1 a day, every day…..

By Posted in - Personal on July 29th, 2008
me

Me before thyroid cancer – fun & normal weight

A travel blog with more blogs about sickness than new countries, new languages & new experiences.

Yuck.

I started feeling like I just can’t write what I intended to write on here until I get some of the things going on in my life out of my head. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Dec ’07 when planning a trip around the world. This blog is still about travel but it’s also about me and I’ve been sidetracked lately. When I first found out about the cancer, I did what every sick person knows is completely wrong but cannot help anyway – I looked online. I learned a lot and worried a lot more than needed but one thing I remember is reading the blog of a woman who had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer (there aren’t many) a couple years earlier than me and had the same pattern of illness before she found out what was wrong. I started thinking today, from reading my pal Adrian’s wonderful blog, that maybe I should write my little blip in the cancer story world down. I never intended to do this but decided to today just in case someone like me, 2 years from now is doing the same search I did last year.

If you haven’t visited Adrian’s site, now is the time to do it. You’ll probably never be the same after you read it. In fact, you might be inspired and do something awesome today, tomorrow or next year. In any case, this will make Adrian very happy! So check it out.

Back to Beers and Beans.

I can guarantee you this: This is a travel blog and will always be one. I will be taking my trip, I just don’t know exactly when. My sidebar still has a countdown ticker from back in the day when I put it on there. I thought for a while I could keep going with that countdown but I know now it won’t happen until I can get everything in the health dept. straightened out, which could take a little longer than I thought. The travel beauty of the blog is kinda on vacation right now (she went to hang out in the Swiss Alps for a bit until I sort things out) but do not kid yourself, my friends, this IS a travel blog.

My little blip part 1:

Been a little frustrated lately with my blogging habits. I don’t know if I’m just not the daily blogger type or if I’m just bothered that I can’t figure out how to shrink the text down to normal in my sidebar but I haven’t been using this site as much as I should. Considering I spent MONTHS building it with tons of help from Ms. Brooke-tastic and I need to start paying more attention to it. I guess the other thing is that when I first came up with the idea for this site I was months away from knowing that I had some bummer health problems, so it really was meant to be a travel site, with my grand hopes that I could maybe gets ads on it and make money on the road. Freedom. I hoped maybe eventually it could become a great resource for other people looking to do the same thing. In retrospect I was a bit obsessed. I think I drove Randy absolutely insane with my blog ideas of “a beer a day review” and the “beans around the world” cookbook, just among some of them. There is even a ridiculous video of me and a sock puppet making the Holy Beanacado Super Yum recipe. Someday in the near future this video may surface.

I know, totally corny.

Still it gave me something to focus on and think about when my anxiety was out of control last year. Little did I know my body was working double time fighting off a growing cancer and autoimmune disease in my thyroid. I thought I was just really stressed out. Makes sense now why I couldn’t lose any weight and was gaining it by the bucket load, got that horrible stomach bacterial virus from a 5 day trip to Guatamala that no one else got, why I broke out in a major rash covering the top half of my body after putting on Tiger Balm (which i had used for years) because I cricked my neck doing logic puzzles in my bed on one of the days I was off work for said stomach bug, why the rash took over a week to go away and required many more days home from work and visits to the doctor, why I broke out in a horrible staph infection from my hike in Scotland and stay in London, why I had to go to urgent care several times last year for shots to calm the staph infection, why I constantly had sinus infections was under the weather and also why I simply could not stand the stress of work anymore and literally felt like I was losing my mind. I really felt that way, like I was going really crazy.

Seems so obvious now and I remember talking to my mom on the phone when i was randomly sick and her telling me that I needed to get a full physical and that something wasn’t right. I totally ignored what she said because I hate needles and hospitals and all the things that go along with that. I really thought I was just stressed out. I figured it would go away after the stress was gone, most of which i related to work. Luckily, the company I worked for was on the verge of bankruptcy. Normally most people get bummed out when they are laid off.

Not me, I was ecstatic.

