April and May 2009 were going to be busy months. My eldest son was getting married on May 2nd , my other son was moving house and his wife was expecting their second child in early May. Major heart surgery was imminent for my little one year old grandson Harri.
Although I was having recurrent sore throats during the previous 12 months, I was not aware of any other symptoms. However, colleagues at the hospice where I worked, noticed a lump in my neck and persuaded me to see the GP.
I remained unconcerned by blood tests and ultra sound scans but when the needle biopsy was reported as “highly suspicious” I was worried.
I could no longer cope on my own, so it was time to tell the family, in particular my 2 sons and my elderly mother. Telling my mother was difficult as we had lost several close family members with cancer, including 2 of my sisters.
My son immediately came home to Wales from London to be with me when I went to see the surgeon. The diagnosis of papillary thyroid cancer was a shock and I was very concerned about the inconvenient timing of this!
As a palliative nurse, I was now seeing things from a patient’s perspective. I contacted the thyroid cancer support group and was helped and supported by the wonderful members throughout my treatment and afterwards.
On April 2nd I had a thyroidectomy. The next day was my 60th Birthday. Unable to swallow solids, the boys brought in my favourite ice-cream for my birthday tea - it was lovely! They also put up all of my cards and balloons, brightening up the ward
I stayed in hospital a further 2 days as my calcium levels were low and the dosage of thyroxine was too high , causing palpitations, raised pulse and high blood pressure.
Initially I had no voice, but over a few days it returned, although it remained croaky and weak. 4 weeks later I was able to do a reading at my son’s wedding and on May11th. I was able to look after Harri whilst his brother was being born.
Radioactive iodine treatment was to commence on May 18th. I found the low iodine diet quite easy to follow. My biggest problem was worrying about my ability to swallow the radioactive iodine capsule, as I have always had difficulty swallowing medications.
I went to see a lovely speech therapist at Velindre hospital who had me practising swallowing using capsule shaped liquorice sweets! Fortunately I didn't have to stop taking thyroxine prior to treatment as I received Thyrogen injections.
The staff at Velindre hospital were wonderful and I didn't mind the isolation. I enjoyed reading, doing puzzles and crosswords and having a good rest.
Staying away from the grandchildren following the treatment was difficult but I was soon clear of radioactivity - thankfully in good time for Harri’s heart surgery.
My main hobbies are singing and walking. My singing voice was badly affected by the thyroidectomy and I had been told by the surgeon that my singing days were over. However, I would sing whilst on my own in the house and also to my grandchildren and my voice gradually became stronger. 3 years on I joined the local Tenovus choir and my voice has improved tremendously with regular practice.
I started walking again very soon after treatment, joining a local Ramblers’ group, starting with the shorter walks and gradually increasing distances.
My fitness levels improved quickly and I was soon back on the Brecon Beacons. Life is good. I am lucky to have wonderful family and friends who have supported me throughout and 3 gorgeous grandchildren too.
I’m enjoying singing and walking, having just returned from a week’s walking in the Lake District.