Tuesday, November 29, 2005

beneath the planet of the thyroid

I go under the knife next Thursday.

Surgery, to be held at St. Peter's University Hospital, is supposed to run about two-and-a-half hours. The chief downside is that this is approximately how late the doctor was getting to see me for my appointment on Monday. I have fears of the anesthesia wearing off just as he arrives, and me wanting (but unable) to scream: "I'm awake! I'm awake! Look at my finger. Can't you see my finger thumping on the table?" like a classic episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."

The operation is fairly straightforward: just go in there and rip it out. Possible side effects include continued bleeding after the operation, bruising to neighboring glands, and the doctor "accidentally" severing the nerve that leads to my vocal chords. That last one, although it has some people extremely excited, is unlikely.

More likely is that the nerve will take a beating during the operation. Dr. Camarotta said I may lose my voice for a few days afterward, or, if I can still speak normally after the operation, will find it tires out easily. (As a result, I'm canceling my scheduled address to the Democratic National Convention and all appearances before the British Parliament before February.) In any event, the damage would be temporary and I would be annoying old self in no time.

I'll also have to take calcium supplements for a few weeks, since the surgery also is going to affect my parathyroid glands. My chief thought on this aspect is that "parathyroid glands" sounds like a great poker hand, and since we're built with four of these glands, that means I actually have two pair. (I can only imagine what a straight flush would look like.)

The calcium supplements are needed because the parathyroid glands somehow are involved with the body's ability to process calcium. I had always thought we mainly need calcium for strong teeth and bones, but apparently a shortage of calcium can lead to seizures and numbness, in the span of a single day. So, even though it's purely precautionary -- you can lose three of the four parathyroid glands and still process calcium just fine -- I like the idea that calcium supplements are my friend.

Recovery from the surgery is supposed to last about six weeks, including two or three days in the hospital, longer if they forget to give me anesthesia or remove the wrong body part by accident.

Lastly, the doctor himself seemed like a decent fellow. His hands showed no sign of a tremor, he didn't scratch his butt the entire time we were talking, he didn't ask me what a thyroid is or how he could find it, and best of all, he never interrupted our conversation to scream anything about purple hippos wearing his pajamas.

So, eight days. The countdown has begun.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

fall days

I think one of the chief reasons God gives us children is to remind us how much beauty and wonder he's given us that we've come to take for granted.

Today, I asked the girls if they wanted to come outside with me to do some work in the yard. Now normally, there's no interest and I end up doing whatever I came out to do fairly quickly, and a few things besides, or if there is interest, it peters out in a little more than ten minutes, and I end up pushing Rachel on the swing. It wasn't like that today.

Today, the girls took to raking leaves off the patio with a vengeance. I helped a little, by moving patio furniture out of the way, lifting fallen chrysenthemums and showing them how to rake, but they both engaged themselves quite busily in the task. And then, once the leaves were off the patio, Evangeline decided we should make a pile and jump into it.

The past three or four years, I haven't really bothered raking leaves. I've been content to let them fall and then to run them over with the lawnmower, creating leaf fragments too fine to blow into the neighbor's yard, and small enough that they quickly decompose and disappear into the yard, if not during the fall than certainly in the early spring. It's basic human laziness masquerading as environmental sensibility.

I raked leaves with a vengeance, creating a big pile that the girls could jump into, and then raked it up again so that they could jump in some more. And jump in they did, again and again, and again. They would stand at the far side of the yard, and then when I gave the signal, they would burst into full speed and ran toward the pile, shouting "Banzai!" at the moment of decision, and then laughing with childhood's full innocence.

After they tired of running across the yard, we made a separate pile at the foot of the slide, and they took turns riding down and splasing into a sea of fallen leaves, sending foam of red and gold flying when they landed. And what that grew old thirty minutes later, they began a new game that involved burying one another (and me) in the autumn.

In 35 years, I have never enjoyed raking leaves before. Today, I would have raked not just my leaves, but my neighbors' as well for these girls.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Natasha and I watched the movie "Ray" Saturday night, and it was good.

"Ray," as I'm sure everybody knows, is the 2004 biographical movie about legendary musician Ray Charles. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know much about Ray Charles -- in fact, the song I thought I chiefly knew him for wasn't one he wrote at all -- but his impact on music in America is legendary. (I won't embarrass myself by displaying my ignorance and trying to describe it, since I'm not going to do it justice.) I've wanted to see it ever since I saw the preview two years ago, and I'm glad we finally took the chance to borrow a copy from the local Blockbuster's.