I was so happy I didn’t have to deal with it anymore. No more moronic managers, no more dealing with whiny underwriters and unappreciative clients. I think my problem at that job was that I seriously cared about my clients and went way too far out of my way to help them. It was such a blow to me when they lost trust or went to someone else for a lower rate. Not only did it hurt my feelings but also hurt my pocketbook because I was 100% commission, which only added to the stress. The only thing I missed about work was the group of girls that I taught. I really loved being their team leader and when we had meetings we talked about personal goals instead of bullshit sales goals that we were supposed to be hitting. For the managers at work, nothing was ever good enough, if you hit your goals that meant you could’ve done more. When I landed a huge Mexico development, my mentor, the manager I thought of as a friend, didn’t even take the time to say congratulations. That really hurt. Needless to say, I was so happy when that place folded. It was great! I had my 3 little pet chickens in the yard, my sister and brother-in-law had just moved out from Boston to live with us and Randy and I used to surf in the mornings and eat “Papas Locos” at the cantina while watching the waves.

Good times.

I thought that in a month or so I would be footloose and fancy free and back to my old self. I had been carrying around a lot of loss as well from the 3 devastating deaths that happened in the first 7 months of 2007 as well. I was hoping that with my new free time I could reflect and make peace, at least to some degree, with the feelings of guilt and huge holes in my heart left by each one. I wasn’t planning on moving on, I just wanted some time to focus on being me for a bit.

Funny thing is that it never happened.

Things were continually stressful, I was continuously battling some form of being sick, I was full of anxiety (which was something I had no experience with prior) and I was getting depressed. It got to the point that I just didn’t want to go out anymore. I used to love getting beers and dinners with friends, having house parties, going to Mexico for the weekend or spending my weekends hanging around the beach. I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t want to drink because I would get sick for a week after, I didn’t want to eat out because all i did was gain weight. I didn’t want to run or bike around Mission Bay because I was tired, I didn’t want to surf because I couldn’t keep up with Randy and I would just get pummeled by waves, I didn’t have the fortitude to push through them.  I can honestly say that before and after the surgery, which left me completely in the pits of hypothyroidism, I did not go out for 6 or 7 months. I hung out with people when they came over and I worked a few hours a day with some friends at their office but that was about it. I played a lot of video games in the beginning until eventually I got too tired to even do that. I never was a big TV watcher but that was all I did because it was all i had the energy for. I didn’t want to read, play video games or do logic puzzles, i was just too tired. All I wanted to do was lie around with Mr. Chachers. Being a dog that craves comfort & sleep he was more than happy to be a constant companion snuggling in front of the TV. I was frustrated at the world because of all this and watching daytime TV really doesn’t help anyone’s frame of mind. I think daytime TV is the absolute curse for anyone that is sick and unfortunately you don’t have energy for anything else. It’s like a double edged sword.

I did go to San Francisco for Thanksgiving to help my cousin Sarah move and I was really stressed about it and wanted to just stay home to “relax”. Relaxing was something I was always trying to achieve but never could. If she hadn’t been moving I def. would’ve talked her into coming to San Diego instead. The only other thing I did in the last few months of last year was go to my friend’s holiday party where I then proceeded to cry my eyes out. I didn’t make it to Baja at all from last May until this past March, which if you know me is very strange since in the past I was going once or twice a month.

In Oct. ’07 a nurse at planned parenthood (which is an amazing organization) said I had to get my thyroid looked at asap. Again, I shrugged it off. Not because I was scared but because in June ’06 I had gone to my doctor to have my thyroid tested. That was when I started gaining a bit of weight and noticed that my neck looked a little bigger. She did the standard tests and told me I was fine. I repeated this info to the nurse but it didn’t seem to sway her opinion. When I left her office I still didn’t give a second thought to my thyroid, in my head I already had it tested and it was normal. It wasn’t until she personally wrote me a letter the following month asking me to follow up with it that I started thinking about it.

That got my attention. I never had a nurse write me a letter before.

