The Doctor wants to Check Your Hormones not your “Whore Moans”: You Only Make that Mistake Once

The Doctor wants to Check Your Hormones not your “Whore Moans”:  You Only Make that Mistake Once

Some days I feel like I could conquer the world, and even more so this weak lil’ Thyroid Cancer. But other days I feel totally lost in the finality of it all.

Yes, there will come a day (hopefully) that I am cancer-free. It is likely that I will get my voice back. The experts tell me that 90% of vocal cord paralysis self-corrects within a year. But the fact that I will take synthetic hormones FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE feels daunting and, quite honestly, depressing.

My relationship with hormones, up to this point, was based solely on the two days before my period when I’d cry thinking about how much I love my husband, while simultaneously questioning every life decision I’d ever made. You know, like women do.

In an effort to expand my understanding, I’ve joined several Thyroid Cancer support groups on Facebook. The consensus is that it usually takes 6-12 months to get your hormone cocktail just right, so you start to feel normal again. Problem is, I don’t know that I’ve ever been “normal.” It’s my favorite thing about myself. I’ve always seen the world a bit differently, a bit funnier and more fantastical than the average Joe.

My friends will tell you how I can laugh myself into a fit, finding humor in something no one else sees. Tears will stream down my face as I struggle to control myself long enough to share with them what I’ve found so dang funny. I was told once that I could survive solitary confinement because I’d be able to entertain myself to no end. I took it as a compliment.

Since my thyroid surgery, and the hypothyroidism that came with the delicate organ being removed, I’ve only had fleeting moments that I have felt like myself. As I write this, I’m only two weeks into my new hormone regiment, so logically I know things should get better as the hormones build up in my system. But I’m terrified that I’ll struggle to be myself.

When I spend time with friends, I’m quieter. Sometimes because my voice is tired. Sometimes because my body is tired. And sometimes because my soul is tired. I know they see I’m not myself. I worry they don’t enjoy my company like they did when I was a clown. I get self-conscious about how quiet I am (in comparison to the friend they knew pre-ThyCa). I worry that they worry about me. I like being the funny one. I enjoy an audience. Go ahead, judge me. I don’t know that I know what I am, if I’m not an entertainer. I get angry thinking that cancer could have taken that from me.

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Right now I’m on a dose of hormone the endocrinologist has selected for me based only on my height and weight. My height and weight! Possibly the two most arbitrary aspects of what makes me, ME. As time goes on, we will make adjustments based on my energy levels and mood. But there will NEVER come a point that we are done making adjustments. My body will change. I will age. This is something I will do FOREVER. Will this be the new thing that defines me? Will I become the friend with the Thyroid issue? Because I’m much more fulfilled being the friend that makes you pee your pants a little, the friend that makes you laugh when you feel like you could cry, the friend that always sees the good and the funny in every situation.

How will I define myself now? And way more importantly…Will I get a beard? ‘Cause I’d look terrible with a beard.

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Only about 3 of these sound like any fun.

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My Hospital Stay and the Active Shooter: A True Story

The night was a partially nude blur, but I was a bit more lucid the morning after my total thyroidectomy surgery. Around 7:30 a.m. a line of doctors in white coats came into my room. Some I recognized, some I did not. They looked at my incision and drain line, and then started in with questions about my pain, breathing and speech.

I still wasn’t able to talk much and everything that came out was a crackling whisper. I sounded like a chain-smoking phone sex operator. Or how I would imagine one sounded.

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I confessed that I remembered that they had visited me the night before, but I couldn’t recall anything we talked about or the results of the surgery.

My surgeon took a deep breath. He was about to have to remind little Timmy that Old Yeller was dead.

“The good news is that we feel confident that we were able to get all or most of the Cancer. We were also able to identify and retain 3 of 4 of your para-thyroid glands,” he said.

It’s my experience, that when someone leads with “the good news is..” then there is bad news coming.

“One of the major nerves to your right vocal cord was running right through the tumor, so we had to sever it,” the surgeon explained. “That cord is now ‘stunned’ and we will have to keep an eye on it to see how it recovers.”

“Well, DAMN.” I thought. “But at least they got the Cancer out.”

Throughout the day they would draw my blood every 6 hours to monitor my calcium levels. If all went well, I’d be heading home that afternoon.