The movie, which I'm sure took its share of artistic license with the story of Ray Charles' life, had a curious portrayal of the man. You couldn't help but like Ray Charles the way Jamie Foxx played him, but at the same time, it was hard to respect him much. (Which, of course, shows what a good actor Foxx is.)

The movie shows Ray Charles' steady rise from playing small acts with the McSon Trio in Seattle, moving up to a solo career with Atlantic Records before ultimately landing a lucrative and unprecedented contract with ABC Records.

In that sense, it's uplifting because he's succeeding despite his obvious disability, and it's also uplifting because he was so good at his music, whether it was country, gospel, reggae and blues, or the fusion of those styles and others that made him so famous. And unlike many other artists' careers, at least on screen, there was no moment where his career utterly fell to pieces. He just kept going higher and higher, up to the point that his recording of "Georgia on my Mind" became Georgia's state anthem.

On the other hand, it was hard to think too much of Ray Charles as a person, whatever you might rightly believe of him as a musician. The movie showed him as having at least one long-term affair with one of the female singers in his band, which is kind of hard to view as anything but a moral failure, considering that he was married. And he was also a heroin addict, a habit he initially tried to conceal from his wife and that he repeatedly made excuses for, even after being arrested twice for drug possession.

In the movie at least, the heroin addiction was linked to the death of his younger brother, George, whom he had seen drown in a wash basin when Ray was only 5. The movie depicted Ray as simply watching his brother drown without trying to rescue him or calling for help, as though he thought George were playing a game; according to CNN, he tried to pull him out but couldn't. Either way, I can see why a memory that horrible could lead someone to try to escape through drugs.

And there were other things that made me respect the man wholeheartedly. During the Civil Rights Era, he was scheduled to play a concert in Georgia, but he refused to perform, in protest of the segregation laws in effect. That ended up being a costly move, since he ended up being barred from playing in Georgia for years afterward, but there can be no question it was the right thing to do. It's hard not to respect someone who takes that sort of principled stand.

And as awful as his infidelities to his wife were, the movie shows that he had a measure of character even there. When his long-term mistress in the movie dies, we discover that he's been sending her money every month to help support her and their child.

The movie, to make a long story short, presents Ray Charles as a complex and musically brilliant man. The story it tells isn't a pretty one, but its honesty makes it worth seeing.

Friday, November 11, 2005

losing myself

Sometimes I wonder if I've forgotten how to write worth a damn. The rest of the time, I'm convinced I have and wonder if I ever knew.

There used to be a time when I thought I was a good, even an above-average, writer. I churned out stories like clockwork. Working for a newspaper gave me the ability to focus on a story, settle on the main talking points, order them, and then get them written under deadline, sometimes a tight deadline. At my peak, I remember writing six news stories in a single day.

I used to write humor too. While I was working a full-time job, I could still help churn out three Brothers Grinn mailings a week, and usually produce a humor column and a set of editorials for the newspaper as well. I have no fewer than six awards hanging on my study walls from the New Jersey Press Association for my writing. The one I'm proudest of is for an editorial I wrote calling for equal treatment for gay couples and their families at the municipal pool.

And was it really only a few years ago that I was on the verge of completing a novel with my best friend?

It was. It seemed like a major dream of mine was about to come true, and now ... now, I don't know what's happened. I can sit at the computer for hours, staring at the screen and having nothing to show for it, or idling away the time online, skimming the Internet and visiting one site after another. I thought things would get better after I left CHRefugee, and maybe things did, but I still spend a lot of time visiting blogs written by friends of mine, reading things by people I've never heard of before, and pouring over material I have only the slightest interest in.

Writing? I don't know how to do it anymore, and it drives me crazy.

Oh, I can still edit all right -- most of this blog, for instance, is simply edited versions of e-mail I've written to other people, although another sizeable chunk of it was cobbled together from posts I made to the aforementioned CHRefugee -- and I appreciate the irony of complaining in a written medium that I can no longer write, much as John Milton once composed a poem that his blindness kept him from writing poetry.

But still, it's frustrating. As I recently remarked to a close, personal friend of mine who is also a writer, we do not write because it is a hobby, or an interest, or an amusement. We do these things because we must. Artists who do not create succumb to despair; writers are not fully alive unless we write. Unless we can disappear inside a story or a character for a length of time and then surface only to discover that we have actually created something worthwhile, that we have strung together our words in such a way that we have communicated a piece of ourselves to the world at large, we are not fully human.

