Thyroidectomy Survival 101

kimmy

Thyroid Cancer Survivor **Thyroid not included

I have been vegan for almost 7 years now and it all started with one very scary word. Cancer. A doctor found a suspicious lump in my throat and referred me to a specialist. After several tests over the course of the year, the specialist told me the lump was most likely a cyst and was probably not cause for concern. He told me it did not have to be removed, but if I didn’t have it taken out, it would probably cause problems in future and just have to be taken out anyway. At 22 I thought I was young and it would be better to have surgery now then wait until I was older and more complications could arise. I was told going into surgery they would take the right half of my thyroid out with the cyst and only take out the full thyroid if need be. My odds of cancer were 1-3%. I wasn’t concerned.

After a scare with anesthesia and having more difficulty waking me up after surgery then expected, they told me they ended up taking out the whole thyroid. It turns out the lump on the right side was just a cyst. There was a tiny encapsulated papillary carcinoma hiding in the left half of my thyroid which my specialist thought looked strange and decided to take out completely and test.

This was around the time I lost my dad to cancer, so it freaked me out. I obsessed about it and could almost picture cancer floating around elsewhere in my body and became very paranoid about my health. After a year of this, I decided my health was something I could actually control, at least to a certain degree. So why not do everything I can to make myself a healthy, happy person?

I started reading about health and nutrition and realized food is really the way to fuel health. It plays a huge impact on all of our body systems and how they interact with one another. It helps determine our energy levels, blood sugar levels, hormonal health, moods, etc. And reading The China Study showed me that being vegan could be the best thing I could do for myself.

Meeting Carrie, a fellow thyroid cancer survivor & blogger was a really positive experience for me. She is sweet, kind and super strong! I admire her for sharing her struggles and strengths with me and being a great friend.

A good friend of mine, H, recently went through a similar health scare. She had a lump on her throat, the testing couldn’t determine exactly what it was, so she opted for surgery to have her thyroid removed. It turns out it was thyroid cancer as well. Before she went for her surgery, I sent her a little care package.

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  • a card wishing her well on this new journey, letting her know I’m here for her
  • vitamin e capsules to help reduce the appearance of scarring
  • sunscreen to help protect the delicate, healing skin around the throat
  • the scarf my mom gave me after my surgery
    • the shape of the thyroid is shaped like a butterfly and butterflies signify change and beautiful transformations
  • a package with my tips
  • and vegan pb cups… ’cause pb cups helps all of life’s problems!

I won’t go into everything I shared with H as it would make this post even longer and I think it’s already pretty hella long, but here are the highlights:

  • Take a good calcium supplement
    • your thyroid helps regulate your calcium stores in your body
  • Learn to love layers
    • your body temperature won’t be a fine tuned anymore and it’s easiest to always have a light sweater around
  • Learn to love your body
    • it will invariably go through changes, but it’s awesome regardless =)

What to eat:

  • A good variety of grains (rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, teff, amaranth, etc)
  • Veggies (celery, carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, snap peas, etc)
  • Proteins (beans, lentils, etc)
  • Lots of antioxidant-rich foods (berries!)
  • Good, healthy fats (avocado, coconut, etc)
  • Dark leafy greens (chard, spinach, collards, etc)
  • Nuts & Seeds (almonds, cashews, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, etc)
  • Calcium rich foods (sesame seeds, artichokes, brazil nuts, butternut squash, etc)
  • Fermented foods (kraut, tempeh, miso, etc)
  • Iodine rich foods (to help support your meds & regulate things as)
    • sea veggies like dulse, nori, wakame, etc

What to avoid:

  • Peanuts/pb 
    • They actually can interfere with your medication 
  • Raw brassica foods (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, etc)
    • They actually can block your medication making you feel sluggish and moody.
    • Good news! if you steam/sautée/bake these foods, it really reduces their goitrogenic properties (I still have trouble with this and can’t for the life of me give up raw kale).
  • Soy (I know!!! ugh!)
    • Same deal as above and I really do feel a lot better when I’m not eating much soy – there are a ton of great alternatives out there and I probably enjoy tofu a couple of times a month (tempeh is ok as it’s fermented).
  • Gluten (omg don’t hurt me!)
    • So gluten is actually pretty bad for people on HRT or have any type of thyroid issues.
    • Gluten has a protein (gliadin) that actually illicites an auto-immune response from your body when you consume it and the body goes into overdrive trying to fight off the supposed invader. I didn’t know this for the first SEVEN years after my surgery. I promptly gave it up in 2012 and have lowered my synthroid dosage TWICE since! I do have it sometimes, but feel like complete crappola a day or two after eating it (exhausted, moody, irritable, cold, etc).
  • Fasting/Cleansing
    • I was happy to learn that this is a big “no no” for peeps like us. It kind of screws with your hormone levels and metabolism and without a thyroid your body is already trying extra hard to keep everything in check.
    • Stick to 3 square meals a day and snacks to avoid blood sugar issues.

