Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Getting Ready to Glow

Yesterday I spent all day feeling so afraid that I couldn’t even write. All I wanted to do was go to sleep.

Last year I had half my thyroid removed with papillary cancer. Recently I had the remaining half removed, this time with no malignancy. However, I have to follow this up with a radioactive iodine treatment to make sure all thyroid cells and potential cancer cells are destroyed.

In preparation for this procedure, I must be on a special low-iodine diet and must discontinue taking Synthroid, the artificial substitute for thyroid hormone which I take because my body no longer has the capacity to manufacture this necessary hormone. You cannot believe all the foods that contain iodine: most regular table salt, all dairy products, soy products, all processed foods, potato skins. So the general rule of thumb is that if I didn’t cook it, I can’t eat it. The diet, as much as I have complained about it, is simply an annoyance, and one that I am learning to live with. The good news is that I am saving a lot of money at Starbucks because lattes are out! But because of the lack of thyroid hormone, I may experience extreme lethargy after my body realizes what it is missing.

So how does this treatment work? On January 9, I simply take a little pill of liquid radiation. Sounds simple enough. But I met with a doctor in the Nuclear Medicine Department of Washington Hospital Center today to go over the details of the schedule for this procedure and to hear all the possible side effects and I was really CREEPED OUT by the whole thing.

First of all, the NM Department at WHC is hidden in the bowels of the hospital on an isolated corridor that ends with this office. After we went over all the pre-scan rules and procedures – no solid food here, no liquids there, etc. – we got to the actual event. After I pop this little pill on January 9, I will be put in a room in isolation for at least 24 hours. When I asked what this room might be like, hoping for an Internet hookup, the doctor described it as covered in plastic, in case it became contaminated during my stay. That was the first time I audibly gulped. She went on to say that no one would be permitted into this room for the entire 24-hour period. I picture my food being slipped through a little hole in the door if someone remembers to feed me. My job will be to get rid of all the excess radioactivity that my body doesn’t need during my time in solitary confinement. I will need to suck on lemon candy around the clock to stimulate my salivary glands. She actually told me to bring an alarm clock to wake myself up every 90 minutes. I will need to drink large quantities of water. I will need to shower completely every 6 hours because radioactivity escapes even through your pores.

When my numbers go down sufficiently, they will let me go home. But it doesn’t end there. I will need to drive myself home. I can’t be within 3 feet of any living thing, including my dogs, for up to 5 days. I must use disposable products for all food and beverages. I must flush the toilet twice each time I use it. I must wash my linens when this period is over. I definitely can’t sleep with my husband!

And then we moved on to the possible side effects, most of which should be short-term:
– Altered taste sensation
– Tingling
– Body temperature fluctuations
– Nausea
– Decrease in blood count
– Lymphoma YIKES! This was the second big gulp. It turns out that it is only possible for people repeating this process, but just the mention was enough to freak me out!

There was no sympathy for my feeble attempts to say I’M SCARED AS HELL ABOUT THIS WHOLE THING!

As much as I tell myself,
– Be glad that your hair won’t fall out,
– There must have been thousands of people who have lived through this just fine,
– It will be over in just 3 weeks,

I was still feeling really worried about the upcoming events. I went home and wanted to just curl up in a little ball and go to sleep. My wonderful family – those people who had seemed so dysfunctional just 3 days ago – wouldn’t let that happen. They forced me to talk about all of this. My husband, in his typical fashion, went into research mode to determine the frequencies of the various side effects and to fill in the still-missing details of this bizarre chain of events. Everyone was pleasant to everyone else. I finally did go to sleep and I slipped immediately into a profound sleep.

As a friend reminded me, "The morning is more clever than the evening." I woke up rested and determined to focus on the end of this process and not everything leading up to the end. It will soon be just another thing that I dreaded that probably doesn’t turn out to be as bad as I have envisioned.


Blogger Velvet said...

I was going to ask if you could read a book while you are in isolation, but then I kept reading. Um, You can't touch or come close to anything for 5 days? That is insane! I feel so bad for you, I'm sorry you have to go through this.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Velvet -- I don't think there is any rule about my touching a book. It's just that it will probably need to be destroyed afterwards, so bring on the cheap beach novels. This is the time to read 'em! I am planning to take my laptop, otherwise I will go insane. I'm not sure if I will need to do anything to it afterwards to make it quit glowing -- hmmm, a good question.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Jamy said...

It sounds pretty damn scary to me!

Glossy magazines would seem to fit the bill too.

I'm glad you are taking care of yourself but YIKES.

5:03 PM  
Blogger always write said...

A stockpile of small (disposable) indulgences might give you something to look forward to each day. Maybe have your husband hang on to your Hannukah presents and give them to you while you're quarantined.

10:02 PM  
Blogger DC Cookie said...

Please keep us posted on this. We'll want to send cards...

10:34 PM  
Blogger chicgirl said...

I found you linked from Jamy's site. I wanted you to know I have a dear friend. He had testicular cancer at 20 and thyroid at 40 (papillary). He went through this treatment and a year later he is soooo healthy. He did say it was difficult but please remember that the effects you will see right afterward are very short-term. For me, cause i love him, it is hard to watch him continually be negative about his future. He is healthier and has more energy than many people I know. So, just keep thinking of a year from now when it is over and you feel great and took good care of yourself. Best of luck to you:)

9:24 AM  

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