Thyroid cancer comes loosely under the heading of head and neck cancer or is at least treated by the same ENT/ORL surgeons who treat us. I believe that most thyroid cancers are very curable. I think this is an interesting story of how one person coped with it.

Many thanks to Mary for sharing her story with us.

About seven years ago I noticed a swelling in my neck, went to the doctor, then to a specialist for biopsy. Was diagnosed as having hurthle cell cancer. Went straight in to local private hospital where my thyroid was removed. Not straight forward as the surgeon intended to leave my parathyroids but mistakenly took out the parathyroids and left two little bits of the thyroid. This resulted in a quick trip to the Whangarei Hospital and they were removed. Within 24 hours of the first op I was getting severe cramp. Quickly fixed by starting on the thyroxine and calcium; apparently without parathyroids the body cannot process calcium, resulting in cramp.

Post op I was referred straight to Auckland Hospital under Professor Ian Holdaway head of endocrinology. According to my daughter in law, who knows these things, he is world class. I think it was because it was hurthle cell which is not common and can be tricky.

I have only praise for Ian and the care he has taken of me. I was given radioactive iodine treatment which involves drinking a liquid through a straw followed by a scan. I can’t remember the time interval before the scan. The radioactive iodine attaches to any thyroid cells which may remain in your body. I was checked in six months for any remaining cells. Initially Ian encouragingly told me 93% of people only need one dose. I needed four; the fourth time involved staying in Auckland Hospital isolated in a lead-lined room for several days. After the follow up scan, Ian said it was all clear except for a tiny spot near my lungs but he was confident that it would be gone before the next scan, which it was. At that stage I was having annual check ups and scans. However Ian is retiring so has transferred me to Whangarei hospital for any future checks.

The unusual thing about my story is that at no time, except for the initial cramps, did I feel sick, look sick or have any effects at all other than the cancer, the treatments, or the medication. I was lucky that I noticed the swelling in my throat so it was removed before it could spread.

Psychologically I was distressed initially as is anyone with a cancer diagnosis and very nervous about the hospital visits but one of the ways I handled it, differently from most people I know, was to limit the information I read. The internet is full of theories and cures, as are well meaning people and I did not feel able to distinguish between them. When told by the surgeon to look it up I insisted he give me specific sites to read. I was lucky, Ian Holdaway, the surgeon and my GP all said I could ring them at any time with questions. I know that is not everyone’s experience.

I was on, and have been ever since, thyroxine, calcium and calcitriol. I had heard that some people who are on the generic thyroid pills have had problems with them so I asked the local chemist if I could have the original thyroxine and he said I could have anything I like. They work for me. Originally I was monitored by my GP monthly, then two monthly and recently three monthly. My GP tweaks the dosage sometimes.


Diana Ayling

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