Writing was never a job to me. It was, and remains, an act of worship. It is the place and the means by which I draw closest to the Divine, where I grasp the eternal and surrender the temporal, where I slough off corruption and feel, for a fleeting moment, the exultation of Christ.

I can't do it anymore, and that's killing me inside.

I've had a book that has been sitting, undeveloped and waiting for me, for five years. A humor list my best friend and I run for a while reached a distribution of about 1,100 people. I have a graphic novel I'd like to write with another friend, and I can't get a single four-page sequence written out, even just the dialogue. For about three years, that has laid mostly dormant.

I've been fighting hard to revive the Brothers Grinn list, but the spark isn't there like it was before. We used to get three mailings a week; nowadays we're lucky to get two. I labor for an hour or more on an entry for a mailing and my partner writes back: "This is crap."

And it is crap. I really can't argue with him. I tried to do a piece on the Bush administration's morally inexplicable refusal to forbid torture during interrogations of enemy combatants, and it wasn't funny. It was obnoxious. I've rewritten the damn thing three times, drastically, and it still doesn't work. I'm stuck on obvious jokes, cheap sarcasm and one-liners instead of actual wit, and I try to cram in every possible wisecrack I can, with the result that even I can't tell what the piece was supposed to be about.

I'd like to blame this on my old job. Working at WCN, quality writing wasn't possible. I had to churn out articles to fill space and not to report news, and I wasn't able to sit down and concentrate on a single piece. There was always other stuff demanding my attention. I had editorials to write, layouts to do, story development to work on with a reporter, story editing so my reporter could go home at a decent hour, phone calls to take, press releases to edit, and on and on and on. By the time two years had passed, I had lost the ability to lose myself in a story, to edit my own work, and to write succinctly.

I used to be a good writer. I wish I could remember how it worked.

pat robertson rides again

Pat Robertson is an idiot. You know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. So why in the world do reporters still think he's worth quoting, and report on the crazy things he says on air?

Robertson's latest run with run-at-the-mouth disease was to warn the people of Dover, Pa., that they're risking God's wrath because of the way they voted in their recent school board election. Dover, which has received worldwide news coverage because of the recent court hearings over the school board's decision to teach Intelligent Design alongside evolution, voted out eight board members who voted in favor of that new policy.

So, says Robertson, if disaster descends upon Dover, the people there should appeal to Charles Darwin for help, because they have poked their finger in God's eye, and voted him out of town. God's patience, Robertson says, is exhausted.

Quite frankly, who cares what Robertson said? In the past few years, this guy created an international flap by calling for the assassination of a foreign leader, he suggested detonating a nuclear warhead at Foggy Bottom, he warned of divine judgment on Florida, and he joined Jerry Falwell in blaming 9-11 on liberals, homosexuals and abortionists. He opens his jaws and says ridiculous things so often that I've lost track of how many times The Wittenburg Door has made him a favored object of ridicule.

Robertson is good for an idiotic soundbite, but these comments place him well outside the range of mainstream Christianity in America. Conservative, liberal or moderate, most Christians view Robertson with the sort of embarrassment we all feel toward Uncle Buck. We'd like to forget about him entirely, but like the proverbial village idiot, he keeps reminding us.

So, unless the media is going to start using David Duke as a spokesman for conservatism, Gus Hall as a spokesman for liberalism, and Osama bin Laden as a spokesman for Islam, perhaps it's time to recognize Robertson for what he is: a bonehead with enough business savvy to keep himself in a really big pulpit, long past the time he had anything worth saying.

If the media want someone to speak for Christians, can I suggest Jim Wallis of Sojourners? The man's authentic, articulate and is fairly representative of the large and emerging Religious Left here in America.

Please. Anyone but Pat Robertson.

Copyright © 2005 by David Learn. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

waltzing through 'matilda'

If I needed any more proof that Evangeline was going to be as big a reading geek as her father, I have it now.

I checked her out a copy of Roald Dahl's book "Matilda" from the library about three weeks ago. After some initial foot-dragging with the opening chapters that required her parents to read the book to her at bedtime and once or twice during the day, the reading book finally bit and Evangeline finished the entire book last night, reading 120 pages in a single sitting. She literally stopped reading only once -- just long enough to go to the bathroom. (Given time, I don't doubt she'll learn to take the book into the bathroom with her so her reading enjoyment is not interrupted at all.)

