Guest Post: I’m a Cancer Survivor

Today’s post is by my wonderful and totally bad ass husband, John. It wasn’t until I went to the Relay for Life walk on campus recently to photograph the event that I realized it would be great to have him share his story about his experience with cancer.

We have talked about it on occasion but up until this point I had only known bits and pieces. I’m grateful he decided to share his story with my readers.

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My experience with cancer is something most people do not know about me. Although I don’t mind talking about it, it’s something that is usually not talked about unless it is brought up.

Many people have a hard time discussing this topic other than the usual “Screw Cancer!” thing. Unless they have been through it, it seems most can’t relate.

In January 2005, I was diagnosed with thyroid papillary carcinoma cancer. I had a goiter on my neck that I let go for too long without being checked. First mistake.

I did not think a lot about it but it was becoming really noticeable and at the insistence of someone I was dating at the time convinced me to have it looked at. An FNA (Fine Needle Aspiration) was performed and a biopsy concluded the aforementioned diagnosis.

JU - Fuck Cancer

John Ulmanis shares his first MRI scan showing the cancer in his thyroid. The black spot seen in the top six scans show where the cancer was. [Click to enlarge image]

So what did this mean? Surgery. Straight up surgery. It didn’t get more invasive. Basically, cutting my neck ear to ear to remove the almost 4cm gland from my throat. Oddly, this part didn’t scare me.

What did scare me was not knowing how dangerous this particular cancer was. The unknown is a frightening thing.

So, I asked questions. Lots of questions to the two doctors I was seeing. I did a lot of research online. The more information I got the better I felt.

Luckily, this type of cancer was not going to kill me. In fact, if the thyroid gland didn’t get as large as it did I probably could have lived my entire life with it and never known a thing.

Plus, it was very slow growing and only a small percentage of males contract this kind of cancer. Oh lucky me! Now if I could have hit the Powerball.

On April 20, 2005 at 3:40 p.m., I underwent surgery for extraction of the metastasized gland. All went normal there. In the hospital for 3 days and home for a week. The surgeon did a great job on sealing me back up.

Now the REAL fun began. Since I had no thyroid, the rest of the hormone that was left in my body had to be depleted before any medication could start.

Radioactive iodine treatment was next in the bullpen to try to eliminate any remaining cancer cells. I think this was about four weeks after surgery. Easy enough. Just the “Big Blue Pill” and stay away from people for three days and limited contact for a week after.

Thankfully I lived by myself at the time so I could do this with some comfort, otherwise it would have been three days in solitary confinement in a hospital. Still, even with the luxuries of home, cabin fever set in. The help of a few friends stopping by to drop off movies and ice cream made it bearable.

Now, back to the lack of thyroid hormone. Yeah. That was fun. NOT! Until that essential part of your endocrine system is gone, you don’t realize the importance of that butterfly shaped bugger living smack dab in the middle of your neck.

By not having that hormone produced, for me at least, I had jaundice, major mood swings, depression, and just strange thoughts. Not bad thoughts. Just different. I knew my body and mind was changing. For awhile, there was nothing I could do about it. I had never experienced this before and couldn’t explain it. The only ones who got it were the ones who went through it.

The hard part was losing a decent relationship with someone I cared about because she was unable to handle what I was going through. Looking back, I realize she clearly was not right for me and we were not right for each other.

About 10-12 weeks after surgery and radioactive iodine treatment, I was prescribed medication to replace the thyroid hormone. This was a very long process for me to get my body regulated.

In the midst of figuring out the right dosage and type of medications I had some routine scans and a lot of blood work. As it turned out, I had something messing with my numbers. Almost a year to the day of the thyroid removal I went in for a second surgery to remove a couple of lymph nodes that still had the thyroid cancer.

After the second surgery, I went through the same things I did following the first one. Everything from being off the medication to more radioactive iodine to seclusion for three days and any other side effects.

After that, I was back on medication again for eight weeks. Then came the battle to get regulated again.

It took until fall 2007 to get to my “new” normal. Over two years to get to this point. I say the “new” normal because I never got back to feeling the way I did before the initial surgery. Even to this day I still don’t and it has been nine years. I’m cool with my “new” normal.

I do have to say that while going through all of this I did find a couple Thyca support groups online and locally. I received valuable information and support that helped quite a bit through the dark moments.

I have been clean since spring 2008 and regulated since that time. I still have regular checkups and still a human pin cushion but not as much as I used to be.

Granted that this type of cancer is not the same as liver or breast or lung cancer but it can still mess your world up. It is still cancer and needs to be dealt with accordingly in a timely manner. Sometimes this can be treated with a couple shots early on if detected.

As for me, I waited too long and had the opposite end of the spectrum done. I was told after surgery that if I had waited couple more years I probably would have had extreme difficulty eating and breathing. Now that really sank in. So do yourself a favor and don’t be the stubborn idiot that I was.

Some people get lucky and beat the bastard. Some give a valiant battle and lose. I am fortunate to have won this battle and to live to fight another day and possibly support someone else waging war with cancer.

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