National Cancer Survivor’s Day 2016

Happy National Cancer Survivor’s Day!!!

Seriously – we’ve made it! We’ve made it through surgery, treatment, and every emotionally and physically trying day since being diagnosed. This is NO easy feat – no matter what cancer you have or what stage it is. We are fighters, we are warriors but the best of all, we are survivors!!

So I just wanted to let you know what the word SURVIVOR means to me. But first we have to go back to shortly after my surgery, December of 2014. I was just getting home and adapting to my new life with no thyroid. I was on pain medication, muscle relaxers, my new thyroid replacement pill and and whole tray of additional medications. I remember both Spencer and my dad telling me “You’re a survivor!” (not to mention, many of my family and friends – they are just the ones telling me on a daily basis at home). Of course I “survived” surgery and I was going to beat the cancer, that so rudely came into my life and subjected me and my family to a year and a half of pain, tears, worries, stresses, and your can’t leave out the mountains of debt. But at the time, I thought Survivor meant I was in remission – but I hadn’t beat it yet, I wasn’t given a “No Evidence of Disease.” I remember the exact moment that I realized how wrong I truly was. I had just gone to my one  year check up following my radiation treatments (RAI), and I was glowing sitting in the waiting room because I just KNEW I would hear that there was “No Evidence of Disease” (NED) – because I fought so hard for 1 year and 4 months. Except that’s not what my Nuclear Medicine doctor told me at all. He said that I still had a small tumor or mass of Thyroid tissue behind my thyroid bed. He said it should have been gone, especially after the extremely high dose of the Radioactive Iodine (RAI) I was given one year before. I might need another dose or we might have to explore other options. I left that appointment feeling defeated; not to mention sad and angry and worried and a thousand other emotions! It was the next day that I was sick and tired of waiting to celebrate so I had my brother start drawing my tattoo. This was the tattoo I had been waiting to get until I was considered a “SURVIVOR” but it was that moment that I realized I didn’t need to wait. I had been a survivor all along. I was surviving every day since being diagnosed because that’s what it takes to get through it. Fighting and Surviving.

So today I celebrate the last one year, seven months and 17 days. I’ll be raising a glass tonight: for me, my ThyCa Sisters (and brothers), and all the amazing Survivors I know (and don’t know) in my life. This is for us!

To all of my Survivor friends and family, no matter the cancer, make this day special. Celebrate YOU – you are a SURVIVOR! Comment below what YOU are doing to celebrate! 🙂National_Cancer_Survivors_Day_2016-702x495

PS. I am loving that it’s exactly 6 days away from our Relay for Life. What a way to celebrate!!

Relay for Life Team: All Night for the Fight

Ok yall, it’s time for Relay for Life!!! I couldn’t be more thrilled to have our own team this year and it’s going to be AWESOME!

An introduction to Relay for Life:

I’m going to be completely honest, prior to being diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer, I had remembered hearing about it Relay for Life but had never participated in one. I was asked by my dear friend and neighbor last year to join her team, not truly understanding what it was all about. I can tell you, this experience was life changing. To see so many people coming together to help bring awareness, raise money, and support each other was just an incredible thing – and of course, it was FUN! Please, please, please come and hang out with us! 🙂

What is Relay for Life:

  • It’s an organized, overnight community fundraising walk for ALL cancers
  • Teams of people camp out around a track
  • Members of each team take turns walking around the track
  • Food, games, and activities provide entertainment and build camaraderie
  • Family-friendly environment for the entire community

What makes Relay for Life more awesome?

  • In more than 5,200 communities and 20 countries, Relay for Life events comprise the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, raising more than $400 million dollars.
  • Survivors Lap: All cancer survivors at the event take the first lap around the track, celebrating their victory over cancer while cheered on by other participants who line the track.
  • Luminaria Ceremony: Takes place after dark, so we can remember people we have lost to cancer, honor people who have fought cancer in the past, and support those whose fight continues. Candles are lit inside of personalized bags and are placed around the Relay track as glowing tributes to those who’ve been affected by cancer.
  • Fight Back Ceremony: This emotionally powerful ceremony inspires Relay participants to take action. The Fight Back Ceremony symbolizes the emotional commitment each of us can make in the fight against cancer. The action taken represents what we are willing to do for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for our community to fight cancer year-round and to commit to saving lives.

