Fun With Radiation Part Two: The Sucky Shots

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First of all, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my biggest stalker fan in Philly – what would I do without you? You keep me in line. I’m sure I’d be running amok were it not for your tireless watching over me – so thanks! šŸ™‚

Now that proper credit’s been given where it’s due…

It’s been about 6 months since I wrote part one, so just to refresh a bit:

After I had my thyroidectomy, and cancer cells were found, a round of I-131 radioactive iodine therapy was prescribed for me, for which I had to prepare my body, so that the treatment would be its most effective.

Part one dealt with the special diet I had to go on, to deprive my body of iodine, so that when I swallowed the capsule, the thyroid cells left behind would absorb it and begin to die a slow death.

I also had to be in a hypothyroid state before taking the treatment. This used to mean that patients had to stop taking synthetic thyroid medicine for a while before treatment, and let their body go hypothyroid naturally. It was a long, agonizing, symptom-riddled, and sometimes in some cases, downright dangerous process.

Then, along came the wonder drug Thyrogen. It mimicked a state of hypothyroidism, and accomplished it in a matter of three days. All a patient had to do was haveĀ  a thyrogen shot two days, and then another one day, before treatment, and voila! No days and weeks of suffering to be ready. Easy peasy, no?

Yeah hang on a sec. This is my life we’re talking about here.

Nothing is ever that easy with me!

The same day I had my thyroid removed… the FDA cracked down on Genzyme, the maker of the drug, for unsafe conditions in the plant that manufactured Thyrogen, and severely limited its availability until further notice.

My endo was explaining the process to me in his usual, skim over the highlights, need to know basis way…

He said I had my option of going hypo naturally, or taking the drug, he was certain I’d be an exception and be allowed my doses, but there was risk involved.

IĀ asked what kind of risk?
“We don’t know.”

Huh? What do you mean you don’t know? How do you know there’s risk if you don’t know what it is?

So as per, I had to get proactive, come home, and google for an answer. It seems Genzyme’s plant in Allston, MA. was having a slight problem keeping their vials free of such things as steel, rubber, fiber….

Nice! I could get a vein full of miniscule metal shavings!

Now I had to decide if I wanted to run that risk, or go hypo naturally and suffer the symptoms.

I asked my surgeon. She hadn’t even heard this was an issue.

I asked the radiation oncologist about it. She sat there silently and looked at me as if I had three heads.

I guess I wasn’t really being given much choice. Nobody was offering me a target date to stop taking synthroid before treatment… so shots it was.

Side effects were possible (uh, yeah, no crap!) but nothing like I’d experience if I did it the hard way.

Alex didn’t want me taking the shots. He was afraid of what might happen. He didn’t understand what would happen for certain if I opted out.

Dutifully, two days before my radiation therapy, I arrived at the endo’s office for my first dose.

So here I was… having been celibate by choice for quite some time… finally alone in a room with a man again, and he’s asking me to take my pants down and bend over…

But as is my usual luck, the only thing I got was a needle the approximate length (and girth) of a knitting needle jammed into my butt cheek…. by a man who turned out to be sheer evil (also my usual luck!)

And all it did was make me tired and sick to my stomach…

but ready for my glow in the dark close up, Mr. DeMille!

Stay tuned for part three…

Fun With Radiation, Part One: The Dreaded Diet

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I’ve knocked around how to talk about this radiation therapy thing for a while. It needs to be done. I have people telling me how ‘brave’ they think I am, and I think maybe some folks are under the impression that I’ve soldiered through some long, drawn out, painful, sickness inducing ordeal, and that just isn’t the case, folks.

I popped a pill. That’s all.

There was some preparation ahead of time, to be sure, but I didn’t have the same type of radiation used for more aggressive or prevalent cancer. I didn’t have to don one of those mesh masks and lie on a table while radiation was burned into my body. I had no chemotherapy.

I just popped a pill.

A radioactive iodine pill.

I-131 isotope, to be precise. This radioactive isotope is designed, in my case, to attach itself to, and kill, any thyroid cells remaining in my body after thyroid surgery to remove the gland. Any cells left behind could be cancerous, or could become cancerous. Best they be gone, as a precaution.

There are four types of thyroid cancer. As I’ve said before, the one I have – Papillary Thyroid Cancer – is the least likely to be aggressive and spread, the easiest to treat and cure, and the radiation oncologist told me it’s more of a nuisance than anything else.