If you've never read "Matilda" -- I had never heard of it until two months ago -- it's the story of a child prodigy who teaches herself to read before she's a year old and has that Dahlesque quality of triumphing over the stupid and mean adults in her life, including her parents and the headmistress at her school. The teacher, Miss Honey, is as sweet as her name, and Matilda ends up leading her to victory over her own bitter circumstances before winning the proverbial chocolate factory.

Evangeline really seems to go for Roald Dahl's books, which is fortunate, since she got about four of them for her birthday. She and I read "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at the end of the summer, and she couldn't put that down either, once we got past the initial hump of establishing the characters and setting up the plot. That seems to be all she needs with Dahl, actually -- just that initial activation energy from somebody else's reading to sink her teeth into the story, and then she's set.

It took her longer to get into "The Hobbit," when we read the graphic novel adaptation over the past few weeks. She initially started out on her own with a fair degree of enthusiasm, but then she petered out around Rivendell. I had to read her the rest of the book, with her looking at the pictures to see who was talking, but by the time we got to old Smaug, she hated it when I put the book down for the night. I figure we'll probably read the real book in about four or five years.

The new book we're working on is "Freedom Train," a biography of Harriet Tubman, and she's rooting something fierce for Harriet to make her run for freedom. After that, we have library books from the children's room about Joan of Arc, Madam Curie and Jane Goodall, just to continue her homeschooling.

And of course we still have those other four books by Roald Dahl.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

post-election thoughts

So now it's all over, and Jon Corzine is the governor-elect in New Jersey. Hurrah.

That may sound somewhat anti-Corzine, but it's not. I don't particularly want Corzine to be our next governor, but I didn't particularly want Doug Forrester. Neither candidate inspired with much confidence, much interest, or much enthusiasm for this whole sorry election. As a result, I find myself largely indifferent to the final results of Tuesday's election. Honestly, the campaign as a whole was rather disappointing. It was an embarassment not only to the state and its voters, but to the two major political parties as well.

The GOP probably could have won if it had run U.S. attorney Chris Christie, who has made a reputation for himself by prosecuting several high-profile corruption cases, but he sensibly enough wouldn't give up his position without assurances from party officials that they would back him. They wouldn't do that, so he dropped out of the primary early on. In the end, the GOP went with a multimillionaire (Doug Forrester) whose chief qualification for the office seems to be that he's rich and wants to be governor.

Forrester hasn't been able to articulate clear positions on the hot-button issuesof the day, such as stem cell research, and has historically displayed an inability to answer simple questions simply. When he has put forward great ideas, like cutting property taxes 30 percent over the next three years, he's been unable to explain how he plans to deliver on those promises, except through useless generalities like "eliminating waste" and "cutting unnecessary state jobs.".

My own party, the Democrats, have a popular incumbent governor who popularly is seen as restoring integrity and respect to an office tarnished by former Gov. McGreevey. Acting Governor Richard Codey has steered the state through some austere budgetary times, and he's done it without resorting to the financial chicanery of the previous administrations. During the year he's been in office, he actually DID draw attention to nepotism, stupid appointments and needless jobs that should be cut;and he's fielded some tough times with the State Police and Attorney General's Office over couterterrorism. And, despite being in office over a year, he's yet to have a scandal. That's a record in New Jersey.

Unfortunately for Codey and for voters, he was shut out of the primary process early on. Jon Corzine, a multimillionare who got bored with the Senate seat he bought a few years ago and decided to spice things up by buying himself a governorship. Early in the primary, Corzine bought the loyalty of party county bosses — not essential to winning a primary, although it's a definite advantage — so that Codey's chances of winning the primary were greatly reduced.

Corzine is a man of conscience -- witness the attention he has brought to genocide in the Sudan -- but even though he hasn't had any major scandals per se, there's plenty of reasons to be concerned about Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger calls his "ethical blind spots." Corzine had a romantic entanglement with the leader of the state's largest public workers labor union, which may be nothing in itself, except he lent her the money for a new house, and then forgave the loan, about $470,000. (Sounds like a likely conflict to me, come contract negotiations time. Let's hear a big "ugh" for the ethics of that arrangement.)

