Thyroid Cancer during Breast Cancer

“Ms. Huffman, have you noticed a fullness in your neck?”

This was the question I heard from my primary care physician, who I had gone to see for a mammogram referral, which would eventually lead to my breast cancer diagnosis.

“Yes, but I had a radioactive treatment several years ago to treat a goiter on my thyroid.  I had thought the treatment took care of that.”  Women on both sides of my family have had problems with their thyroid; my mom had her thyroid removed when she was 16, one of her cousins had thyroid cancer, and one of my aunts had thyroid cancer.

“Hmmm, I believe that may not be the case.  Regardless, you need to see a specialist and have this checked out further.”

For a period of almost two months prior to my breast diagnosis, I had numerous appointments for scans, biopsies and specialist consultations for both my thyroid and breasts.  My bosses, bless their hearts, let me have flexible hours at work to make up for the plethora of appointments.   If they hadn’t been so accommodating and helpful during that initial period, I surely would have lost my mind.

I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in late September 2010.   Several weeks afterwards, I met up with an endocrinologist to discuss the results of my thyroid biopsy.  He informed me that there was a significant chance I had thyroid cancer, too, and I needed to have my thyroid removed.

Being told that you may have cancer while you already have cancer, it’s surreal, to say the least.  My inner monologue was basically: “Hahahahahahahahahahahaha.”

Since the breast cancer was considered the biggest threat, treatment for those particular rogue cells took priority.  However, a month after I was done with chemotherapy, it was time for the thyroid to be exorcised . . . I mean, removed.

After the full thyroidectomy, I was a sight to be seen: bald, greyish pallor and sporting a giant neck wound.  The first night after my surgery, I fainted in the bathroom and woke up surrounded by unfamiliar nurses and doctors all saying my name really loudly.   Apparently, as I was falling down, I had hit my head and the nurse’s aide (who I had insisted that she stay outside the bathroom because “I’m an adult and don’t need help in the bathroom”) caught me as I crumpled to the floor.

It was a “fun” night after that, and I was sprung from the hospital on my 31st birthday.  Happy birthday to me!

It wasn’t easy trying to get my thyroid hormones leveled while dealing with radiation for breast cancer.  I felt tired in ways I didn’t think were possible.   Since I no longer had a thyroid, I take Synthryoid every day and will do so for the rest of my life.  I never wanted to be on a medication for the rest of my life before my thyroidectomy, but now that I am, I don’t care in the absolute slightest.  Given how much trouble my thyroid caused me in my 20s (i.e., untreated hyperthyroidism for years), my only regret is that I didn’t have it removed sooner.  When your thyroid is off, everything about you and how you feel is off.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism (which I checked off most of them):

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Goiter (visibly enlarged thyroid gland) or thyroid nodules
  • Hand tremor
  • Heat intolerance
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased sweating
  • Irregular menstrual periods in women
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight loss (or weight gain, in some cases)

Hypothyroidism (defined as a condition in which the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone) symptoms:

Early symptoms:

  • Hard stools or constipation
  • Increased sensitivity to cold temperature
  • Fatigue or feeling slowed down
  • Heavier and irregular menstrual periods
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Paleness or dry skin
  • Sadness or depression
  • Thin, brittle hair or fingernails
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain

Late symptoms, if untreated:

  • Decreased taste and smell
  • Hoarseness
  • Puffy face, hands, and feet
  • Slow speech
  • Thickening of the skin
  • Thinning of eyebrows

I want to emphasize that if you think you could possibly be dealing with either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, consult a doctor, who can order simple blood tests.   I felt off for so many years, and I had no idea it was because of an overactive thyroid.  I suffered from panic attacks, insomnia and a ravenous appetite that never let up.  Once a doctor figured out what was wrong and got my levels regulated, I felt normal again.

Dealing with thyroid cancer at the same time as breast cancer wasn’t easy or fun, but I’m beyond relieved that my thyroid is gone.  I admit that I miss my old chest often, but my thyroid?  Nope.  I hope it went straight to hell, which is where I’m sure it came from.

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2 thoughts on “Thyroid Cancer during Breast Cancer

  1. I don’t let the nurses in the bathroom either, aren’t we brilliant. Thyroid cancer while you have breast cancer, how unfair is that! I enjoy your sense of humour, Lara… very glad your thyroid is gone, and probably burnt to a crisp.

    1. Ha, yeah, the timing certainly sucked. Luckily, the total thyroidectomy took care of it, and I didn’t have to have any radiation (at least to my neck). But since it was on both sides of my family, that body part was doomed from the beginning.

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