There is no doubt in my mind that we were meant to come to Colorado for a reason. Perhaps it is so that I can be an influence for good and make people aware of this cancer and help someone in their path. I have much gratitude for having faced this trial in my life. I am very humbled and grateful to those who have helped me in my path, especially to those healthcare professionals that I have come in contact with throughout this journey. I recognize just how fortunate I am to be at such an outstanding facility with really wonderful doctors and surgeons who truly do care. One thing that has impressed me the most about the care that I have received at UCH is the collaborative team approach that the healthcare providers make excellent use of. I really appreciate the fact that my doctors collaborate with one another so that everyone is on the same page. You don’t have the situation where one doctor tells you one thing and another doctor tells you something entirely different. I feel it is important that those lines of communication remain open and I appreciate the way that they have included me in the decision-making process as well. Dr. Bentz did right by me as he always has, in sending me to Dr. Song and I can never thank him enough for that!
As I think about it, I was just not understanding this whole wait and watch approach to my situation. However, I truly appreciate Dr. Bentz for opening my eyes and getting me to see the bigger picture. He has helped me to see the inherent risk that could happen if they tried going back in now and the damage that could happen to my laryngeal nerve, as a result. Although Dr. Song has told me the same thing several times, I guess it just never quite sunk in my head and I needed someone else to keep driving that point home to me. I just didn’t really like the answers I was given and was hoping for a different solution.
What I appreciate most about Dr. Bentz is that he has always been totally upfront with me, never sugar coating anything – he holds nothing back and tells it like it is no matter how ugly the truth can be. He always seems to know what I need to hear whether it be good or bad, and has had this ability in getting me to see things that others just haven’t been able to, but not because they haven’t tried. Some people just have that knack or skill to help you to see what should be obvious and a no-brainer, but we somehow need that extra push to get that light to turn on and wake us up. Dr. Bentz has given me such a fresh perspective which has helped me to take a step back and reframe how I look at things.
Prior to consulting back with Dr. Bentz is when I think that I hit my lowest point in this journey where I felt such despair as there was no easy answers to my situation. It was almost like I was being pulled into this deep, dark pit and could never reach to the top no matter how hard I tried. It felt as though I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do I play this waiting game and hope that the cancer does not grow and spread further, or do I push my docs to get this nasty cancer out and cause potential major injuries which could present many more challenges for me? Nevertheless, I am grateful to Dr. Bentz helping me to understand that I need to trust in these decisions being made; it really was in my best interest to watch this cancerous nodule for further growth, because the option of surgery just presented too many risks. I’ve also had many good friends encouraging me to trust in my docs decisions as well. Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel after all.
I believe one of the hardest concepts for a cancer patient to grasp is the waiting and the unknown; at least it has been for me. You are in this holding pattern as doctors just don’t know what the behavior of these cancer cells are and what they are going to do as they seem to have a mind of their own and can be so unpredictable. Docs can only make the best estimated guess on what the right protocols are; they make the best decisions they can based on standards, trends and through their own experience and that of their colleagues, by trial and error. I have gained a much better understanding and appreciation for doctors and the decisions they have to make, even when those choices can be difficult. I now realize that the waiting and unknown is just the nature of the beast and it has taught me about having patience, one concept that has been a challenge for me in this journey. I’m usually a fairly patient person with other people, but when it comes to things for myself I want things when I want it on my timetable and this journey has taught me that it just doesn’t work that way.
Dr. Bentz had made arrangements for the biopsy which was done at the University of Utah hospital which is located near the Huntsman Cancer Institute and was done on January 25, 2011. During the biopsy, there were two or three interventional radiologists that were in the room along with the Pathology team. At first, they numbed up several areas on my neck before they actually did the needle passes into the masses. I felt some pressure, but the pain wasn’t really that bad although I did feel like a pin cushion as there were so many areas that they had to biopsy. I managed to muddle through it and the staff there was very nice and they even called me the following morning just to see how I was doing. Later that day on January 26, 2011 I saw Dr. Bentz to obtain the results of the biopsy. The night before obtaining the results, it was hard to sleep as I kept thinking about what the results was going to show. I was very nervous about what was going to be found, but I just had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing there were calcifications that it was most likely going to be cancer. I had my parents come in with me to that appointment and sure enough Dr. Bentz confirmed my worst fear, I had thyroid cancer! As he said that, the reality hit me like a ton of bricks slamming into my body that yes, I have cancer. I finally said it, the big “C” word! It’s not something anyone wants to hear, but yet it was happening to me of all people. Dr. Bentz said that it was highly suspicious of papillary thyroid cancer and was recommending a total thyroidectomy to remove the entire thyroid and the surrounding lymph nodes; he said that more information would be known after the removal of the thyroid. This all seems so surreal and I keep thinking that I will wake up and this will all just be a horrible dream!
Next, the decision was made to do surgery. I was going to have a TT (total thyroidectomy) and neck dissections on both sides of my neck to remove lymph nodes as well. The surgeon wanted to do it within the next few days. However, I had to schedule it a few weeks out as I was having another needed surgery on my foot first, and I also needed to get my husband back to the states as I was not about to go through such a major surgery without him by my side.
I made sure to ask Dr. Bentz when I could get back to the gym following surgery as I have been such an avid proponent of staying fit. I think I was more worried about missing gym time than the surgery itself. I have worked hard over the last two years getting our family on healthy eating and exercise mostly out of necessity due to our eldest daughter being diagnosed with a Pseudo tumor, which is essentially like a false brain tumor. It has caused some major issues with her eyesight and damaged some of her optic nerve. The treatment for this was that she had to lose some weight; I wanted her to have a support system and this has been something that our whole family has benefited from. I enjoy working out and I feel so good afterwards, it is the one thing I look forward to each day in doing.
I made the dreaded phone call to my husband in Japan explaining the diagnosis. He could not believe this was happening; both he and I were both hoping that it would have all been benign. Going through this ordeal was really difficult and it felt like I was ripped from my family, my teaching job and the students in my youth group. It feels as though I have just been blind-sided as though a curve ball coming out from nowhere. I had so many emotions going through my head at the time and it was hard to get a grasp of what was happening to me. Our family has been through a lot of medical challenges with our daughter the last two years, due to her Pseudo tumor diagnosis. Why was this happening now? I guess things were just going too good and something was bound to happen to stir our life up. I had many questions and no answers in sight. I had to put my trust in God that those questions would have an answer and that they will be able to get this cancer out of me!