Archive | December, 2012

Finding Normal

26 Dec

I have been waiting for three years to write this blog. As we close the year, I am celebrating FINALLY achieving the New Year’s Resolution that I have had since 2009. I have achieved normal.

After my thyroidectomy, I tried everything to relieve my hypothyroid symptoms. Based on all my research, I believed natural thyroid hormone replacement would be the answer I was looking for. For a majority of people, Armour Thyroid or NatureThroid is all it takes to resolve the symptoms of weight gain, dry hair that falls out, exhaustion, depression…(the list goes on). I had the opposite experience. Coming off of my stable dose of Synthroid put me in an uncontrollable tailspin. A year later, once I finally gave up control and went back on 125 mcg Synthroid + 5 mcg Cytomel (as my endocrinologist prescribed), I stopped the tailspin. But could I ever recover the “normal” that I lost so long ago?

Over the course of my journey, I have tried many weight loss strategies, including strict calorie counting, vigorous exercise, the elimination of wheat and the elimination of dairy. Absolutely nothing worked. Imagine my devastation as I found myself 20 pounds heavier from all of my medication changes. Even after stabilizing on Synthroid/Cytomel, starving and working out like a crazy person, the best I could do was a 3 pound weight loss over 8 weeks. I believed I was doomed to live a life avoiding pictures and mirrors. I would never feel comfortable again. I would not be able to shop in my favorite clothing stores, and I would never be excited for a dressed-up event ever again. I started every morning on the scale, filled with shame and dread. I went to see my holistic doctor one last time in desperation.

She prescribed the HCG diet. It’s controversial, it’s really hard, and it probably isn’t a good idea for someone who wasn’t already committed to doing whatever it takes. But it literally changed my life in just one month.

  • Phase 1 (2 days): Daily HCG injections and eating a “loading” amount of high calories and fat
  • Phase 2 (23-30 days): Daily HCG injections and eating only 500 calories a day…no sugar, no starch, no dairy, NO DIET SODA
  • Phase 3 (21 days): No HCG injections, 1500 calories a day, no sugar, no starch
  • Phase 4 (life): Slowly add back starch and sugar

I lost 9 pounds my first week. I am currently in Phase 3, and I am down 18 pounds and 14 inches. It was pretty hard, especially during the holiday season. But the quick results made it much easier to adhere to to the strict diet. The HCG reduces hunger and weakness, but I did have to temporarily postpone my workouts. I did a few TurboKick sessions that made me feel like I was going to pass out. That was really the only “con.” Critics say that anyone would lose weight by eating 500 calories a day. However, I was literally burning more calories than I was consuming during my low-iodine diet, and I didn’t have any noticeable weight loss at all. As for regaining my lost weight, I am confident that I will maintain, because I was already in the habit of watching my calories and exercising.

Before: My heaviest weight ever, exhausted and riddled with hypothyroid symptoms. After: Lower than my pre-surgery weight, happy and healthy!

Before: My heaviest weight ever, exhausted and riddled with hypothyroid symptoms. After: Lower than my pre-surgery weight, healthy and happy!

Because my thyroid medication is now stable, I feel very normal. My hair and skin look better than ever. I sleep great and I have plenty of energy to get through the day. Before my thyroid cancer diagnosis, I would not be happy with my size 8 pants. I would still be beating myself up and trying to fit into my wedding dress from 2002. Not this time. Today, I celebrate my healthy BMI, my comfortable jeans and my favorite Coldplay T-shirt. This Christmas, I posed for as many pictures with my family as my children would tolerate. I found normal. And I am never going back.

Christmas 2012 - enjoying my normal hair, my comfortable clothes and my wonderful family

Christmas 2012 – enjoying my normal hair, my comfortable clothes and my wonderful family

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Letter to Dr. Jennifer Ashton

1 Dec

Recently, Brooke Burke-Charvet was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Shortly after the news was released, Dr. Jennifer Ashton spoke about it on ABC News. Naturally, she said, “patients will do incredibly well…it will not affect her life.” I was annoyed, but not surprised. I reached out to Dr. Ashton via Twitter, asking her to refrain from dismissing the difficulties of thyroidless life. Many of my fellow thyroid cancer survivors friends did the same. It is Dr. Ashton’s Facebook response to us that has me infuriated. Here are the condensed highlights:

Here is my official response to the plethora of inaccurate, vicicous, hurtful and reactionary comments made following my segment on Brooke Burke’s recent diagnosis of thyroid cancer:

I am a practicing physician, who actually takes care of patients. Therefore, on a daily basis, I am involved in patient care, rather than trolling social media. 

