For those of you just tuning in, about 1 month ago I underwent thyroid surgery for a suspected cancer nodule. It didn’t turn out to be cancerous thankfully, but there is a lot involved in this whole process. I wish there had been a post like I am going to share with all of you right now that could have helped me, but for those with similar issues in the future, here you go!
Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis
My nodule was discovered at a routine OBGYN appointment, so ladies don’s miss those! I was referred to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist. I underwent several biopsies on the largest of my thyroid nodules. I had several nodules, but the largest was 2.3 millimeters. All of the biopsies came back benign, but the biggest nodule was covered in calcification. For the newbies out there, that is bad. Plus there were tons of flecks within that large nodule and it was almost impossible to be able to biopsy all of that. Also troubling was the shape. It was wonky and completely irregular looking. I also had several smaller nodules, but the biggest was the one that was scary looking and concerned my doctor. Some people given this type of information will decide to just have it rechecked every 6 months for the rest of their life. I waited on it for a while and did recheck it, but I ultimately felt like if there was a procedure I could do right now that could potentially help prevent the possible spread of cancer to my lymph nodes and perhaps save my life before it got that far, I needed to do it.
So, here is what you need to know about the surgery. Obviously, not everyone will have the same reactions I did, but enough of us do that I think some of you might experience the same things I did.
My initial surgery was out-patient. In the past, they used to only do the procedure in the hospital, but the medical world found that patients allowed to recuperate at home did better. There are some complications with that, but we will get there in a minute.
My initial surgery went well. My surgeon took out the nodule and half of my thyroid. That portion was going to be sent for further testing and a biopsy in order to determine if it was cancerous. If it was, I would need to go back into surgery within 5 to 7 days.
I woke up from anesthesia in the out-patient clinic and I didn’t barf. That has happened before, so Yay…
I was sent home. The whole procedure was about 5 hours from the time I checked in until I was sent home. The first part of that day after my surgery I felt a little nauseous and sore when I went home and talking hurt. Mostly, because of the breathing tube they put down my throat. I went straight to my big recliner chair and stayed there.
That afternoon and night things got rough. I wasn’t hungry, but I had been sent home with some pain killers and an antibiotic that, by its size, was clearly meant for horses that I had to take several times a day. It hurt to swallow and anything I ingested in that first 24 hours pretty much got thrown up. Even water. It was brutal on my already sore throat. The vomiting and nausea continued for a full 24 hours after my surgery. I threw up regularly every few hours. It would have been more than that, but I tried to keep it at bay enough that my antibiotics and pain killer could digest.
After 24 hours, the nausea was so bad that I quit the pain killers cold turkey and started drinking a sip of water every 15 minutes just to try and keep myself hydrated. I still threw up most everything, but I was trying my best to drink what I could. The seemingly fist-sized antibiotic pill was super painful to swallow. I had to gear myself up mentally to try and swallow that sucker 3 times a day.
Now let’s talk about the issues with at home recuperating rather than in hospital. Obviously, the dehydration was growing into an ever increasing problem, but also in order to avoid any type of hematoma or clot, I was told to basically keep my neck in an upright or slightly angled upright position at all times. Even when I slept. My neck was already super sore from being hyper extended during the surgery, but this constant attempt to keep it upright at all times, made sleeping difficult and then during the day I had to hold my neck with my hand just to even be able to walk around a few steps. The back of my head and neck hurt so bad. It was tight, kinked up and totally messed up, almost like my neck was balancing a car battery.
In the meantime with all of this nausea and pain, I was almost unable to get myself out of bed alone. A few times my 9 year old daughter and 12 year old son had to help me get out of bed and go to the bathroom. My 15 year old checked on me all day via text or little stop-ins and the 4 year old was taken care of by wolves. No actually my husband and other kind people did that job. I cannot stress enough that If you are doing this surgery, plan on having help for at least a week in your home. Or frequent check ins, and not by phone. You are not going to want to talk.
Now We Are Going To Get A Little Graphic
Here is something scary that happened on day 2. I was totally unprepared for it and I don’t want someone else to be like I was. I had just finished my menstrual cycle before the surgery. I was relieved because I didn’t want to have to deal with that and healing from surgery, but on the afternoon of day 2 that all changed. I started bleeding. I mean more like gushing. It wasn’t normal menstrual cycle bleeding either. It was thin and bright red and I couldn’t get a pad or tampon in fast enough to catch it all. I totally freaked out when this happened! The blood was literally just running down my legs. I already felt like crap and was like, “Great now I’m going to to bleed to death.”
I cleaned up the best I could and finally was able to put a pad in and called the Dr. The nurse I spoke with said if I filled a pad in an hour I needed to go to the ER. Jen’s Guy and the 15 year old meanwhile hit the internet and they both found one random article that said break through bleeding after thyroid surgery can be one side effect. This is because what is left of your thyroid is totally wacko and trying to get back to normal as well. So, I sat down and rested and waited to see if I filled that pad in an hour. Luckily, the initial burst of bleeding was the most that occurred and the bleeding ended by the evening of that day. I still wore a pad for a few days just in case it started up again. I am grateful it didn’t.