Minutes after the docs left, I heard a call over the hospital loud speaker, “Attention Hospital! Code White! Building 1, 4 WEST.”

That was my building. My floor. My wing. What was a ‘code white’ again? I knew what a code blue was, after all, I own a TV. But a ‘code white’? Hmmm. Then it came to me. I’d just heard it in some training I had a work. Code White is an ACTIVE SHOOTER!

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I waited for the follow up “This is a drill!” But it never came. Just then a nurse and nursing assistant (the Navy calls them Corpsmen) came rushing in my room. They moved quickly to roll and lock a supply cart in front of my outer door, and a recliner in front of my inner door.

“Should we put her in the bathroom?” the nurse asked the corpsman frantically.

“No!” He answered her. “We just need to close the blinds and be quiet.”

The Corpsmen, who had instructed me earlier to call him just “Steve” turned off my bed alarm and finally addressed me in a whisper.

“This is probably nothing, but we need to take precautions. Someone reported a man with a gun at the end of our hallway.”

“You have GOT to be shitting me!” I thought. “I’m like the walking, talking (or whispering) embodiment of Murphy’s Law!”

Within a few minutes my phone was ringing and beeping with calls and text messages. The report of an active shooter at a high-profile military hospital had made national news. My family and friends from al over the US were trying to contact me to make sure I was OK.

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My husband, who had just arrived at the hospital, was told to go back to his car in the parking garage and wait until the “all-clear” was called.

Steve sat casually in the recliner barricading my door. You could tell he was fresh out of training, maybe 19 or 20 years old. He was a nice looking young fellow of average size, but he talked like he was the hulk.

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“I HOPE someone tries to get in here,” he said. “I just feel like fighting.”

The nurse sat across the room, fidgeting and nervous.

Lucky for me, I’d just received a healthy dose of pain meds. I looked over at Steve, decided I was relatively safe, and drifted off to sleep.

The hospital remained on lock-down for 5 ½ hours before allowing the staff to return to their rounds under the protection of armed guards at the end of each wing.

It was another hour after that before the hospital as a whole was back open for business.

A few un-spent rounds were reported, but no shooter was ever found, and no one was harmed.

Unless you count my husband, who may have been scarred for life. He spent the entire 6 ½ hours in his car at the top of the parking garage just waiting to get in to see me. Between us, he peed in a Gatorade bottle and shit in a Ziploc bag. For reals. You can’t make that shit up! Pun intended.

In the end, it was one of those weird blessings that I stayed in the hospital. That afternoon, my calcium levels plummeted to a near dangerous level, right about the time I would have been released from the hospital. More on that next time!

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Reunited!

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My Thyroidectomy Surgery: Why 12 People Got to See my Cooter

The biopsy results answered just one question, the big question. I HAD CANCER. But like with most thyroid cancers, it would take surgery to truly see how big, what type, and how aggressive the cancer was. Had it spread? Was it in my lymph nodes? What other treatments would I need?

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I would have a total thyroidectomy, removing the tumor, all of my thyroid, and any surrounding lymph nodes that looked “suspicious” (wearing dark hoodies and trying to act casual, I’m guessing). My surgery day was March 22, 2016. It was a tough day that started the night before when I had to stop eating at 9 p.m. For the 15 minutes that spanned 8:45-9, I ate like a prisoner on death row, scarfing down their last meal. I feverishly rummaged through the kitchen pantry like a bear in a campsite.

The next morning the hanger (hungry-anger) set in early. I spent most of the morning in silence, a merciful gift I bestowed upon my family. I didn’t even have to report to the hospital until 11 a.m. When I arrived, vitals were taken, pee and blood was given (by me…for labs), and I changed into my hospital gown and slippers.

Side bar: I understand that the fashion industry doesn’t have much interest in giving the healthcare wardrobe a make-over, but this thin blue and white striped get-up has been around since the early 1900s. If not before, how was this standard not changed post WWII?! You know who loved the use of these striped jammies? HITLER! It’s reminiscent of nearly every pic I’ve ever seen of prisoners in concentration camps. I move to have hospital clothing changed to…. damn near anything else!

And why can’t I keep my underwear on? They made me take it off and go “commando”… for NECK surgery! (Just let that sink in a second) What could go wrong that they need access to my vagina?