I made an appt. to get it re-looked at. Honestly, I really didn’t think anything of it. It came as a total shock when they told me I had to go for an ultrasound and then a biopsy. Turns out the original tests I had done in ’06 didn’t include the antibody test, which is where the cancer and autoimmune diseases like to pal around, both of which I was diagnosed with. Normally you fall in the 0-400 antibody range, I was tapped out at almost 10,000. Eeeks! No wonder why I was such a wreck, my body had been working so hard to fight this off, it didn’t have time for other stuff. The additional tests they did also came back very high but amazingly my thyroid TSH tested normal again (and continued to do so until after the surgery). I say this because if anyone reading this thinks they may have a thyroid issue you have to DEMAND that they do the antibody test. It’s just a blood test, very simple since they have to take blood for the other tests anyway. I suffered for a year and half with cancer before i was diagnosed because they told me everything was fine simply because they were too lazy to do the full run up. Thank God thyroid cancer is a slow grower, if it was a different part of the body who knows what would’ve happened. Always make sure your dr. listens to you, if they won’t, then get a new one! I’ve read that other people have had the same problems being diagnosed because their TSH was testing “normal”. It really bothers me how simple it is to correct this by just ordering an additional blood test but it seems to happen all the time. It seems like common sense yet alludes most doctors. Why?

At this point the anxiety in my life was out of control and my doc gave me a prescription for Xanax, which I lovingly referred to from that point on as my “dumb blonde friends”. No offense to any of my extremely smart blonde friends! It was just a joke for myself because it really dumbed me up. I didn’t really like feeling that way but it was better than the constant anxiety and panic attacks. When the biopsy time came around I pumped in a bunch of those bad boys! hahaha!

I have to say at this point honestly, I was really worried. Everyone kept telling me that things would be fine but I just had a feeling in my gut that they weren’t. However the power of suggestion is quite powerful and I actually did manage to convince myself the day before I went to get my results that everything really was fine and that I wasn’t going to have any issues at all.

This is what is called denial.

The thing is that I got a lot of support with this theory so I stuck with it. Everyone loved and agreed with this theory so it had to be true! Unfortunately, I knew the minute my endocronoligist walked in the room that it really was nothing more than simple denial. The initial look on his face, the way he carried himself and shut the door behind him, I knew I was going to get bad news. Then he said:

“I’m sorry to tell you this but you kinda have cancer.”

Huh?

He then went on to tell me I had the 2nd best type of cancer you could ask for and that I would definitely need to have surgery asap and most likely radiation but that it would be ok and that I would be fine. I don’t know, I guess the world stops moving a little when someone tells you that you have cancer. I don’t remember much of that visit except being very mad at the world and being very, very scared. Mainly I was kinda of numb. I was glad Randy was with me but I wished my parents were there too instead of being 3500 miles away on the east coast. It seemed like when I walked out of the office everyone else in the world had stayed the same but I was completely different. I felt really alone.

The dr. tried to be really positive and this made Randy also positive but I wasn’t feeling any sort of “Don’t worry, be happy now” feelings. I was really not a happy camper in any way, which accentuated my feelings of isolation. It’s really hard to listen to other people’s positive feelings about your own health when you have just been told that at 31, you have cancer.

I remember thinking what does “kinda have cancer mean?” Kinda? Maybe I didn’t? Maybe the test was wrong? Maybe we need to redo the biopsy? I mean what is kinda cancer?

I asked him if that was like being kinda pregnant, I guess i was a little pissed off and being a smart ass. Not much of a surprise, I never dealt well with doctors, hospitals or needles (even managed, at age 12, to punch my physician in the face when he was chasing me with a needle – that didn’t go over well on either end as you can imagine).

He explained I did have cancer but that it may not be cancerous, meaning it may not have spread past the thyroid. He detailed that you can still have cancer but only when it spreads is it considered “cancerous”. I guess you really do learn something new every day since I did not know this. He assured me that thyroid cancer is the best type of cancer to have and my type (follicular) is the 2nd best type of thyroid cancer out there. Even though I had undiagnosed cancer now for 1 – 2 years I had some pretty fantastic odds. Even with all this positive news I was still really terrified and quite convinced that any cancer, regardless of type, as long as it was in my body, was def. not “good”.