What to expect at a Relay Event?

  1. Relayers are welcomed in the Opening Ceremony.
  2. Relay starts with the Survivor Lap, when survivors walk to celebrate their victory over cancer.
  3. The Caregiver Lap recognizes those who have given care to cancer patients.
  4. All of the Relay teams are invited to walk together during the Opening Lap.
  5. Luminaria bags and candles are lit during the Luminaria Ceremony to honor loved ones who have passed or are fighting the disease.
  6. Individual Walking is observed throughout the night with Family Games, Activities, and Entertainment.
  7. The Fight Back Ceremony helps close the event. Relayers take a final lap and pledge to take action and spread awareness of cancer research, treatments, and prevention.

How can YOU help?

  • Join our team!! Seriously, it’s going to be a BLAST! Whether you can come for an hour or all night – come hang out, walk a couple laps with us and celebrate those that are fighting and honor those that we have lost.
  • Help raise money – share our team link (see below) to your Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media. It doesn’t matter if you can give back $5 or raise $50, anything helps!!
  • Donate a Luminaria Bag/Torch – You can choose to decorate a bag (see me for details) or you can purchase online and the event will have a bag for you lining the track, including “In Honor Of”, “In Memory Of”, or “In Support Of”.
    • White Luminaria Bag – $10 (or 3 for $25)
    • Blue Luminaria Bag – 3 for $25
    • Tiki Torch of Hope – $30 (or $35 includes a keepsake)
  • Come support us!! Even if you aren’t interested in walking with our team, just come be apart of this fantatic opportunity – come watch the opening ceremony, have a few laughs, etc. Just come, but I’m going to warn you, the energy is contagious and you might not want to leave! 🙂

Event Day Logistics

  • When: Saturday, June 11, 2016 from 6pm to 7am
  • Where: Fauquier High School (702 Waterloo Road, Warrenton, VA)
  • What should I pack? folding chair, a change of clothes, a blanket/pillow, warm clothes (in case it gets chilly), bug spray, and snacks.
  • Where to meet? we have a tent set up – you just have to look for our sign with team name: All Night for the Fight!
  • Are you a Survivor? Make sure you sign up online as one so you can receive the t-shirt. And please come early to receive your complimentary food in the Survivor tent.
  • Food/Drinks? Yes there will be vendors/other teams selling food/drinks and of course, there will be water provided for participants.
  • Bathrooms? There are bathrooms on site – duh! 😉
  • Kids? Of course! You are never too young to Relay! Just make sure you bring all the necessities! And if your child under 18 years of and will be walking, be sure to bring your signed Youth Participant Agreement to the Registration table.
  • Do I have to walk the whole time?? NO! In order to represent the fact that “Cancer never sleeps”, we ask that each team has a representative walking the track at all times. This should not be just one person – team members can take shifts!
  • Want to sleep? You are more than welcome to take a nap in the tent, OR go home, take a name and come back! Participants are not required to stay up all night.

Relay for LIfe

Thank yall for taking the time to read this. I just wanted to answer any questions that you might have about this amazing event and hope to see YOU there! 🙂

Our Team Link: 

http://main.acsevents.org/goto/FauquierAllNightfortheFight 

Today Marks 1 Year

Well this is a day that has been on my mind for quite a while now and of course, with very mixed emotions. I remember the night before my surgery last year, I couldn’t wait to get all this behind me and I just kept thinking ahead, to be able to celebrate the one year mark because I knew everything was going to be so much better by then. It’s definitely been a roller coaster of events over the last year – from surgery to radiation, the constant change in medications, and the never ending doctors visits. But this was just a small moment in my journey…..