“Well ma’am, unfortunately a major artery was nicked during your daughter’s neck operation. Sadly, she did not follow instructions to remove her panties before surgery. Without immediate and direct access to her vagina and anus, we were unable to help her and she bled out. We are very sorry. But let this be a lesson to other women who try to cover their beavers, in an effort to maintain some sense of control and dignity, during major surgery.”

Any who, it would be HOURS before I was called back to the pre-op area. Once back I was visited by the anesthesiologist, who looked about 16 years old. She ensured me that despite my LONG history of nausea and vomiting after general anesthetic, she had cooked up a cocktail of anti-nausea measures to avoid this.

“We’re basically going to throw everything at you but the kitchen sink,” Lil’ Miss Doogie Howser, M.D. tells me. “We were even able to get a new pill, special ordered just for you, that is top-of-the-line.”

“I hope it’s a chewable,” I thought, STARVING.

“Before you go back, I’m going to give you a little something to relax you,” she said with a wink. “It’s just going to make you feel like you had about two margaritas.”

“Soooooo, it’s going to make me feel like I need ‘just one more’ margarita?” I confirmed.

I was rolled back into the operating room, instructed to think “happy thoughts” and I faded away.

The surgery took more than 4 hours. I awoke in the recovery ward in pain and struggling to open my eyes. A nurse asked me my pain level, but when I tried to speak, nothing came out. So I just shot up one hand gesturing my pain was a 5 out of 10. I pointed to my ring finger, hoping the nurse spoke “drugged up” and knew I was asking for my husband.

“He will be waiting for you in your room,” she said.

By now my pain had increased to an 8, which I relayed via hand signals.

“I can give you something, but then you have to wait another 20 minutes to go to your room,” the nurse threatened.

Like the champion I am, I pointed back to my ring finger and refused the drugs.

Once back to my room I was comforted by the sight of my husband, but the pain was getting out of control. The staff worked quickly and administered a healthy dose of morphine. I could feel it rush my veins and I was immediately BURNING up! I ripped off all my blankets and tore off my gown. In my altered state I had forgotten about the no-panties rule and sat there, legs spread wide and boobs hanging out like an aboriginal tribes woman, as no less than 12 people cycled in and out of the room providing care.

The next day, my husband would tell me how he tried several times to cover me up, but I’d refused adamantly.

“Oh my, gad! Everyone saw my goods?” I asked him.

“Oh yeah, and your ‘bads‘,” he teased. “But I’ve walked around the ward and seen the other patients… You’ve definitely got the best bush on the floor.”

It was the sweetest thing anyone had ever said to me. (Tear)

As my pain came under control the nausea hit hard. I was going to throw up. Though I tried to speak, just air came out. I motioned to my husband to hand me a nearby bucket, both arms stretched out in front of me. He thought I wanted a hug and came in for one. Terrible timing, to say the least. I spent the next hour or so vomiting uncontrollably as the medical team worked to tame the nausea.

I know the surgeon visited that evening and told me the surgery findings, but I remembered nothing and was able to ask no questions.

I sent my husband home to be with our son and spent the evening under the care of an incredible nursing staff and VERY attentive med-tech. I’m confident his extra and thorough visits were all about providing the utmost in patient care and had nothing to do with the free boob and cooter shots I unknowing provided throughout that first night.

I would find out more about my surgery, and it’s unfortunate complications, the next day.

But more on that next time.

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The Results are IN: You DO have Cancer!

I was driving my 4-year-old son to daycare just days after my Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA) thyroid biopsy, when I got a call from the doctor’s office. The results were in.

I pulled over right away to give my full attention. Because safety is always FIRST in my book. Not because I was driving on a military base and didn’t want a huge ticket for being on my phone.

To add a little understanding and background, FNA biopsy results come back to you numbered 1-6. This isn’t how a medical journal would describe each category, but this is how I simplified them in my brain:

1 – Not enough material was collected to make a determination of any kind. Somebody done messed up the biopsy! (Insert stink-eye here)

2 – The tumor or growth is benign. It ain’t no thing, but a thyroid wing!

3 & 4 –  You definitely got something going on there, but we can’t be sure it’s Cancer. Your cells are looking funky though.

5 – You have some VERY suspicious cells, so it’s probably Cancer. So you best get your mind right.

