Thyroid surgery: The aftermath

About two months ago I had thyroid surgery to remove half said thyroid, and life since then has been…interesting. The same kind of interesting you use when you can’t think of anything kind or complimentary to say.

I had prepared myself to regain my fitness from the ground up. I’ve had enough setbacks over the years to know that progress is never linear. That said, previous setbacks arose from pregnancy, injury, life circumstances.

I had not prepared myself for the aftermath of removing half of an internal organ responsible for energy and emotion. I had not prepared myself for a cancer diagnosis.

black and white photo of angry woman

Pam likes to shave her head when the world feels overwhelming

A challenging diagnosis

Those first weeks post-surgery consisted of rest, gentle walks, well-wishes from loved ones, snuggles with my kids, and Ted Lasso. As soon as I started to approach what I assumed was my new normal—regularly increasing strength and stamina, brain cells coming out of hiding—the first blow came.

Papillary carcinoma in two different nodules. Fortunately the cancer was fully contained within the excised thyroid lobe, and my endocrinologist feels comfortable keeping an eye on the remaining lobe for the time being. I trust my doctor, and she went over all the details and the options many times. Together we decided to continue to watch and wait, to continue regular diagnostic testing and then pivot should additional information warrant a different course of action like surgery.

Let me just tell you that it is all kinds of weird to receive an entirely post-hoc cancer diagnosis. To be sure, I am incredibly grateful that no further action is needed on the cancer front at this time – and may never be needed. But for some undefined period of time, I had a malignancy growing in my body, and by the time I knew about it, everything that could be done had already been done. 

Two smiling women wearing running clothes

Getting by with a little help from my BAMR friends

More challenges to come

Just around the time my brain had started to wrap itself around the whole cancer business, my energy and brain cells just up and disappeared. Actually, in hindsight, I think they regenerated themselves into overnight weight gain. That’s definitely how biology works, right? I had worked my way up to four miles of walk/jogging and suddenly, a one mile stroll wiped me out for two or three days. The great challenge of sitting at my desk the entire working week necessitated a full weekend in bed to recover.

I started taking thyroid medication a few weeks ago, and in that time the fatigue and brain fog have largely lifted. My fitness is returning. I was able to walk/jog the Peachtree Road Race 10k, an Atlanta Fourth of July tradition. The weight is mostly still there; it’ll either come off or it won’t, but as long as I have the energy to do the activities I want, I’m not terribly bothered by it.

Runners on an escalator

Peachtree and Pam are both back!

Now that I’m feeling better physically and intellectually, it’s become clear just how much more recovery remains on the hormone side. All of my negative emotions currently sit and simmer just below the surface, ready to rage like a flash flood, taking hours or days to recede. 

Balancing #allthefeelings

I’ve come to the conclusion that my body is a palimpsest: “a manuscript or piece of writing on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain; something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.” 

I recognize some of my earlier self in my body, inside and out, but I am irrevocably altered. I have the word cancer in my medical history, and I’m still dealing with the fallout in all aspects of my life. 

For now, I’m embracing running and strength training with gratitude, joy, and curiosity. On my first day back at the gym with my trainer Nick, I asked him if I could maybe take advantage of his boxing and martial arts background and learn how to kick and punch things. He acquiesced with glee, so I have an outlet for all that rage and – bonus! – I’ve fallen in love with a new sport.

Two boxers sparring

Pam beating up on her trainer

Introducing PAMBO

When I feel overcome with rage, grief, anxiety, I channel my boxing alter ego, PAMBO, and unleash on my new punching bag. And I listen to P!nk’s new protest anthem on repeat.

Two boxers sparring

One more of PAMBO for good measure (and bad temper!)

Outside of the gym, I hang onto what I do recognize: My grit and tenacity. My willingness to try new things, even—especially?—when they don’t come easily. The consistency, the habit of forward motion in all things I care about, that has become muscle memory.

I don’t know what my half-thyroid self will look like. I do know I have a solid foundation and one hell of a support system. So whatever ends up happening, I’ll be okay.

When have you faced the challenging of rebuilding yourself?