 Perhaps many of those who were irate at my saying thryoid cancer is ‘good’ should go back and rewatch my segment. AT NO TIME DID I UTTER THOSE WORDS. IN FACT, BROOKE BURKE HERSELF DID, IN QUOTING HER ONCOLOGIST.

I would consider it incredibly poor form to mention any ominous, negative, skeptical, frightening, or discouraging comments about her disease on national television. She bravely brought her diagnosis to the public and it was my hope to ENCOURAGE those fighting the disease.

As an Ivy-League educated, Board-certified physician in Women’s health, (as all physicians do) I have been formally educated and trained in treating the entire patient, not just a body part. That is why medical school is four years and residency is four years. We learn the ENTIRE body, not just one specialty. I have patients with ALL types of cancer, including thyroid cancer. 

This journey has made me strong. But not strong enough to sit back and let her call thyroid cancer survivors vicious social media trolls. My letter to Dr. Ashton follows.

Dear Dr. Ashton,

I was very sorry to hear that one of my fitness idols, Brooke Burke-Charvet, was diagnosed with the disease that ripped my body apart. When I saw her video blog, I pitied her…I remember thinking I had “good cancer” too. And who told me I had “good cancer?” My stupid, stupid doctor. And why did my doctor say that? Because the pervasive thinking in the medical community is: “Outcomes are everything. Thyroid cancer doesn’t kill as many people as some other cancers. Quality of life post-surgery is not really a problem.” Guess what? It’s a HUGE problem. But since most doctors are unsympathetic, our problems are brushed off as imaginary, self-inflicted or exaggerated.

When you went on national television and said, VERBATIM  “patients will do incredibly well…this will not affect her life,” I thought, what a waste of an opportunity to set the record straight about thyroid cancer. Instead, our doctors, employers, family and friends will continue to feel justified as they condescend us and blame our thyroidless symptoms on other things. So I reached out to you in hopes you would recant your statement and at least acknowledge that while thyroid cancer has an excellent prognosis in terms of life expectancy, that life can be quite altered. Instead, the entire thyroid cancer survivor community was called names and further dismissed in our fight for true awareness.

I get why you are defensive. You should be. You are very, very wrong. It is not your words that we are most offended by, it is your attitude and beliefs about cancer patient care. We do not wish to be lied to for purposes of encouragement. It would be very encouraging to me to have a doctor confirm that I am not crazy and that my symptoms are real, and are to be expected after a thyroidectomy. Instead, I was supposed to go back to “life as usual,” so I must have suddenly come down with a case of obesity, depression, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, hair-falling-out-in-clumps, shaky-hands syndrome. If I had not connected to the wonderful community of thyroid cancer survivors whom you categorize as “vicious,” I would believe I was all alone. I might be focused on correcting my plethora of new health problems with additional, unneeded medications instead of focusing on optimizing my thyroid medication and the new lifestyle it requires. All you had to do was say,” I apologize if I offended those who are battling this chronic disease.” Instead, you had to throw your Ivy-League education in our faces, as if that qualifies you to know more about our daily lives. (P.S. “Vicious” is not spelled with an extra “c.” You spelled “thyroid” wrong. And “re-watch” is hyphenated. But what do I know? I only went to a lowly little college in Middle America.)

I hope with all my heart that thyroid cancer will not affect Brooke Burke-Charvet’s daily life as much as it has mine. But in case it does, I hope she will connect to doctors and fellow survivors who can give her the real encouraging words she needs: “You are beautiful. You are tough. And while your thyroidless life will be different, it can still be great.”

Sincerely,

Sarah Young, Thyroid Cancer Survivor