6- Oh, it’s CANCER! It’s the Canceriest Cancer! No doubt!

After the socially required niceties of “Hello” and “How are you?” my doc went right in to it. MY results…a big fat 6.

“Well, it’s what we expected. The thyroid nodule tested positive for Cancer,” he said.

“WE?!” I thought. “Whom is he talking about ‘WE’? Because WE didn’t think it was Cancer a week ago. I thought WE thought it was a 1-in-4 chance. WE thought that meant it was a 75% chance this wasn’t Cancer.”

But all I said was “OK. What’s next?”

The next phase would be a pre-op appointment, a few labs, and scheduling the surgery to remove my entire thyroid, the tumor, and any surrounding lymph nodes that looked suspicious once they had me open.

First, of course, I would have to share the news with my family and close friends. My first call was to my husband. We were both completely calm as we discussed the next steps.

“How are you? Feeling wise, I mean.” He asked me, always a man of few words.

“I don’t know. I’m just in ‘GO mode’ with a little ‘take care of business’ wrapped in.” I told him. I was in shock and a little numb.

After we hung up I looked up to notice I was parked in a 2-Star General’s parking spot. Opps! A military police officer was looking my way. “Try me!” I thought, as I imagined the conversation we would have as I told him I pulled over to take a call from my doc that I have CANCER. “Ooooo, the Cancer Card. I’m already feeling the perks.” I’m nothing if not a silver lining kind of gal.

My next call was to my sister, who happens to be an oncology nurse at a leading Cancer hospital in Florida. (I know, right! Convenient.) She didn’t seem the least bit surprised.

“When you told me the nodule had it’s own blood supply, I kind of figured,” she said.

Damn! That makes at least two people who knew I had Cancer before I did.

“Why didn’t you tell me?!” I asked her.

“Because that’s not something you want to be wrong about,” she said.

As punishment, I made HER call our Mom with the news. Haha! Got you, sucka!

The next two weeks would be a whirlwind of paperwork and preparation. So much stress and so much to do.

March 22, 2016 would be my total thyroidectomy surgery, but more on that next time.

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The FNA Biopsy : Taking a 6-inch Needle to the Neck!

When my thyroid nodule ultrasound came back showing some signs that pointed toward a higher risk of cancer, my ENT specialist recommended a Fine Needle Aspiration biopsy, appropriately abbreviated FNA (say it fast with inflection).

I was nervous. I generally don’t have an issue with needles, but they are usually pretty small and go in my arms. Wait… that sounds like I shoot heroin or something. I don’t. That’s hood rat stuff. I snort it through my nose, ‘cause I’m a LADY. As for needles, I mean your run-of-the-mill flu shot or blood draw. But this biopsy would include several 6-inch+ needles in the neck. Eeeeek!

Lucky for me, my husband Dustin would be able to go with me. You haven’t heard much about him in my previous blogs, because he was away. My amazing husband is a helicopter aircrewman and rescue swimmer in the United Stated Navy. He was away on a detachment up until I received the results of my ultrasound. We were both still trying to remain positive.

“A 1-in-4 chance this is Cancer, means there is a 75% chance this is NOT Cancer,” I told him over the phone. “You don’t need to come home. I’m fine.”

His incredible leadership thought otherwise.

“You need to be home with your wife,” they told him. He was on a plane the next day to be with me.

And thank goodness he was. I was cool and collected on the outside, but tight and stressed with anticipation of the procedure on the inside.

6-inch needle?! You got this ALL DAY!” he assured me with a wide smile.

He was slightly less confident after I explained to him that the needle wasn’t going down my throat, but through the cartilage in my neck.

When I arrived for the procedure, I was taken to a stark white clean room with big dome spotlights. It looked like the kind of room where rednecks are taken when they are abducted from their cornfield by aliens to be anally probed. (All that technology and they haven’t figured out a simple cheek swab yet. Weird.) In the middle of the room was a table, where I was instructed to lay down. Within minutes the room was bustling with a radiology tech, doctor, and a pathologist who was rolling in a cart loaded with glass vials and a pair of microscopes.

My neck was cleaned then the injections began. The first few were lidocaine to numb me up and they burned. Just a minute or two later, the doc began poking around. “Feel that? What about that? How about here?” It took me back to my wedding night.