And as a U.S. senator, he joined real estate mogul and wealthy Democratic donor Charles Kushner in an attempt to buy the Nets basketball team. The partnership then sought a state subsidy from a Democratic administration here in New Jersey while Corzine was a Democratic senator from New Jersey. While that may not be illegal, it certainly seems shady. He also helped to funnel $1 million to a Democratic county boss who was tape recorded discussing ways to cut off contractors who don't play ball, arranging phony jobs and all sorts of other contemptible political stuff.

Yet Corzine bristles when these things are mentioned and says he sees nothing wrong with his associations.

And so I'm not thrilled about the way this whole election went. I think we were given the choice between someone who is underqualified on the one hand, and someone else who will invite scandal on the other.

I cast a write-in ballot for Codey, as did my wife. To the cynic, those were "wasted" votes, but if enough of them were cast -- and there were enough rumblings about it that the Star-Ledger said they would prefer that option in their endorsement editorial, and plenty of other people were writing letters urging a Codey write-in -- I'd like to think the state Democratic Party would get the message that we're really tired of the jackals and jackasses who keep the party rife with corruption and inbreeding deciding how to do things.

A little honesty and a decent candidate would have been a nice change for once. Of course, this is New Jersey. Reform is impossible.

too bad codey didn't run

Another piece from the Brothers Grinn mailing list, sent out today. It's true that if God meant for us to vote, he would have given us candidates.

Important lessons from the New Jersey election

Closely watched because of its potential significance for setting the tone and expectations of next year's congressional races, the state of New Jersey has just wrapped up its race between multimillionaires Jon Corzine, a Democrat, and Doug Forrester, a Republican. Take heed, gentle reader, and learn these important lessons from the New Jersey gubernatorial campaign:

    1. New Jersey: Putting the "goober" back in gubernatorial.
    2. Poor ethics? No ethics? No problem!
    3. Insults and personal slurs are great filler material when you've misplaced your list of talking points (or never bothered to draw one up).
    4. Any schmuck can roll up his sleeves and work at resolving issues like tax relief and political reform, but it takes a special type of candidate to draw more than 40 percent of the vote with vague and insubstantial promises while having no clue about how to implement them.
    5. Unemployed multimillionaires bored after buying a U.S. Senate seat can still add a little spice to their lives by buying a governorship.
    6. Party solidarity, high-ranking connections, and a personal fortune to oil the party machinery trump popularity and quality every time.
    7. Contrary to the popular wisdom, nuclear power and toxic waste are not the most hazardous risks to living in New Jersey.
    8. Maybe it is wasting your ballot to vote for an acting governor who's not running, but it is infinitely more satisfying than going with one of the official choices.
    9. Purchase a house for the boss of the state's biggest labor union -- heck, even make a habit of repeatedly "christening" it with her -- and by Election Day, still no one will care.
    10. Remember, you're not spending $73 million on campaigns filled with mean-spirited, personally offensive attack ads -- you're using millions of dollars to stimulate the economy!
    11. If this is democracy, maybe Iraq was better off without it.
    12. You're better off living in Sandusky, Ohio

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

planet of the thyroid

I saw the endocrinologist on Monday for the second time, and she was able to answer a number of questions I had about my thyroid cancer and the treatment I'll be receiving.

First, the cancer is papillary cancer, not follicular. This makes it the single most common and most treatable form of thyroid cancer that exists. Chief Justice William Rehnquist died from a completely different, much rarer, and far more aggressive, form of thyroid cancer. So if you were hoping to inherit my Spider-man comic books, my twenty- and twelve-sided dice, or my cassette tapes of white Christian rap, I'm afraid you're out of luck. Papillary thyroid cancer is also extremely slow-growing, which means there is no hurry to have surgery. I should have it sooner rather than later, but it doesn't have to be done before I go to bed tonight.

Because the recovery time for a thyroidectomy is about three weeks, we're planning to have the surgery done shortly after Thanksgiving. The endocrinologist gave me the names and phone numbers of two surgeons based at a hospital here in the city. Once I get the insurance madness lined up, I'll schedule the appointment, probably in the next few days. The surgeon will remove my thyroid and will check my parathyroid glands for any indications that the cancer has spread. That is considered unlikely.

About four to six weeks after the operation, I'll be given radio-tagged iodine. Any thyroid cells that are left in my body -- including thyroid cancer cells that were spread elsewhere -- will light up under a scan. If any do -- and they almost always do in the first scan after an operation -- they'll give me a dose of slightly more radioactive iodine. The thyroid cells will suck up this iodine and blow themselves to kingdom come. (Thyroid cells absorb iodine, an ability passed on to cancerous thyroid cells, and an ability that makes thyroids uniquely treatable for cancer.) After about a day or two, I'll pass this iodine out of my system and out into the sewers, and everyone will be happy.