We all change with all the trials and tribulations we have in life. More than anything, I know that I am stronger. Every time I didn’t think I could handle any more bad news or another scan or test, I held it together. With every prick of the needle or side effect I had to endure, I held it together. With every question that I got from my kids asking if Mommy was going to be ok, I held it together. But just like with any process, you have to learn to let go too. And I did – many, many times. I can’t even begin to count the amount of times that I just broke down and cried, over every little thing. I tried to fight it once I got past the initial shock of the word “cancer”, but then I realized that’s just all part of the journey – knowing it’s ok to have good days AND bad days. There were days that I didn’t want to get out of the bed, there were days that I got the kids off to school then crawled right back in bed to just cry. BUT THEN, there were other days that I drove home and belted out & at the top of my lungs “Fight Song” because that’s what I needed to get through that moment in time when I thought I was done putting forth the energy to keep going and fighting. I have had to learn that I can’t have control over everything, no matter how hard I try. You just have to go with the flow and know that everything happens for a reason, but for that same reason, you have to learn when to fight and when to let go. There were days that I would give in and other days that I would fight to no end. I have learned that you can’t get through something like this alone – and makes me that much more appreciative for all of my amazing family and friends that stood by me every second of every day and gave me that push when I needed it or the shoulder to cry on when I needed it more.

In the recent weeks, my hormone meds were increased and with every change in medication, it takes time for things to get adjusted. But the more and more they kept my Thyroid hormones suppressed, the harder the side effects were to deal with. I felt like I was taking 10 steps back to 6 months ago when everything was out of control. I was finally starting to get into a routine and getting to feel a sense of normalcy prior to this last change. So when I got the call that my TSH numbers were going up and they needed to increase my meds to keep things leveled out, I just lost it. I didn’t want to go through all that again. The exhaustion, muscle cramps, the shakes that never went away, heart palpitations, unable to catch my breath, extreme hot flashes that would last hours, massive hair loss (resulting to falling out in clumps) and unable to keep my thoughts on anything. All of this brought my anxiety back with a vengeance, which in turn, intensified with each of these side effects.

So with all this being said, I was having a hard time thinking how I was going to “celebrate” today when I felt I couldn’t be happy with my current state. So without coming off like I had nothing to be grateful for, I then realized, I just need keep moving and know that all is going to be ok. So for now I can appreciate the journey over the last year because I am still here and that can not be said by all those who have been diagnosed. Today is going to be an emotional day for me and I might not want to do anything this year but that’s ok. Maybe next year I will think of something to do in honor of this day.

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Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month 2015

I just can’t believe I’ve been on this ThyCa journey for just over 10 months now. And now with Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month here – I wanted to think back for a minute.

I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer on October 23, 2014 and what an eventful 10 months it’s been. As I said in one of my firsts posts on this blog, I didn’t even know what the Thyroid was, much less what it controlled in my body. I believe wholeheartedly that everything happens for a reason and we are all put through trials and tribulations in our life to test how strong we are and to prove that we can overcome just about anything we put our minds to. Obviously, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone because the lack of a thyroid causes a battle that you body fights on a daily basis. But with time, patience, and the right Endocrinologist to back you – it is possible to get your hormones stabilized to feel somewhat “normal” again.

With all this being said, I urge everyone to know their bodies and trust their gut if you feel that something is “off” or wrong. You know your body better than anyone else and you don’t need a degree to know that something needs to be checked. I went to my doctor for 3 years straight complaining of my weight being an issue and the fact that it didn’t matter what I did or changed, I couldn’t lose anything. I have always had a really good metabolism so this was definitely a new thing. Of course, the first thing he did was have my thyroid levels checked but there is now research that states that all of your thyroid levels may or may not reflect any change or dysfunction if you have Thyroid Cancer. Your levels only tell if and/or how your thyroid is functioning, not necessarily will it detect cancer. So that is part of the reason why my doctors think that I probably had ThyCa for over 4 or 5 years without knowing. So that’s why we must trust our instincts and not give up when you question something.

So this September, I urge you to check your necks!!! 🙂

A graphic showing the location of they thyroid and how to perform a self-check.

A graphic showing the location of they thyroid and how to perform a self-check.