I was numb. Now it was time to get some samples from the growth on my thyroid.

“We are going to take at least three,” the doc told me. “The pathologist is here to examine the samples right away to make sure we get enough cells.”

If not, the needles would continue until they had enough to test.

“You won’t feel pain here, just a lot of pressure,” he said as if to console me.

Doctors and dentists always use this line, “No pain, just pressure.” Unless I’m getting a Swedish massage, nothing about this makes me feel better. Who’s getting excited about lots of PRESSURE? It still doesn’t feel good, and this pressure was on my NECK. There is a word for that…it’s strangulation.

OK, OK. It really wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t fun. Guided by ultrasound, the doctor inserted long, thin needles into my neck then, once on target, wiggled them around to scrap cells from the thyroid growth. During this I had to stay completely still. My whole body was rock solid as each muscle clenched in anticipation of the “pressure.” We got what we needed in the first three samples.

As I sat up a rush of adrenaline waved over me. Whew! I was done. They told me the pathology results should take 3-5 business days to come back. Just two days later my phone rang. “Who the heck doesn’t text?” I thought. The number on my screen was from the doctor’s office.

Dun. Dun. Duuuuuuuuuun!

More next time!

***Note: I do not do illegal drugs. Before posting, I actually had to fact check by Googling, “Can you snort heroin?” I’m such a square! Hahah

Thank you SO much for reading! If you liked it, laughed at it, or learned a little something from it, please feel free to comment, share, follow or ALL THREE!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thyroid Nodule: Friend, Foe, or Remnants of a Lost Twin

Last time on “The Days of Our, Young and Restless, Thyroid Lives” – Chrissy starts to suspect the worst when a sketchy-ass radiology tech won’t let her look at the screen during the ultrasound. When the results come back CSI fast, she waits, nervously as her doc delivers the news from the other end of the phone line.

The thyroid nodule was bigger and badder than they originally thought. When the doc felt my delicate and sunspot-free neck with his hands in the office, he estimated it was about 1 centimeter. The ultrasound showed that it was more than twice that size, about 2.6 cm, and had some “irregular characteristics.”

“The reason it feels like you are swallowing around a marble, is because you kind of are,” the doc told me over the phone. “I’d like to refer you to a Ear, Nose and Throat specialist.”

The crazy thing was, by this point, the sensation of the “marble” was completely gone. My throat had loosened back up, and I felt all-in-all…normal.

So against all advice, I began Googling the crap out of “thyroid nodule”, “thyroid cancer”, and “Is 2.6 cm big?” (That last one had some interesting results.) All the stats, random studies and medical jargon left my head spinning. I called to make an appointment with the ENT specialist to find out he was booked solid for more than a month out. Ugg.

If you are reading this as a patient or caregiver, here comes my unsolicited advice. You MUST, through all of this, be an ADVOCATE for yourself. Even if you have the most amazing medical team on earth, I can promise, no one cares more about you and your health than YOU. That being said, you ALWAYS get further with some sugar and spice. Here are some easy-to-do practices that worked for me:

  1. Remember that the receptionist, scheduler, secretary, who ever answers the phone when you call, is the GATE KEEPER! The docs may get the credit, but the front desk RUNS that office. Always be pleasant and thankful, even if they are not pleasant to you.
  2. If you need something, try to be part of the solution from the beginning. Example: No appointments available for a month or more, but you’d like one sooner. Try this: “Thank you. Can we go ahead and book that? I understand you are very busy. What is the best day/time to call and see if you’ve had any cancellations sooner than my scheduled appointment?” AND/OR “Could you make a note in my file, that if you have any last minute cancellations, I can make myself available for same-day appointments, and be here within an hour of your call?” When I’ve used these, along with my unwavering manners and charm, I have a 100% success rate of getting an appointment sooner than the one I originally scheduled. I’ve found as soon as the gatekeeper realizes that you are committed to getting an earlier appointment, and not a complete asshole (for lack of a better word), often times an appointment will magically appear.
  3. Write down your Qs for the doc, nurses, and medical staff. I know you’ve heard this one, but here’s where it’s really helpful…also write down the ANSWER when they give it to you. There will be so much information thrown at you it’s hard to keep track. There is also something hypnotizing about that white lab coat. (Yum.)
  4. Be someone that someone wants to help. I have NEVER had to be nasty to anyone to advocate for what I needed during my treatment. If I was ever too sick, weak, or out of sorts to speak for myself, my husband was prepared to do it for me, in the same style.