There is no evidence that the radioactive iodine poses a health threat to my other, healthy body tissues. Nor will there be enough radiation to give me superpowers. Forty years of data indicates the exact opposite.

About six months after the operation, I'll be taken off thyroid hormone for three weeks. As the levels of thyroid hormone in my body plummet, my pituitary gland is going to go nuts, urging my thyroid to get its act in gear and produce more hormone. (I'm afraid I'll display record levels of sloth during this time.) After this three week period ends, I'll have a blood test done to see what traces there are of thyroid hormone in my blood. If there's any evidence that any part of my body is producing thyroid hormone, we'll repeat the iodine treatment since all my thyroid cells should be gone by that point. I'll also go back onto thyroid hormone pills.

After that, if I remember correctly, there's one more six-month checkup, then it's annual checkups, if even that. There is no evidence at all that having thyroid cancer raises my risk of cancer elsewhere in my body, so I should be as healthy as anyone else, at least where cancer risk is concerned.

Lastly, the doctor prescribed me thyroid hormones to start taking now. This will have the effect of telling my pituitary glad to stop producing thyroid stimulation hormone, which in turn will get my thyroid to stop producing its hormone and should have the effect of slowing any growth of my thyroid nodule even further.

Weird factoid: From what the doctor told me -- and doctor is so much easier to type than "endocrinologist" -- autopsies have revealed that about 50 percent of all dead people have some sort of thyroid cancer, and yet that's not what they died from. Pretty wild, huh?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

still processing the news

The news came the day after my daughter turned 3. The test results were in, and they left no room for doubt. At some point in the recent past, a part of my body that has kept me alive for the past 35 years turned traitor, and started growing in ways it shouldn't have.

I have cancer.

When I talk about it with friends and family, I'm cool as a cucumber. It's only thyroid cancer, I tell them. All it takes is an operation and some radioactive iodine, and I'm done. There's no chemo, no nausea, no hair loss, and no more cancer. With a lifetime on medication, I won't even miss my thyroid. I crack jokes about the emotional capital this gives me in arguments and get-togethers, and I leave them in hysterics. Who knew that having one of the great medical scourges of mankind could be so much fun?

Away from others, my emotional guard lowers. I watch as my daughter plays happily with her new toys, and I find myself looking white-knuckled into the future and wondering if she will grow up without a father, or, what may be worse, with a father other than me. Without warning, a veil of silent tears falls and I sink again once more into self-pity.

Unspeakable fears assail me. How long has my thyroid potentially been pouring cancerous cells into the rest of my body? What if the cancer has spread? What if it's not just in my thyroid now, but is growing somewhere else, unnoticed and biding its time? That could mean chemotherapy, radiation treatment, debilitating sickness and annual bioscans, wondering how long it will be until my body turns me again.

Cancer. The word itself is a disease. It spreads from one thought to another, mushrooming into every corner of my mind, growing larger all the time and infecting every area of my present and my future.

Every ache, every pain and every cough comes with sinister overtones. I've always had a bad cough, but hasn't it been worse the last few months? Didn't I feel that hard lump in my throat before and just assume it was my larynx? Did we catch this early enough, or did we lose precious time because I was too ignorant to notice the telltale signs that my body was starting to turn on me? How long has this thing been there anyway?

Endocrine Web, one of many places on the Internet with enough information to scare the layman senseless, noted that the most treatable thyroid nodules are 1 centimeter across, or smaller. Mine is twice that. Has it grown to the point that it's no longer easily treatable, or am I reading too much into it?

I realize I'm being ridiculous. I've lost track of how many people who have told me about their friends and loved ones who have survived thyroid cancer, and I know many others who have survived far worse cancers than this. My former pastor had cancer and survived; and a friend of mine was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkins lymphoma, but he's been in remission for fifteen years. My wife's aunt has had skin cancer and oral cancer, and she's fine. Next year at this time, I'll be looking back at myself and thinking "Putz" for being so rattled over something that in retrospect will appear minor and not worth fretting over.

Right now, though, I unconsciously touch the solid mass in my throat every hour as if I hope it miraculously will have disappeared on its own. I feel the extra hardness there whenever I cough, and sometimes I just stop what I'm doing, and out of the blue I put my arms around my children and tell them how much I love them.