I didn’t bother doing any research ahead of time, I had no clue what was going to happen or what to expect or how to care for myself. It took me a long time to figure things out, and I was very angry for awhile after I had my thyroid taken out. But it got me interested in my body and how things work and how to listen to my body. It got me to start leading a more active life. It got me to question things more and do some trial and error. It got me to where I am today and I’m actually grateful about it now. I don’t think I’d be the kickass person I am without having gone through everything. You are already kickass, so I’m not sure you’ll change. I’m here if you need anything from advice, someone to vent to, or more chocolate.”

Love you H💕

Other posts I’ve written about thyroid health:
Hormone Health – the Thyroid Edition
Healthy Hormones
I also enjoyed reading Crazy Sexy Cancer.

11 thoughts on “Thyroidectomy Survival 101

  1. This is a wonderful post. As someone who had this procedure done, I can totally relate. I do have a question. You look wonderful and I saw this because I have a lot of weight problems due to the hypothyroidism and wondering what has been key to your weight success.

    1. I’m sorry you had to have the procedure as well, it’s not a pleasant one and really changes so many things in body, mind & spirit.
      To be honest, I have suffered many years (15+) with eating disorders and haven’t always properly taken care of myself. I’m at a weight that I’m not happy with right now, heavier than I have been in awhile, but I’m trying to focus more on being happy with my body the way it is. Sometimes though, with thyroid issues, you can do everything you possibly can to lose weight (or gain weight!) and it just doesn’t work out. Hormones get all out of sync and we just have to ride it out. I know that’s probably not what you want to hear, but it took me a long time to figure it out and it’s made me happier to accept it. *hugs* Please send me an email if you want to chat – I’d be happy to.

  2. That must have been such a scare. <3 <3 <3
    It is lovely that you can share and support people going through a similar time, that looks like a beautiful care package!

  3. That is so nice of you to support your friend going through something similar as you did. It must have been a very scary and sad time in your life. I’m so glad you’re doing well. It is amazing what the power of food can do to your health. Is that what started you on your path to being a nutritionist?

    1. Thank you Mary Ellen! Food is incredibly powerful! It’s underestimated unfortunately.
      This is exactly what set me on the path to becoming a nutritionist. So in a way, I feel like it was meant to be.

  4. OMG YOUR STORY IS NERVE WRACKING!!!!!!!!! I am so glad you’re okay though. I remember years ago when I was in college, I used to go to Utah with my mom so she could go to the Cancer Center there to get colonoscopies because colon cancer runs in our family. Well, one year she got her routine check and they found a mass on her Pancreas….. I flipping out inside (but on the outside I was cool and calm) and we wound up going back a month later so they could test it. It was right around the holidays and I actually called the hospital to see if I could get the results because my gut told me that it was a benign thing… And I wanted to tell my mom the good news for XMAS – alas the Hypocritic Oath…. So they couldn’t tell me, but they told my mom that I called and she thought it was the sweetest thing. ha.

  5. Hi Kimmy,

    Thank you SO much for saying I’m strong, I don’t often feel that way. :) You have been a great friend to me, too. I suppose in some ways the silver lining to both of us surviving thyroid cancer is that we met each other. XO.

    Anyway, I’d love to give my 2 cents to your friend who recently joined the ThyCa club. I was super interested to read what you had to say, and learned a few things! For instance, I was unaware that PB could interfere with the replacement medication. Boo….

    Other things I have learned along the way, although I would encourage folks to discuss with their doctor.

    1. Coffee can interfere with thyroid replacement hormone, as can mineral waters and flax. My doctor said I could wait only 30 minutes between taking my meds and consuming these things, but I think I need to wait more like 2-4 hours.
    2. I wonder about kelp or iodine supplementation after surgery because the iodine might stimulate any remaining thyroid cells and possibly encourage recurrence? I avoid iodine-rich foods for this reason.
    3. “Learn to love your body” OMG, yes, so important for everyone! My weight dropped about 10 pounds before surgery due to the stress, and I gained up to 20 pounds after surgery. Good times, ha. Learning to love my body in all of its sizes has preserved my mental health.

    I’d love to discuss these issues further too, and best wishes on a speedy recovery to H.

    1. Thank you Carrie! I totally forgot about the coffee one as it’s not something I drink. Good reminder.
      And the flax! I’m not sure I knew that one. You may be right about the iodine-rich foods, especially for people who have had RI treatment.
      #3 is a work in progress ;p

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