A few months back, I noticed that it seemed like the medications I took in the morning were getting stuck in my throat. I’d go most of the morning feeling like I had a capsule in there that just wouldn’t go down. Then I noticed on mornings I forgot to take my medications that it still felt that way. I thought I’d massage my throat and see if it helped with the sensation any. In doing so, I found a rather large lump. It felt like about half the size of a golf ball.
Papillary Carcinoma and Me
(This blog entry contains medical information which is based on what I’ve read and what I’ve understood from my doctor’s words. It should not be construed as medical advice or in any way be used by anyone to make medical decisions I am not a doctor. I share this information both to help myself process what is happening to me and to give others who might receive the same diagnosis comfort from knowing they’re not alone in the world. Please consult a licensed medical professional rather than rely on anything you read in this blog.)
While in a doctor’s office about another issue, I asked him to examine the lump to see if it was anything I should worry about. He estimated its size and 2.4 centimeters in diameter. He ordered an ultrasound examination to get some idea what it was. The ultrasound showed that where he’d expected to find only fluid, there appeared to be some solid components. He said this wasn’t unusual, and that sometimes when a lump like that (which he told me was on my thyroid) grows quickly it can choke off healthy tissue, which then floats around inside it. To be safe, he ordered a “needle biopsy” or “fine needle aspiration” of the lump.
This morning, my wife and I got the results of the lab examination. It was thyroid cancer, more specifically “papillary carcinoma“. He said it was unusual to find actual cancerous cells in the biopsy. More often, they’re “unusual” cells that indicate the possible presence of cancer, but not actual cancerous cells.
Apparently, this particular type of thyroid cancer is very slow growing. He says I’ve probably had this lump in my throat for years and didn’t know it until it got large enough to interfere with my swallowing. Generally speaking, the prognosis for people who contract this particular variety of cancer is good. According to one web site I read, over 95% of the people diagnosed with papillary carcinoma are successfully treated and go on to live for many years. The success rate goes down depending on the size of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread, and other factors.
This news comes almost two weeks to the day that my mother passed away, and one week exactly after she was laid to rest after a long battle with melanoma. My doctor said that if you had to contract cancer and could choose which cancer you got, this would be one of the best choices because it’s relatively easily treated and treatment has a high success rate.
What’s in store for me from this point on begins with a pre-surgery certification by my primary doctor. That happens tomorrow. On October 7, the surgeon will remove my thyroid and any surrounding tissue that looks abnormal. There are risks to the surgery, including changes to my voice or possible damage to calcium-processing glands near the thyroid, along with all the usual surgery risks. I’ll spend one night in the hospital, unless there are complications, which aren’t likely. After that, I’ll spend 3-5 days at home recovering. At some point I’ll be given radioactive iodine. They do this because the cells in this particular cancer respond like normal thyroid cells, which absorb iodine readily. Any cancerous cells missed by the surgeon should, at least in theory, gobble up this radioactive iodine and die off. After that, I should be cancer free and continue to live a normal life span, I’m told.
Somewhere in all this process, I’ll begin taking synthetic thyroid hormone to replace what I would have gotten from the now-missing thyroid. It will take some time to adjust the dosage to the right level for me, after which I’ll take that medication for the rest of my days.
As I understand this, the only way the prognosis could get “bad” is if this cancer has spread beyond the thyroid, into the bones or other organs. At this point, there’s no evidence that is the case, and I should be fine. I’ll know for sure (hopefully) within a couple of weeks.