On day 3 of my post op a friend came to visit. She had underwent this surgery several years previously. She took one look at me and said you need an IV. You are super dehydrated. Her husband is a trained EMT and came and gave me an IV. I almost immediately started to feel better. It might be a combo of the fact I was no longer taking pain pills and the IV fluid, but at that point I was truly grateful for the respite from the nausea and vomiting.
On day 4 I ate a small bowl of softened ice cream. I have never eaten something that tasted so good in my life. I was also keeping water down and I had hopes for eating something in the next 24 hours that resembled real food!
I was still weak and sore, so I started taking a few Tylenol a day to help with the pain. Swallowing pills was still horrible, but I assumed getting an infection would be worse, so I persevered with the antibiotic as well.
A week out from my surgery I was feeling almost human. My neck was still sore from the hyper extension and funny sleeping positions, but things really were looking better. Inserted note here: Don’t plan to drive for at least 2 weeks. Luckily, I had a good support system that got my kids everywhere they needed to go. I couldn’t turn my head or neck, so driving would be both unsafe for others and a very unwise idea for my recuperation process.
On day 5 my Dr. called and said that the nodule was not cancerous and that no further treatment would be necessary. I was grateful, but I still had a ton of healing to do so I started second guessing my decision to do the whole dang thing, but seriously, I had been told I was cancer free. I had much to be grateful for. I wrote a little post about how I was feeling over on my blog’s Facebook page. It was honest and raw. You can see it here.
Taking Off The Bandages And Starting To Live Again
On the morning of day 8 I went to see my Dr. for a follow up appointment. He said I was healing quite well. He said to keep my steri-strips on the incision site for at least another week, because they helped reduce scarring on the incision. I was grateful he didn’t try to take them off, because I might have ripped his hands off if he had tried. I assumed taking those things off was going to require a little boost to my courage and a whole lot more delicacy and time than he was going to give me.
On day 10 I was able to swallow my last antibiotic. I felt like I deserved a badge or medal for that heroic act. Ten days of swallowing horse pills, when even little teeny bites of pasta or rice was about all I had been able to eat! On a good note, I had graduated to real food by then. Not a lot mind you, but it felt great! I still wasn’t driving and that actually didn’t happen until about 15 days out from my surgery when I drove to the neighborhood grocery store. Something funny happened and I shared it on my personal Facebook page. Long live 4 year olds!
Tried a small little outing today for the first time since my surgery to the grocery store a street over from my house. Liese was helping me load our few items onto the trolley and dropped a package of hamburger buns. The cashier said, “Mam your buns fell.” Liese thinking this was hilarious, promptly latched onto this phrase and began singing, “Momma lost her buns!” over and over and over again to the entire store. I couldn’t get her to stop. I think I probably should have just stayed home today……
Day 15 I took a super long bath and worked on taking the steri-strips off. I wasn’t supposed to soak until day 14, so I figured I was safe then. Part of the steri-strips were already kind of peeling off so the edges weren’t too hard, but taking the ones off on the very center of the incision hurt like a mother!! When I stepped out of the tub and looked at the angry red incision, I wanted to put the strips back on! Nobody needed to see me that way! It looked horrible. I decided even though it was almost 100 degrees here I needed to invest in some scarves. STAT!
One thing to keep in mind- you will be told to start using a scar cream and sunscreen on the incision after the strips come off. All of which burned like Hades when I tried to put it on. A nurse friend said that it was because the incision site was still healing and to just leave it alone for a bit. She advised me to use Vitamin E and some scarves to protect it from the sun when I went out. Which I was doing a little more regularly at this point. After about 3 weeks putting the medicine on the incision hurt less, although UGH, I am not all that squeamish, but I still do NOT like touching my incision. I apply the medicine quickly and move on. No one else is allowed to touch it yet either…
One Month After Surgery
I am now exactly one month out from my surgery. It doesn’t hurt to turn my head, but swallowing still feels funny. To explain it’s kind of tight in there, feels like I still have a lump when I swallow and takes some work to get food and even liquids down. I have to weigh out everything mentally before I eat something and decide whether or not eating it will be too hard to do. Fun right? I spoke with a friend who also had this surgery and she told me you really don’t start feeling good until almost 6 weeks. That made me feel so much better. I am at week 5 and I still tire easily. On Friday of this week I go in for some blood work and then on Monday I have an appointment with my Dr. to review the blood work. If my thyroid numbers aren’t normal I will be referred to an endocrinologist for thyroid treatment and medication.
I don’t know what the results will be. I know I am tired and worn out, but a family of 6 will do that to you, so I will let you all know what I find out. Dealing with all of that might be a whole other post….
Anyways, I am feeling hopeful and grateful. I am looking forward to feeling better every day. I think the hardest thing is trying to be patient with myself as I try to recuperate and heal. Your thyroid controls quite a few functions and so mentally I know that things were never going to be operating back at 100 percent right after the surgery. I just wanted it to.
See where patience is key? Anyways, it takes time and luckily, since I have been given the cancer free nod, I have plenty of that now.
Thanks for reading this. I hope it helps you to care for someone going through this or to prepare for your own surgery, because it is estimated that at least 60 million Americans will have some type of thyroid issue in their life and thyroid cancer is on the rise. So there is a good chance you or someone you know may have to experience this journey for themselves. Your understanding will make all of the difference.