An Incidental Finding :: My Thyroid Journey 

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Normally, I’m the type of person who likes surprises. But after being seen in the emergency room after our car accident on June 13th, the CT scan taken to see if I had any internal injuries or bleeding showed something unexpected. When the ER doctor came in to go over my scan results, he said nothing showed up related to the accident, but there was an incidental finding (something extra found by the test that’s not related to the reason your doctor ordered the test).

This incidental finding was multiple nodules on both sides of my thyroid. I hadn’t been experiencing any health issues, so this news caught me completely off guard. Many people with thyroid nodules have no symptoms and a lot of times they are found by chance. However, some people may notice a lump in the front part of their neck or discomfort when swallowing. 

The ER doctor told me to follow up with my primary care doctor the following week (I was in his office two days later on June 15th). After a brief discussion about me not really having symptoms, he ordered an ultrasound, which I had during that visit. When the ultrasound tech. was finished, I asked her if she was allowed to tell me anything and she said I had a large nodule on my left side that is close to five centimeters wide. 

Stats & Info

I try not to Google medical stuff because it’s always terrible news, but I did look at some legit medical sites just to gain some more information. I found the following facts:

  • Thyroid nodules are very common, especially in the U.S.
  • Experts estimate that about half of Americans will have one by the time they’re 60 years old.
  • Some nodules are solid, and some are fluid-filled cysts. Others are mixed.
  • Because many thyroid nodules don’t cause any symptoms, people may not even know they’re there. In other cases, the nodules can get big enough to cause problems.
  • The vast majority — more than 95% — of thyroid nodules are benign (noncancerous).

All The Appointments

The next step was to meet with an endocrinologist on July 21st. At our first visit, we sat down and had a talk about all the thyroid things, what to expect, probable procedures, etc. I had another ultrasound that day, and a few days later he called me with the results and asked me to come back in for a biopsy.

The appointment was scheduled for August 12th. I had never had a biopsy anywhere before, but I’m guessing the neck is one of the worst places to have one. There are no medicines given before, during, or after. So, you may be wondering “Was it painful?” Very much yes! After all, I laid on my back and had a needle stuck in my neck about a hundred times. 

When the results came back, the doctor called and told me that due to the size, he recommended I have surgery to remove the left side of my thyroid and referred me to a surgeon at The Kirklin Clinic at UAB.

Surgery

On September 1st, I met with a fabulous female endocrinology surgeon at UAB. We went over all the things and she also recommended to have the left side taken out. I agreed and we picked a surgery date for later in the month. 

September 23rd was the big day—a left thyroid lobectomy. The nodule was finally coming out, over three months after it was found. Obviously, I don’t remember anything besides being wheeled back to the OR and then waking up in recovery with an incision in my neck being held together with skin glue. After drinking lots of juice and getting the all clear, we were headed home. I was told to rotate Tylenol and Motrin every three hours for a few days to stay on top of the pain. (They did not send me home with a prescription for pain medicine!)

Leaving the hospital after surgery.

Post-Surgery

On the ride home, we stopped at Chick-fil-A for a chocolate milkshake. My husband ordered some fries and I wound up eating some of them. We got home, I walked over to my neighbor’s house, and said hello. I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t in much pain, I slept great that night, and my recovery was absolutely amazing.

I was told post-surgery I might have pain, a sore throat, discomfort, possible loss of voice, etc., so I was prepared for all that but none of those things even happened. Although I didn’t have much of an appetite for a few days, I was able to eat what I wanted.

With skin glue on the incision, I didn’t have to go back to get stitches out, thankfully. My neck looked pretty rough for about four days, but once the bruises faded and I helped the skin glue come off, it was almost unnoticeable within two weeks. 

Less than a week after surgery.

Two weeks later, I had my follow-up visit with my surgeon and got a great report. I have a six week checkup scheduled with my endocrinologist in November to check my thyroid levels. They will need to make sure the right side is producing enough thyroid hormone so I can avoiding having to take medication. (There is an 80% chance I won’t have to take any).

In The Future/Sharing My Story

I will have yearly ultrasounds to monitor the small nodules on my right side. If they grow to four centimeters, I will have the right side taken out, too.

Not even three weeks after my surgery, a friend of a friend contacted me. She wanted to hear about my experience as she was going through something very similar. I was so glad to be able to share my journey with her and let her know what lies ahead.  

I’ve had so many people tell me that our car accident was a blessing in disguise so the nodules could be found. I don’t necessarily agree with that because the last several months dealing with the ramifications of the accident have been horrible. However, I am glad that it was found, that it was benign, and that it’s out. I’m so happy to move forward with my tiny neck scar and be able to share my experience with others.

October 12. 19 days post-surgery.
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Leah grew up in a small town in north Jefferson County. She attended UAB and graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, but never pursued the broadcast side, just the journalism. Spending most of the last 20 years doing some type of writing, she is currently the community editor of 280 Living newspaper. A resident of Chelsea since 2005, Leah and her husband Todd have been married for 17 years and have a son, Carson (13), and daughter, Morgan (7). If there is every downtime in her schedule, you will find Leah at Starbucks or Chick-fil-A, Target, getting a pedicure or spending time with her girlfriends.

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