Symptoms….The Daily Struggles

I think the hardest part of hearing “you have the good cancer” was not just because there is NO good cancer or that the word “good” and “cancer” should never be allowed to be in the same sentence. But because there are daily struggles that even I didn’t realize I would end up dealing with on a daily basis. I thought when I had my surgery and I had my radiation, my fight would be done. Over. But that has definitely not been the case. I’m not saying there aren’t other cases that aren’t by far more difficult, I’m just saying, mine isn’t “easy” like some might say.

Prior to finding out about my Cancer, I honestly don’t think I knew what the functions of the Thyroid was, much less where it was in my body – might sounds silly, I know. I knew I had heard many people mention they blamed their thyroid for their weight issues but I didn’t even know what that meant. But boy did I have a lot to learn!

I think one of the hardest parts of the last few months is the constant doctors appointments to figure out what a new symptom or side effect meant. I just recently started getting migraines (for the first time since High School) a few months ago – I know what a migraine feels like and these felt slightly different and by different, I mean I was losing vision in my left eye. And with my new “medical history” I talked to my Primary and he referred me to a Neurologist who conducted a MRI of the brain. They did find a small spot but they said it was consistent with those that had migraines. They also said that people that have migraines will have them come and go with their hormones – they will come around puberty, around the time you start having babies, then finally back around menopause. Makes sense. In the mean time, I am put on preventative migraine medication to hopefully get rid of these horrible migraines!! Of course we just wanted to ensure it was just a coincidence with the timing (they started about 4 weeks after being diagnosed). They did, of course, say some could be stress related as well – but hopefully that will change with time.

During the removal of your Thyroid, there are great chances of damaging or the need to remove your parathyroids. There are a total of 4, 2 on the top and 2 on the bottom near your Thyroid, which control your calcium and magnesium (among many other things in your body). I was VERY lucky that my surgeon was able to work around mine without having any issues. Sometimes, if there is any damage – they can actually chop it into little pieces and implant it into your shoulder muscles and it will regrow and function normally – how COOL is that?!?! It’s crazy how your body works!! Anyways, so after surgery, your body goes into “shock” and your calcium dips so most everyone is put on calcium supplements and that is why most with more extensive surgeries – to include the Total Thyroidectomy and Neck Dissections they will keep you over night to monitor your levels. My calcium was checked about a week after surgery and my levels were actually higher than “normal” levels which is great so I was taken off the additional supplement and back to just taking my “one-a-day” vitamin. Some of the symptoms of a calcium deficiency is numbing and tingling of the face, finger tips and toes. If it persists, it can quickly turn into muscle cramps or spasms, joint pain, and weakness all over. If it goes untreated, you will end up in the hospital and can have seizures or even heart attacks. Very scary! So when I started experiencing the numbing/tingling about 4 different days this past week and taking additional calcium didn’t help, I decided to consult with my doctor. After a long talk, I found out the following information: because of my cancer, she needs to suppress my body to create “hyperthyroidism” to make sure my body doesn’t produce Thyroid tissue that could end up making my cancer reoccur later in life (which I knew that part). That brings on a whole new set of symptoms (in addition to the ones listed below) and one of the main one is anxiety. Apparently with the anxiety attacks that I knew I’d been having but didn’t want to talk to her (or anyone) about because I lead myself to believe that I was becoming a hypochondriac due to the fact that all these symptoms kept coming up – which she very quickly said I wasn’t making them up and all these symptoms were very real and that it was important that I discuss them with her and others to know what was going on. But the anxiety attacks I was having were causing the calcium deficiencies. So more tests needs to be done to see what my calcium levels are and what supplements I need to be put on in the mean time. I was told to make another appointment with my primary to discuss the anxiety medicine I will be going on. So long story shorty – know you body and trust your instincts.

I know there are many symptoms that people are affected by when they are either hyper/hypo or have no thyroid. The below list are just those symptoms that I have personally struggled with. I just want to put this out there now: this is NOT a pity party in no way, shape or form. I have good days and bad days just like every one else. I just wanted to explain the reasons why the struggle is much harder than a quick surgery to remove the cancer because that is almost NEVER the case. I just wanted someone to take me seriously when I say I’m tired, a nap may not fix that. Or if I’m just out of sorts today, I might just need some time to myself.

