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What Me Worry? (Ch.7)

One of the things you’re told to do before going in for chemotherapy, is to get your shit together and make the two medical appointments you dread: the dentist and the gynaecologist. During chemo, your immune system may be weakened, and an infection from a cavity could throw a wrench in the works. As well, chemo can sometimes throw off the results of a pap smear, so it’s best to get one BEFORE beginning chemo. Yee. Haw. Suzy Creamcheese gets a cavity search.

Luckily, the little dental clinic in this town is nothing like the medical clinic. The receptionist is crazily friendly, grabbing my book out of my hands and exclaiming that she LOVES this author and she knows I will love it too, and do I like mysteries? And what good ones have I read lately? And as I listed the names of my favorite authors, she actually wrote them down. So cute. Then the dental hygienist, who looks exactly like my friend Mandy Jackson, brought me to a comfortable chair in an office with giant picture windows looking out to the mountains. She gently took my x-rays (truthfully the most uncomfortable part of a dentist checkup – I shouldn’t complain), and introduced me to my dentist. Of course, I promptly forgot his name (thank you, Hashimoto’s), but he was very friendly and informative. When he understood I was heading into chemo next month, he focused right away on the molar in the very back of my mouth, on the left side. 3 years ago, I got a root canal and apparently the filling part wasn’t done well, and there was a teeny tiny hole in it. The x-ray showed a shadow at the end of the root of the tooth, and the dentist suspected it was slightly infected. However, to confirm it, he would have to send me to a specialist, which could take a month before anything could be done. Then he paused. I blurted out, “Do I really need that tooth? It looks like it’s mostly crown anyway, with just a little bit of roots – would you consider just pulling it out?” His eyes widened, and he said, “Well, I wasn’t sure if you would be able to see it that way…if there is any tooth that needs to be pulled, I would say that would be it, unless you had the luxury of seeing the specialist and taking the time for more elaborate dental work. I think you have more pressing matters coming up, and with your positive attitude, we can get this pulled on Monday and have at least 5 days to monitor if anything goes wrong – are you up for it?”

Am I up for it? Yank away, my dear dentist, yank away. There is no way on this earth, that a pulled tooth could hurt any worse than my surgical adventures thus far. And it’s not like it’s my front tooth. I would not be keen on looking like Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, no sir. So May 12th is Molar Monday. Hello, Jello! And maybe if the Tooth Fairy is feeling very generous, he could leave a little blue box under my pillow, instead of a quarter?

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Domo Arigato, Dr. Hashimoto

If you are old (as my children would put it), this will have you busting out your robot dancing and other foolish moves. For any fellow Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis victims out there, this will become your new theme song. Brain-fog, lethargy, FATNESS, and depression. That’s the rockin’ life we lead, even when treated, precisely because we are not robots and our bodies flux…especially as we age. woo to the hoo.

10 years ago, I had never even heard of Hashimoto’s Disease. My older sister had mentioned thyroid issues after her youngest child was born, but she lives all the way out in Australia, and busy me with my busy life must have been just too…busy…to pay enough attention. So time passes, and I’m around 40, and the family begins to tease me that I’m getting old, becoming absent-minded. I also notice that I am gaining weight, even though we eat healthily and exercise regularly. My hairbrush fills up with hair at an alarming rate, and I am cold all the time. And tired. Oh, so tired. There are days that I can barely get myself out of the bed, and no amount of coffee makes a difference. I would leave a room to go do something, and find myself in the hallway, reduced to tears because I didn’t know why I was there. I worried about dementia…Alzheimer’s… Finally, I take myself to the doctor, who orders blood tests and perkily tells me, “Looks like your thyroid is just not pulling its weight! Do you have thyroid issues in your family?” Do I? When I reached out to my extended family, my big sister gave me all the details of her battle with Hashimoto’s, and my father tells me that he’s been on a synthroid for years. YEARS. Yes. Communication with my dad is another issue to be discussed at a different time… So it turns out Hashimoto’s can run in families and after another round of blood tests for certain antibodies, I get to join the club. No green blazer, no membership card. Just Fat and Forgetful. Not the coolest club, to be sure.

