doctor, or have blood work done, ask your doctor to tack on a thyroid panel. It can't hurt.

At least have the conversation - because that is what you all can do for me!

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