Symptoms:

WEIGHT (Hypo/No Thyroid): For the last several years I have struggled with weight gain and that was what made me continue to follow up with my doctor. I have always had pretty good metabolism so I knew there were some issues somewhere. I would diet for weeks, exercise, and try everything with no satisfaction – I would only gain weight. It ended up gaining about 45 pounds in about 4 years.

HAIR (Hyper/Hypo/No Thyroid): I’m pretty sure if I’ve showered at anyone’s house they would know what I’m talking about – I could clog the drain in the shower in the matter of 2 days or cover the floor of someone’s bathroom just after blowdrying my hair. Every day I would just run my hands through my hair to put out enough to make a wig. It was very depressing and knew it was always a matter of time before I would go bald! Not to mention, needing a hair trim after just a couple weeks because it would get so dry and frail (even when not using my straightener).

HEADACHES (Hyper/Hypo/No Thyroid): I have always had pretty bad headaches all my life and I’m sure some of them might be stress related but I have been told that they can be hormone related too. With all the hormones in my body that are going crazy (or the lack there of) it wouldn’t be out of the norm to experience it for that reason.

SKIN (Hypo/No Thyroid): I know most people deal with dry skin, especially in the winter, but you know how your hands and face can crack they are so dry? Well I have gotten that on my knees, feet, and elbows – and even a few times on my shins! It’s not fun and doesn’t matter how much lotion I put on, my skin is always extremely dry and itchy year round.

SENSITIVE TO COLD (Hypo/No Thyroid): I often times carry around a blanket (and now a heater) from room to room in my house. My Hubby is very hot natured so I normally have to double up on the sweatshirts/pants/blankets when he is around lol. It is always like a feverish cold to where you can’t get warm – another reason I prefer to always live in the South!

FATIGUE (Hypo/No Thyroid): I know as a parent (especially a Mom) we just keep going until we collapse but I feel this especially that much more true with hypothyroidism (or without a Thyroid). I feel exhausted all that time and all it takes for me to sit down for me to fall asleep on the couch. If I could sleep standing up, I’m sure I would. I can get 2 hours or 12 hours of sleep – I will still be exhausted – nothing seems to help.

CHANGES IN MENSTRUAL CYCLE (Hyper/Hypo/No Thyroid): For a woman, this is a big deal in so many ways. The hormones need to be consistent in your body to remain stable and if they are constantly off, then they can create many problems – that can be with your moods, as well as fertility. This, for obvious reason, can keep you from becoming pregnant or cause you to have miscarriages.

CONSTIPATION (Hypo/No Thyroid): This might be TMI so I’ll keep it short….plain and simple – it happen and it hurts. This can affect your eating and your digestive tract and can pack you up for days on end. Not only does your Thyroid cause you to be constipated, once you have your Thyroid removed, some of the medications you are put on following your surgery, also causes it so it’s a double whammy.

DEPRESSION (Hyper/Hypo/No Thyroid): I think one of the worst symptoms (thankfully one that I have yet experience) is depression. I know that your Thyroid controls most of your hormones and depression is a big one. Often times you feel so alone through these struggles and even with all the support I have – you feel like you are going crazy and might be making it up in your head. I know that I am NOT depressed but like I said, when you are going through this battle, it is so easy to fall into this hole where you just don’t think you have the strength to get out of bed that day. I know everyone has these days – especially nasty rainy Mondays, but imagine if you had these a few times a month. It can make it hard to relate sometimes. If you are struggling with something, maybe with conceiving or even with depression then it’s hard to be around someone with a new baby or someone that is extremely happy. So I feel like it might be really easy to fall into that.

I would love to know if anyone else out there has any other bad symptoms they feel like it’s worth adding? I know there are a few other big ones but I just have been affected by it!

