You’d think going to the hospital for a radioactive pill would be dramatic. You’d think a week of isolation would be dramatic. You might think that, because it wasn’t dramatic, making your body a toxic-waste processing plant would be a piece of cake.
All of that thinking would be incorrect.
RAI was uneventful. Monday I swallowed a tracer dose of radiation. Tuesday I had two gamma-camera images to see where the dose was taken up, and the treatment dose was discussed, agreed upon, ordered, messengered, and given to me. No spaceman suits, no E.T.-style plastic tunnels. A lead pill jar, but that’s about it.
My body did not approve. My salivary glands were sore and swollen, the incision area was sore and stiff, I was nauseous and exhausted and waterlogged. (Three liters a day – hydration is how you get the excess radiation through the body.) Later, my voice got hoarse again, as it did after surgery (makes sense, since the area was changing shape again). But it all eventually passed throughout the week of isolation. (I notice that tiredness is my main symptom for everything. Whether I’m fighting off or recovering, if my body is working against something, it’s all in how tired I am.) You can develop additional symptoms in the days or weeks following, but so far, I’m okay.
They said that isolation could be depressing and at times it was. I’m used to living alone, which helped. Social media, paradoxically, made it worse at times. (I feel a detox coming.) What I found hard was when I couldn’t help thinking about everything that’s happened since February 7… and all of the things that could still happen, and all of the things that might never happen. I know, and have seen, a lot to be afraid of. But of course that’s unhelpful, and it did pass.
Anyway. The follow-up gamma-camera images show that the RAI took up in the thyroid bed – meaning that the radiation did its job and got sucked up by the leftover thyroid cells. This is good for two reasons. One, it didn’t go anywhere else, which implies that there don’t seem to have been any other thyroid cancer patches anywhere else that the surgery missed. Two, it’s good to kill off the “residue” of where my thyroid was, because it leaves a blank slate. If I have no thyroid/thyroid cancer cells left anywhere, my thyroglobulin levels will zero out and that should stay like that forever. Therefore, I’ll get blood work periodically to check that. Also to check that my TSH is staying suppressed. And a few ultrasounds to ensure nothing looks odd. That’s the plan from here on out.
There is no official “we’re done.” There is no official “it worked.” Neither of those things can really be said, not now, and not ever. Thyroid cancer is a bit unusual in that, as I understand it, the recurrence rates don’t change over time. So it’s not like other cases where, if all is quiet for a certain number of years, they say you’re cured. All that can be said right now is that I have another week of disability to get back up to normal, and then I can go back to (new) normal life. So that’s all I’ve got to say for now.
But I’ll take it.
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Background on these interesting times:
First post – Diagnosis
Update 1 – The plan / fear
Update 2 – Giving blood
Update 3 – Post-surgery
Update 4 – The other half of the time
Update 5 – Summer is icumen in (infection)
Update 6 – Grossly unremarkable
Update 7 – All about RAI
Update 8 – Withdrawing