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The Last Cancer Treatment

The tiny radioactive pill I took at UCLA Nuclear Medicine.

A couple years have gone by since I wrote The Cancer Effect, where I share the details of my thyroid cancer experience. As rough as it was, the saga didn’t come to an end until last Friday. See, my endocrinologist had me go through radioactive dye treatment three times after having my thyroid (and one parathyroid) removed.

It’s not so much the radioactive dye treatment part of the process that’s hard, but the low iodine diet that comes for the full three weeks beforehand. The diet lowers your iodine reserves, so when you take the radiation pill, those reserves suck up the pill. When you come back the following day for your full body scan, the doctor is able to see where the dye went and the radiation then tracks and destroys any thyroid cells left in the body.

As I prepared for the worst few weeks of my life by getting ready to clear out my refrigerator and pantry in order to have no temptation to break the low iodine diet, I received a call from nuclear medicine. “Oh, you don’t have to do the diet this time,” the lady said. “The previous two times you did the treatment were a stronger dose. This last one is much smaller, so the diet is not required.” My sigh of relief could be heard from down the hall, or read about on my social media platforms.

Because it’s been two years since my last treatment, there was one important detail I forgot, and another one I am thankful I remembered. I forgot that thyrogen injections make me very sleepy, so I didn’t understand why I was so tired after going to Costco on the way home from receiving the first thyrogen injection. When the nurse reminded me of the side effects the following day when I went in to get my second injection, I made a point of taking it easy when I got home. What I did remember was how freezing the scan room was, so I doubled-down by layering a sweat-suit over my athletic clothes. My tiny doctor looked at me and laughed. She said, “That’s genius! No one has ever done that.”

Only my hands got cold. I consider that a victory.

The rest of the week was a tired blur. I tried to conduct myself as if life was normal, versus giving my body time to recover. I paid for it over the weekend, and am now back to normal.

As I get to close the final chapter on this not-so-fun life experience, I am reminded of the friend who was diagnosed with cancer the same time as me, and how her monitoring doctor appointments will continue annually for the rest of her life. I also acknowledge that although I get to move on, I have another friend who is dealing with breast cancer for the second time and another who was dealt the cancer card from the “terminal” card deck. For these people, I will always be a soundboard as I know how it feels to need to vent about something in which most people can’t relate. Because the worst thing than going through a painful experience is being surrounded by people who sympathize but don’t understand. Sympathy is never needed. It’s emotional strength that carries us through to whatever end.

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