Oh yeah. It’s been that alright. Beginning with The Diet.

The Diet is the First Circle of Hell.

The radiation oncologist told me about The Diet.

It had to be followed for two weeks prior to taking the pill. It is a low iodine diet. NOT to be confused with low sodium, though you have to avoid processed foods containing salt, because you don’t know if the salt used was iodized… so you have to pass. You have to lower your iodine intake as much as possible and let your body deplete itself of iodine, because thyroid cells absorb and process iodine. They needed to be eager to absorb the radioactive iodine that would kill them.

Read labels sometime. Even MILK has salt in it. Even FAKE MILK in the health food stores has salt in it. Sea salt, at that. A no no.

Even if it didn’t, dairy was a no no anyway. Iodine is in the solution used to clean components of automatic milking machines, and gets in the milk used for drinking and creating other dairy products.

Anything with a high iodine content was a definite no no.

No seafood.

Seaweed is high in iodine content, so I couldn’t have that. So what, you say?

Did you know seaweed is in a LOT of grocery items? It’s disguised on the label as an ingredient called ‘carrageenan’.

I couldn’t even have my fru fru creamer in my coffee because even though there’s no dairy in non-dairy creamer – there is carrageenan. Go ahead. Read the label of your coffeemate in the fridge. I’ll wait.

See?

The doc gave me a list of foods that were okay – that looked like it could fit on a 3 x 5 index card – and told me if it wasn’t on the list – don’t eat it.

That pretty much left me with this:

and this: (with no milk, mind you!)

I’m a foodie. Cancer wasn’t killing me. The Diet was killing me.

I went into the doc’s office for some paperwork, and the desk clerk asked me how I was. I told her I was fine but The Diet sucks a major one.

She laughed and said “Yeah, it’s not real fun, is it?”

Another guy at the counter says to me “Vodka has no iodine content. Just sayin’.”

Ha! Someone else with my sense of humor! Just drink myself silly for two weeks till I can eat regular food again!

I had fun with it – but I had my moments too.

My first visit to the radiation oncologist’s office gave me pause.

Just the word ‘oncologist’ began to hit me. Cancer doctor. I had this? Cancer? Me?

I walked in and saw an office full of patients in various phases of cancer treatment. Some were younger than I was, but emaciated down to nothing, cancer and the treatment to fight it having whittled them away to skin and bones. Skin that had that pallor about it that cancer patients get. Women in turbans, bald underneath. Some so weakened they were using walkers.

Brochures in racks with titles such as “When It’s Time For Hospice Care”.

Unnerving place, this.

Was this my future, I wondered? I looked, and pretty much felt, healthy right then… but would I soon look and feel like some of these other people? Would I be sitting there at some point with a calm, serene, accepting expression on my face, knowing my time in this office was nearing an end, and not because I was well?

Once I took the pill, I’d have to stay isolated away from people for a week. I’d have to work from home. In order to do that, because HR departments are the epitome of anal, I needed a letter from the doc stating it was okay for me to work from home… which it would be. Barring any violent reactions to the radiation, I’d be perfectly healthy enough to work from home. I just couldn’t expose other people to my irradiated body.

I asked the doc’s office to fax me a letter I could give to HR stating her okay with me working.

It came. I opened, I read:

“blah, blah, blah, diagnosis: carcinoma of the thyroid, blah, blah, blah…”

No… wait. I don’t HAVE cancer. I HAD cancer cells in my thyroid and it was now gone! No thyroid = no cancer!

Moments like that… unnerved me a bit. I shrugged them off as best I could.

The most frustrating part of the two weeks on The Diet, however, was finding out on my own, instead of being pointed there by one of my docs, that there is a wonderful website dedicated to people who have thyroid cancer like me, and have gone through the same treatment plan I’ve gone through – and they’ve written a low iodine diet cookbook. It’s on the website. In printable PDF form. And there’s real food in it.

Real. Live. Food.

Amen and amen.

If, God forbid, you or anyone you know ever needs this treatment, and enters this First Circle of Hell called The Diet, please, for the love of all that is holy, point them here:

http://www.thyca.org/

I’m a WordPress dummy. Every time I try to make a clickable link on one of my blogs, it doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. Sorry. Copy and paste. You can do it. I know you remember how.

Now you know all about The Diet. Not a lot of fun, but I could have things so much worse.

Next time, I’ll tell you about stage two of the treatment – The Shots

The Second Circle of Hell.

The fun just keeps on comin’ folks!