Bloganuary today is an easy one for me:

Write about a challenge you faced and overcame

The challenge for me back in June 2005 was to get to see my little granddaughter grow up. Sophie was the first grandchild for Sam and I, but in the month before her birth I was diagnosed with advanced papillary thyroid cancer (stage IV), which had spread to the lymph nodes and the lungs.

First off was the total thyroidectomy, a major operation that would leave me without a thyroid gland and dependent on thyroxine for the rest of my life. The operation permanently paralysed my left vocal cord, and so after the op my voice was just above a whisper. I was told that the metastases in the lungs would not grow just as long as the thyroid stimulating hormone was suppressed with enough thyroxine so that the level was under 0.1. To achieve this level I always have to be slightly over-medicated, which makes me feel hot most of the time. I would also need regular DEXA scans to check for any reduced bone density caused by the higher thyroxine level.

Radioiodine ablation followed in 2006, which involved me drinking a radioactive drink and then being shut in a lead-lined room for 4 days. It didn’t work. I had another dose later the same year. That didn’t work either.

I then had a radical left neck dissection in 2007 to take away the infected lymph nodes not killed by the radioiodine. That worked until 2014, when the cancer showed up again on an ultrasound scan of the right side of the neck. I then underwent a right-sided radical neck dissection. The scar from this op went from one ear down to the base of my neck, and then joined up with the scar from the left-sided neck dissection.

Was I clear after all that? Nope. The cancer came back again in 2017. This time in the thyroid bed and I needed extensive external beam radiotherapy to the neck for 6 weeks. The treatment was absolutely horrendous and I won’t go into gory detail here , but it worked because so far the cancer has not returned.

Sophie is now 16 and technically an adult, and so I have achieved the challenge I set out to do in 2005. Since then another 4 grandchildren have come along, and I still aim to see them grow up as well. I have no symptoms from the lung mets, which have stayed at their original size.

Now I live with the after-effects of being irradiated, but I won’t bore you with that elongated list – it’s just enough to say that these days nothing works properly that is at neck level and above. I’m grateful for the 16 extra years of life that I’ve had already, and the chance to tick a few things off my bucket list. Soph and I are great friends, and we’re going out for lunch tomorrow!