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Total Thyroidectomy and Left Neck Dissection – Surgery Pre-Op

So once I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer and they confirmed the nodules were on all sides of the Thyroid, they decided to remove the entire Thyroid rather than just one lobe (or one half). During the ultrasound, they also discovered that my lymph nodes were affected to the point that they knew it was going to be an extensive surgery. I met with one of the most highly recommended Surgeons in the D.C. Metro to discuss – he informed me that all of my lymph nodes on the central and left side of my neck are abnormal and would need to be removed. I would need to get a hockey stick shaped incision starting with the normal Thyroid incision going across my throat and up to just below my ear. I knew it was going to be hard but when he said it was going to be a 4 week long recovery time I just couldn’t believe it. He said in order to remove the lymph nodes on the far left side of my neck and under my muscle, they would need to pull and clamp my muscle back for a certain length of time. This would cause major discomfort in my neck, shoulder, and arm. I would lose some movement and strength. Of course I knew it was going to be hard but I truly didn’t know what to expect. Surgery was expected for 12/1 with an estimated 2 night stay.

It was Black Friday (the Friday before my surgery) that I received my Nurse call to discuss surgery logistics – they wanted to make sure I was scheduled and ready to go for Wednesday, 12/3….ummmm what?! NO – I’m scheduled for 12/1!!! UGH yes, they rescheduled me without telling me and I had my parents who flew in for the surgery and made arrangements based on these dates, which included my kids being taken care of, my Hubby taking off of work, and my sanity haha. I know it was only two day but my life was already turned upside down – the only thing I wanted was some stability!

Pre-Surgery - Thumbs Up

The morning of my surgery I tossed and turned all night – I planned a huge post for FB so my Hubby could easily keep everyone updated and I started a mass group test so he could keep our closest family and friends updated with update from the doctor and nurses. But I have to say that the best part of my support was the day of my surgery seeing all the notifications that kept popping up on my phone. It was my “village” posting on FB and texting me saying they were thinking about me. I pretty much cried the whole way to the hospital and read each one to my Hubby. In case yall didn’t know – it meant the WORLD to me!!! Just some of the things that were sent to me:

No One Fights Alone Band Support for Kat Brady Thyroid Cancer Ribbon Thyroid Cancer - Warrior

Either way, I made it to my surgery on 12/3, with all kinds of butterflies in my stomach (and the remaining one in my neck for the remaining hours – haha I got jokes). My Daddy and Step-Mom held down the fort at home with my kiddos while my Hubby and MIL took me to the hospital. It was a long wait of checking in, then changing wearing my awesome “party hat” (aka hair net), and waiting for the surgeon and anesthesiologist to come by and let me know the plan. FINALLY after a couple gruesome hours they asked what my favorite cocktail was – which anyone who knows me, is a SoCo and Coke so that’s what she told me to thinking about when she put the “cocktail” in my IV while wheeling me off.

I have to say, when I woke up in recovery, it was just like the movies – I thought I heard people talking about me. I barely moved and then all I felt was excruciating pain. I couldn’t talk – just cry. The Nurse came by and told me to hang tight and she was getting more pain meds for me. All I wanted was my Hubby to come and tell me everything was going to be ok. I heard her talking to him saying I wasn’t ready and I just couldn’t get the words out that I needed him. She asked if I needed anything else, so I finally was able to ask when I could see him – she smiled and said he could now. I was so relieved to see him and my MIL. To have someone to hold my hand and it meant everything to have them there.

Eventually I made it to my own room – and I’m not sure how because the man that wheeled me in the bed did NOT make it easy. I’m pretty sure we bounced off each and every wall available between the recovery floor up to the main floor; and there are a LOT of walls, doors, elevator doors, etc!! Haha it made for a good laugh later after the fact (especially for the two following behind me)! Got settled into my room for a very long and uncomfortable night. Once I was situated, my Hubby was starving and offered to grab me some ice cream as I wanted to try but didn’t know what I could handle at the time. Eventually I gave in to the fries with a Frosty and it was the perfect duo following my surgery! Kinda like me and Hubby – I seriously don’t know what I would have done without him by my side!

Now on to recovery…. 🙂