There are all sorts of approaches to treatment for Hashimoto’s out there, from conventional synthroids, to nutritional changes, to incense and prayers (sorry, but that end of the spectrum is labeled KooKoo Land in my book). Normal hypothyroidism is very straightforward. Your thyroid is sluggish, underperforming, you just need to pop the right amount of synthroid and your hormone levels can theoretically reach a normal level. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is actually an autoimmune disease. You see, it is my own body, attacking my own thyroid, trying to kill it. On it’s own, my thyroid may have even had a chance to be normal and strong. Instead, it is under attack, and left untreated, would eventually be destroyed. In the olden days, I may have gone to bed and eventually never woken up, slipping into a myxedema coma. But here we are in the 21st century and modern medicine; problem solved, right? Yes…kinda. First, you have the immensely difficult task, in the beginning, of REMEMBERING to take the daily pill. Considering that memory loss is the #1 symptom of this dratted disease, it took me ages to get in the habit. The meds take some time to kick in – so a month of “oops, did I remember to take my pill?” plagued me. Blessedly, once the synthroid started to have some effect, I was relieved to find myself remembering that my contact lenses were, in fact already removed, so I could spare myself the painful digging around in my eye socket, searching for them. And I could climb the stairs in my house and remember, at the top, what it was I climbed them for. My children were especially relieved. I began using their names again, instead of the collective “Short People!” that I had resorted to calling them…The bad news is, some things are stubbornly sticking around, like the fat, and the constant feeling of being cold. The good news is, there is more energy to exercise, and I think peri-menopause is starting to send me hot flashes to combat the cold shivers. My body is a battlefield.

It’s been a few years since I was first diagnosed, and through regular blood tests and medication changes, my thyroid has been doing its best. I am still not normal, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if I ever deserved that label in the first place. There are 7 pesky little nodules on my thyroid. I call them my 7 Dwarves. Every 6 months I have an ultrasound to make sure they aren’t growing. It always feels strange, after 3 lovely pregnancies, to go in for an ultrasound hoping that what we see is NOT growing. So far so good. And there is always the positive thought that even if the nodules do rise up and revolt, thyroid cancer is probably the cancer you want to get, if you have to get a cancer, as it is the easiest cancer to treat, and the most survivable. I can’t believe I just wrote something positive about the C word.

It’s slightly ironic, having a disease that I can’t forget about because it still bugs me on a daily basis, this forgetfulness. The brain fog is improved, but there are far too many moments when I say out loud, “what was I saying?” and all my friends and family just pat my hand and prompt me to continue. There are huge chunks of my past that I simply can’t recall. My children will ask, “remember when?….” and I draw a blank. Writing helps; I can return to precise moments in time by re-reading journal entries. And oddly enough, cooking helps. Certain smells can transport me to completely different countries, decades past. For instance, raw onions and salami? Flashback to the USSR in 1976. I’m in 2nd grade, my father and some Russian contacts are sitting at our dining table, drinking straight vodka, cutting hunks of salami, popping salty black olives, and biting whole white, raw onions,as if they were apples. The fumes go straight up my nose and make me oh so hungry for a taste. My eyes are watering from the cigarette smoke, and my ears ring with their bellows of drunken laughter.

My children are puzzled by my crystal clear memories of certain things, but my complete inability to remember everyday things, like picking them up from school, or the names of their friends (all the girls’ seem to have names that start with “K” – how confusing is that?!). My son, who is too young to have learned about Pavlov’s dogs in school, brightly suggested, “Hey Mama, maybe if we give you a cupcake every time you pick us up from school on time, you can get it right!” Okay, so I forget some important things. But I also forget some things that are too painful to hold on to. That smell of cigarette smoke? There is nothing I hate more. Cigarette smoke reminds me of chain-smoking, abusive parents, getting carsick on long rides, and Mom dying of lung cancer. No smoke, no memories. Fresh clean air and Hashimoto’s means fresh, clean slate in my brain. Hashimoto and I have a tentative truce. I let go of some of the good, and am grateful some of the bad goes with it. So sometimes I say it sarcastically, but sometimes sincerely, Domo Arigato, Dr. Hashimoto.

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