I'm scared, but I'm going to win.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

revenge of the thyroid

I'm touched by the outpouring of good will I've encountered since I broke the news today that I have thyroid cancer. I think other people are more upset about this than I am. I will admit to wallowing in self-pity off and on today, and moping about and feeling sorry for myself, but the endocrinologist who drew the cells for the culture told me that thyroid cancer is eminently treatable and by no means should be considered something that will cut me down in the prime of my life.

At some point in the next few weeks, I'm going to be given some radioactive iodine to drink. This will destroy the nodule, as well as any other cancerous growths that may have spread from my thyroid to other parts of my body. The thyroid itself will be surgically removed, and I'll be left taking a drug that substitutes for the thyroxin my body naturally produces at this point.

I'm looking at the bright side to this
  1. I have a ready-made excuse for anything. If I'm rude, tired, late, worried, gloomy, ill-tempered, whatever, it's because I have cancer.
  2. Nothing that goes wrong when the whole family gets together for Thanksgiving will be blamed on me. I have cancer. (My older brother said he wants to shave his head and wear a scarf so he can say, "Look, I have cancer too!")
  3. We have tons of material we can mine from this for the Brothers Grinn. Maybe we can even find a way to pin it on Bush.
  4. God's greatest mercies are always extended to us in the most painful ways. My experience with losing Isaac three years ago taught me more about God and my place next to him than anything I've ever learned in church. This seems to be less dramatic than losing a foster child, but I have confidence we will see God's hand when it has passed. "Shall we accept good from God, and not evil?"
  5. If I get to keep my thyroid in a jar, my daughter will have the best show-and-tell project EVER at her preschool. My older daughter can draw the best picture for "news" EVER at her charter school.
  6. If I'm laid up in a hospital bed for a few days, maybe I can borrow a laptop and actual get something written.
I've been working so hard at seeing the bright side of this that I had my older brother and an old friend of mine laughing hysterically as we talked about the ways I could milk this, or the ways they could benefit from it if it proves to be terminal. As my friend and I wound down, I pointed out that she was at work, and I had just left her with the awkward task of explaining to her co-workers what was so funny that she had been laughing for20 or 25 minutes. ("Well, an old friend of mine called to tell me that has cancer...")

Now if I can just parlay this good will into the labor and materials I need to have an addition built onto the house...

attack of the thyroid

I guess there's no point in beating around the bush here. I have thyroid cancer.

As cancers go, thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable sorts, and my life does not appear to be in any serious danger, although it's expected that I'm going to be on medication for the rest of my life. I'm working on setting up an appointment with an endocrinologist at the hospital so I can work out the full details of my treatment, such as when surgery will take place, and whether I get to keep my thyroid in a jar for the kids to take to show-and-tell.

I first learned that I have a lump on my thyroid Oct. 4, when I went to the doctor's office for help kicking a cold that had had me down for over a week. Thyroid nodules are fairly common. About 30 percent of adults get them, and usually they are benign. Only 5 percent are considered malignant and require any action beyond monitoring the nodule for any changes. (As is typical for my luck, I once again have beaten the odds. The way I beat the odds is exactly why I like to keep away from the roulette table.)

An ultrasound taken on my throat on Oct.10 revealed that the nodule was a solid mass, and not a cyst; a biopsy taken last Friday determined that the cells unequivocally are cancerous.

Where I go from here is setting up that appointment. My understanding is that the cancer was caught early on, but I'm going to seek assurances that it hasn't spread any to other parts of my body. From what I've read and what's been explained to me when I've asked questions, the next step is going to involve killing the thyroid with radioactive iodine and then having it surgically removed. Once that's done, I'll be taking thyroxin for the rest of my life. Among other things, thyroxin helps the body to regulate its metabolism, and helps set the body's thermostat. I'm not sure what lifestyle changes this operation is going to require. It's quite likely I'll never pitch another game in the World Series.

Obviously, I'm a little rattled by this, but I'm not too worried. I've been laughing with friends and my older brother about the situation, and looking at the bright side. If you're the praying sort, I appreciate prayers for my family, who surely are having to adjust to the specter of cancer. If you're not the praying sort, please feel free to send large quantities of cash to assuage any guilt feelings you have over not being able to help. (See? I told you there were good things about having cancer!)

Oh, and it wouldn't hurt to check yourself for any strange lumps.