It was at my 18-year annual physical that my doctor felt the lump in my throat. I'm not talking about a figurative lump in my throat, resulting from anxiety about being at the hospital or something. I'm talking about a literal lump (or nodule or tumor, if you will).
“Has anyone ever told you that you have a growth on your thyroid?” she asks me.
To which I reply, “no,” but in my head I’m thinking, “of course not! Don’t you think I would have mentioned that!?”
I had an ultrasound of my neck taken that same week, which showed that part of the nodule was solid. When it comes to thyroid nodules, fluid means abnormal, but benign. Solid, more often than not, means cancer. So I had a biopsy done. I laid back on a table as a doctor plunged a hollow needle into my neck and dug around. And after all of that hassle, what were my results? Inconclusive. None of the tests could tell whether it was cancer or not. So I took the safest route – surgery.
On August 12, 2014 I had my entire thyroid removed. By the grace of God, the pathology results indicated that it was not cancer after all. Having your thyroid removed is not like having your appendix or your tonsils removed. It’s not an organ you can live without. So when you decide on a total thyroidectomy, you are also deciding to take synthetic thyroid hormones for the rest of your life. When you decide to take synthetic thyroid hormones for the rest of your life, you are opening yourself up to long periods of frustration surrounding the dosage of your medication. Hypothyroid (or not having enough thyroid hormone) and hyperthyroid (having too much) each come along with their own set of equally obnoxious side effects.
That’s why when, a year later, I began feeling very much unlike myself, I assumed it was thyroid related. I was tired all the time, felt very low, and was more prone to panic attacks than I had been in years. I pushed through it, hoping that my medication would even out. When it didn’t I had my thyroid levels checked and was devastated to find out they were normal.
Why would normal results be a bad thing? Because they meant there was something else wrong with me. And I had no idea what.
So I saw my primary care physician, who had me see my endocrinologist, who sent me to an immunologist, who sent me to a rheumatologist, who ran a ton of tests and finally came up with a diagnosis: Sjogren’s Syndrome. An autoimmune disease in the same family as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. In an autoimmune disease, the body essentially attacks it’s own immune system, thinking that healthy cells are actually invading ones. Fun, right?
My initial googling of Sjogren’s left me confused. I learned that the primary symptoms are dry eyes and mouth – of which I had neither. Just a whole bunch of fatigue. But I’ve learned that’s kind of the way autoimmune disease go. They’re a little confusing, a little baffling, and they affect everyone extremely differently.
As of now, it’s been two years since I lost my thyroid and one since I got my Sjogren’s diagnosis. And in those years I have learned more about myself, and how to take of myself, than I did in the rest of my life.
I have learned that acceptance of a problem is the first step to solving it.
I have learned that if you want to heal, you must give in to your feelings.
I have learned that its ok – no, imperative – to take time to rest.
I have dived into the world of holistic health, pursuing a yoga teacher certification (which I got just before I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s), learning about the therapeutic benefits of things like super foods and essential oils, and slowly switching all of my beauty, cleaning, and other lifestyle products to all-natural, chemical free ones (many of which I make myself).
I have also found immense healing through writing. Pieces like this one, that give me the opportunity to tell my story, allow me to truly own it. I’ve also kept a blog, called “Balanced and Blissful,” for one year now – ever since being diagnosed with Sjogren’s. I created it as an outlet to explain to friends and family what I was going through and how I felt about it. And I continued it as a place to share my journey living with anxiety, chronic hypothyroidism, and Sjogren’s Syndrome.
My life definitely doesn’t look like your average 21-year-old’s. But through a lot of learning and accepting, I’ve realized that that’s ok. And that my unique story provides me with insights and a sense of compassion that I never would have gotten otherwise.
I am Molly McCarthy. I am a Brave Babe. And I truly love and accept myself.