Sunday, March 27, 2011

Now I can tell something's happening: One week after radioiodine therapy

Last Friday--exactly one week after my radioiodine treatment, my neck started to ache. First, it felt like a sore throat coming on. Later it felt like I'd slept wrong or somehow strained my neck (I couldn't turn it to the right at all). By Sunday morning, I still felt like I do when I have a cold coming on--a general scratchy throat feeling, but I also felt something else: a dull ache in the front of my neck.

I'd wondered if this would happen. Besides getting sick from the initial dose of iodine (which I didn't), I had heard that there might be some mild neck discomfort. For some reason, I thought this would happen right away. Instead, it's come a week later. It makes sense. The iodine is absorbed into the body and slowly makes its way to the thyroid. Meanwhile, any that doesn't make it is eliminated from the body within the first few days. So now there's a concentration of the stuff hanging out around my radioactive neck. And now, I can tell something's happening. The body hurts when something isn't right. And it hurts now.

Maybe I'm nuts, but I still feel a strange sense of remorse over killing a part of myself. I wish I could keep at least part of it, just because. Then I'd feel less guilty; then I'd feel more whole. But the body doesn't work that way. Apparently, if just a bit of the thyroid hangs around, because of the Graves's Disease, my immune system will still be telling the thyroid to work overtime. And soon, I'd be right back where I started. This is why doctors try to prescribe enough radioactive iodine to kill off the entire thyroid, and why if they don't, then a second dose of the treatment is needed.

So for now I will mourn the loss and promise my body I'll try harder to take care of it in the future. And I'll hope that I'll never have to put it through anything like this--or worse--again.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Where's My Web-Slinging Action? Adjusting After Radioactive Iodine Treatment

Where's my web-slinging action? I asked my husband on our way home from getting my radioactive iodine treatment last Friday.

"Maybe it comes with time?" he answered.

I admit, we both secretly hoped that I'd suddenly find myself with some new superpower--even if it was small or only temporary. Or at the very least, I expected that I'd feel something.

But the fact was, if it weren't for the fact that I remember taking the capsule that came in the scary lead package at the hospital and the fact that my doctor sent me home with explicit instructions to avoid public spaces and close contact with others, and follow specific rules of hygiene for the next 72 hours, I might  not have known that anything had happened at all.

That's right: for those who are wondering, like I did: will I feel any different? In my case, the answer was a resounding "no". I didn't get sick, I didn't get any neck or jaw pain, and I didn't feel all glowy. Nothing. It's been life as normal--except I had to be alone a lot for the first three days.

But my husband and I made the best of it: he made me special food for some meals and brought in fun take-out that we never have for others. We picniced in areas of the house we never dine--me in one of the rooms we'd set aside for my semi-isolation and he in the hall outside of it. We took walks each day...I just stood a little further away from he and the dog than I usually do. He camped out on the couch and I got to remember what it was like to sleep in a bed alone again (I didn't kick anyone!), and it actually felt a bit like years ago when we were dating (and it made us miss each other all that much more, which is always a good thing for any relationship).

So I didn't get superpowers. But when you compare it to the alternatives (getting sick from radiation or having to recover from surgery), I really think I got off okay.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Partial Suicide: 48 Hours After Radioactive Iodine Treatment

“Have you ever wanted to kill yourself?” my husband asked as we discussed my hyperthyroid treatment options.
“Not really,” I answered, giving him my ‘What are you suggesting?’ look.
“Well, I just thought that if you had, then now you could fulfill part of that dream—you know, since part of you would die.”
Part of me would die…
I think that has been the toughest part about this whole thing. Not only was a part of me dying, but an innocent victim was being executed. It wasn’t my thyroid’s fault. It was my immune system’s. Or was it?
Graves’ Disease is an autoimmune disorder, commonly understood to be brought on by stress. Under prolonged stress, the immune system gets…let’s say confused, and it sends false messages to the thyroid, telling it to produce more thyroid hormone. This in turn speeds up the heart and increases metabolism, causing life to get pretty uncomfortable and confusing.
The three primary treatment options offered by western medicine get at the symptoms of the disease, rather than the cause. It may be my thyroid that’s causing my heart to beat erratically, but it’s my immune system that told it to do so.
But before we start blaming the immune system for wrecking havoc on our lives, let’s look again: why did it start telling the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones in the first place? Stress.
Stress causes a whole host of problems in the body, knocking systems out of whack. The immune system is just one of many.
At the point at which we realize that stress is the cause of our illness, many of us want to point our finger at the rest of the world for making it so hard on us. But the fact remains that while we can’t control what our external environment is like—bosses, bills, screaming kids, annoying co-workers, we can control our internal environment.
The sooner we learn to calm the oceans inside of us, the happier and healthier we will be.

Flush Twice: Life After Radioactive Iodine Treatment

I didn't know what to expect when I received the treatment last Friday. It's simple enough: 1. Get the routine pregnancy test (doctors can't administer radioactive iodine without verification that you aren't pregnant) 2. Swallow a capsule.

The scary part is that the capsule is brought to you in a lead container, you are told not to touch the capsule("Just toss it into your throat and swallow down with some water"), and before you leave, they give you a list of precautionary measures to be followed.

Precautions include: avoid contact with children and pregnant woman, stay arms length away from everyone, don't sleep next to anyone for at least 72 hours, don't stay in close proximity to anyone for more than two hours, use your own bathroom if possible, and --you guessed it--flush twice.

It's a bit scary. But it's also a precaution. The upside: a little time to yourself.

Here's the truth: it's not as bad as it seems. Short contact is acceptable--including hugs. And most people can return to work within 48 hours. Also, because the dose is not high, most people don't get sick. (I haven't.)

The thing I miss most is being close to the ones I love. But even this will be all that much better when we can be close again.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Thyroid? What's a Thyroid?

Just as I was readying myself to head off to grandma's house for holiday dinner on Christmas Eve 2010, I received a call from my doctor. Actually, a message on their automated voice mail service: my blood work came back.

I expected nothing. I really did. I'd been feeling awful--dizziness, weakness, heart palpitations--but still I had been searching the net for months already and hadn't been able to come up with anything that sounded like it could be the cause of my troubles. I figured this was going to be another one of those cases where the doctors were baffled and I learned to live with feeling rotten.

Your T3 and T4 levels are elevated, in accordance with hyperthyroidism...

What? I played the message again. The same words haunted me again, and these thoughts came whirling from my brain: "Thyroid? What's the thyroid do? What's a T3? What's a T4? There aren't any thyroid problems in my family. It must be a mistake..."

Whisked away to Christmas dinner before I could even do enough research to remember what the thyroid does, the shock continued throughout the day.

When I got home, I was able to do a bit more exploring. The Mayo Clinic's website was one of them that was most helpful to me that evening. If you have recently been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, I recommend their website:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Radioactive Iodine Ablation

Today I received radioactive iodine treatment for my Graves' Disease. The decision to have this treatment was a difficult one for me--despite the fact that I've been feeling awful for months (dizziness, muscle weakness, overall tiredness, chest pains, heart palpitations) simply because the idea of killing off a part of me didn't seem right, and introducing a radioactive substance to my body seemed no less ludicrous.

After a great deal of thought and a failed attempt at anti-thyroid drugs (I had the rare side effect of liver damage) radioactive iodine became the best treatment option.

If you or someone you love is struggling with Graves' Disease and is also in the midst of making this difficult decision, here are some websites I found useful that you too may wish to explore:

 Feel free to share your story or post questions. I will do my best to answer them here.