Ok, down from my soapbox, and on with the story.

When I did finally get in to see the ENT specialist he read my ultrasound results verbatim, right off his computer screen. They meant absolutely nothing to me. But about 60 seconds later he’s talking about surgery, the risks, and the statistical chance that this is Cancer.

“I’m sorry, doc. I think you got a little ahead of me. Could you break it down a bit?”

He immediately noticed his error and backtracked.

“The mass shows calcifications and it’s own blood supply. These characteristics give us more concern that this may be cancer, about a 1-in-4 chance. I’d like to order a fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNA) to see what we can find out,” he said. “However, no matter the results, I would still recommend surgery to remove, at minimum, the mass and that side of your thyroid.”

My mind kept replaying that word. Biopsy. Biopsy. But it replayed as the crazy aunt in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. “Bee-bop? Ba-bop? Bi-Bop-See! And when they did the bi-bop-see, they found little teeth and hairs. Inside the lump…was my twin.”

So we scheduled it. Not 3 weeks out, which was originally quoted to me, but using the techniques I outlined above, I was back at the hospital for my FNA just 2 days later. That biopsy was a son-of-a-gun.

But more on that next time.

Thanks SO much for reading! If you’ve enjoyed it or found it helpful, please feel free to comment, share, follow, or all 3.

How Nachos Helped Me Find My Cancer

It seems crazy to think about now, but my cancer journey only started a little more than 2 months ago. Let me lay the groundwork for you.

Life was good. I know that’s how most of these stories start, but it’s true. I wasn’t just “Facebook happy.”  I was really, in daily life, happy. Work was great. My family was busy, joyful and living life. And I was thrilled to be training for my first full marathon.

It was Super Bowl 50 weekend, Panthers vs. Broncos. I’d ran the Super Run 10k and achieved a personal best, shaving a full 4 minutes off my time. I felt on top of my game when it came to my health, and on my way there with my fitness.

So I treated myself to a full-on Super Bowl buffet binge; nachos, pigs-in-a-blanket, beer. You know how it goes. When the acid reflux kicked in around half time, my throat started to feel really tight. But that wasn’t stopping me. After all, I wasn’t painfully full yet. In my family, we are not done eating until we are unable to move or writhing in pain. We’re overachievers that way.

From there though, everything I ate or drank felt like it was taking a detour on the way to my stomach. My nacho chips moved like the sails of a cheesy, jalapeño boat navigating around a buoy in my throat. Not painful at first, but SO odd.

By the next morning at work, it became more and more difficult to swallow around the marble. So I made an appointment with my doc that day. He felt the lump on the right side of my throat with his hands.

“It feels like a thyroid nodule,” he told me. “They are very common. In fact 60% of people have them by the time they are 60 years old. Only about 1% are malignant.”

I was relieved. My doctor said he would still like to order an ultrasound of the lump, just because they are a little more rare in someone my age, just a sweet lil’ baby at 33. (I pretended not to be flattered at the equivalent of ‘being carded” by a man who has seen me naked.) And, so…it began.

A few days later I went in for an ultrasound. A little sticky goo on my neck and the tech got started. (No dinner or anything first, which I thought was messed up, but I rolled with it.) She moved the wand around slowly, pausing to take pictures and reminding me to stay still when she took video. All seemed standard, until I asked her if I could take a peek. She looked unsettled.

“You want to see it?!” she asked me.

“Yeah!” I said. “Just curious what it looks like. I’ve never seen a thyroid before.”

“Oh,” she said, turning OFF her monitor. “You wouldn’t be able to tell what anything was anyways.”

She dropped the mic, and walked out of the room. “Way to be sketchy as hell!” I thought.

The results were supposed to take 3-5 working days to come back. My primary care doc called me just 3 HOURS later. “The results of your ultrasound are already back.”

(Insert dramatic cliffhanger music here.)

Oh, and the Broncos beat the Panthers 24-10, Lady Gaga sang the national anthem, and Beyoncé did the half-time show…again.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve liked the blog entry, feel free to comment, share, follow, or all 3. More coming soon!