He said I had to have surgery to remove the cancer (and 1/2 my thyroid) and to find out if it had spread. He added that I may have to remove the entire thyroid and hopefully the pathologist would be able to tell quickly if it had spread (whileI was under) so that i wouldn’t have to redo the surgery again the next day. In any case, I would be on hormone replacement for the rest of my life. Whoa -Double whammy! Cancer and meds for life? Really NOT liking the sounds of that. I have always hated pills and I’m the type of person who puts off taking aspirin until I I really need it. At that point 1 a day sounded totally annoying. Here I am 7 months later at 5 a day and some sort of mist sinus thing at night. It must be a learning lesson for me since I am dead set on getting down to just the 1 pill now. I’ll be rejoicing instead of complaining at that point! Also, as a side note, I realize now how foolish it was to think that 1 pill a day was just unbearable. Now I feel lucky but at the time I was overwhelmed and felt differently.

I have always tried to live a healthy lifestyle – always ate right, vegetarian, social drinker, never smoked and always exercised, I had just run a marathon the year before for Leukemia & Lymphoma research. Now I was unhealthy and that was hard news to take. Then on top of it he proceeded to tell me I also had Hashimoto’s, which is an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid. Eventually on it’s own it will completely destroy the thyroid, it also puts me at higher a risk for other autoimmune diseases, like MS, etc. Whoa – Triple Whammy!

Of course I had to ask:

“Why me?”  – There was no answer. None of these things run in my family. No one knows why this happened to me but it did.

Everyone around me was trying to be really positive about this news and kept focusing on the “best type of cancer” verbiage. It really fell on deaf ears, all I heard was that I had cancer, I didn’t care if it was the “best type” to have, I still had cancer. I didn’t really even know what that meant – best type? I didn’t know what to expect. I was petrified.

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Me and Randy a couple months after my surgery and the first time I was happy in months. Sadly I had already gained a lot of weight, my skin lost it’s color and I really lost my fun, carefree self. Life changed and I changed with it.

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(6) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • tash -

    July 29, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Glad you’re finally putting it all down, for yourself and for others. Keep it coming. I’m here waiting for the next installment. Sorry you’ve been having such a tough ride. no answers to the “Why me?” question but there never are, right?

    Everyone’s had a “Why me?” Mine’s not in the shape of disease but it was and has been serious enough. Hang in there. You’re on the road to recovery… must be a pretty nice road considering the road you’ve been travelling.

  • brookevstheworld -

    August 1, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    Even though I knew about all of this before reading, it was still really hard to get through. Life has not been easy for you lately, but you know what… it’s only making you a stronger a person. You always surprise me with your upbeat attitude, and that is so inspirational. I’m glad you’re at least using this site as an outlet for your ailments. It will help a lot in the long run, and hopefully help others. Wishing you the best!

  • […] Being diagnosed with cancer at 31 – I believe this was from the stress of my previous job but I actually started the blog […]

  • Dave -

    November 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Beth,

    I’ve been enjoying Beers and Beans for years, but somehow never encountered this post. Your story and struggle are very inspiring and I’m sure it was difficult to share your experiences.

    I got hit with melanoma several years ago (mid 20’s) resulting in emergency surgery, but thankfully my oncologist was able to prevent any further, dangerous spread – matter of inches. Many gallons of sunscreen and walking primarily in the shade since then, but the world is vast and Coppertone has strong market penetration, so staying healthy is more routine than hassle.

    The five years since you wrote this post are a testament to your endurance and the effort you and Randy have put into the site. Keep up the great work and photography and stay well!

    • Bethany Salvon -

      November 1, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m so glad to hear that you were also lucky and caught everything early enough! Skin cancer is so scary! I’m actually going on Tuesday to have something suspicious removed – fingers crossed. 🙂 Thanks for your thoughtful comment and here’s to both of us staying well for the rest of our lives! 🙂

      • Dave -

        November 2, 2013 at 8:55 am

        Thanks for your reply and your well wishes!

        I’m glad to hear that you are getting something suspicious removed – always best to be proactive. Fingers crossed for you as well and good luck on Tuesday. 🙂