This is the story about how thyroid cancer forever changed my life and my perception of health care.
‘What was my body to me? A kind of flunkey in my service. Let but my anger wax hot, my love grow exalted, my hatred collect in me, and that boasted solidarity between me and my body was gone.’ ~ Antoine De Saint-Exupery
In order to illustrate the disconnection of the body-mind-soul that occurs in the practice of Western medicine, I have related the following personal story of my experience with thyroid cancer.
Many years ago now I found a lump on my neck. I went to the doctor and was told that the lump, most likely was a thyroid tumor of some sort. I waited anxiously, as the results of the initial tests came in, one after the other. All which were inconclusive. The doctor recommended surgical removal of the tumor. I was only 37 at the time, and I remembered thinking that having thyroid cancer was impossible for someone like me. I thought I was the picture of health. Of course, I agreed to the surgery.
Sure enough, a type of thyroid cancer was diagnosed on the pathology specimen taken from my thyroid during surgery. I was lucky, though. The tumor was small, encapsulated, with only a narrow tunneling of cancer cells. As far as the doctors knew, there was no more cancer. Because they were sure, they even left one half of the gland in place and only removed the half that contained the tumor.
Because of my age, the prognosis was excellent, and I required no more medical intervention, except for one thing. I was to take thyroid pills, to provide my body with thyroid hormone, to keep the remaining half of the gland from working. I was to do this, even though my remaining half a gland was producing thyroid hormone just fine. The theory was (and I stress the word theory), that if we 'suppressed' my remaining half of the thyroid gland, then it wouldn't create another tumor. I readily agreed to the treatment, as I did not want a re-occurrence of the dreaded thyroid cancer. Statistics showed that thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that has a chance for recurrence, throughout ones lifetime, or so I was informed at the time.
However, I soon discovered that I did not like how the thyroid suppression pills made me feel. I felt hyper-stimulated and anxious all the time. I didn’t like the fact that my heart rate was now much higher than my pre-medicated normal. Exercise was harder, and my resting pulse was in the 80’s. I was accustomed to it being in the 60’s.
I soon learned, that regulating "just the right dose" of this medication meant frequent trips to the doctor, and lots of blood drawing. I rebelled against this marriage to my doctor, and I would do "naughty" things, like self-regulate my dose, cutting my pills in half if I began to feel jagged. My oncologist was very kind, since I was a nurse, but it was clear that I was being "naughty." Perhaps I didn't give it enough time, or perhaps I just wasn't in the right space to be married to my doctor. Since I was always the independent sort, I stopped taking the pills. I just turned off all thoughts of thyroid cancer.
One day at the hospital where I worked, another nurse blurted out to me that a thyroid problem was a manifestation of the feelings of "When will it be my turn?" She quoted some book that she was reading. (Thyroid problems are often the symbol our body uses to show us that we feel unable to express ourselves in the external world or unable to express our creativity. Thyroid cancer was no exception. The thyroid and the throat are often metaphors for not ‘having a voice’). I remember thinking at the time, that this nurse was a little crazy, a little too into alternative health for me.
But something in me was curious and I still went out and bought the book she was quoting, "You Can Heal Your Life" by Louise Hay. In this fabulous book, affirmations are given for the person to say that fits each and every possible illness that one can have (See Creating Positive Affirmations for Health). The belief is if one states these affirmations, many times a day, one can be healed of the condition. Saying affirmations is a simple system of positive thought creating matter, or a positive outcome. Belief creates health, even before the healthy state exists. Well, I was familiar with Norman Vincent Peale and the Christian concept of the power of positive thinking, so I thought, why not? Little did I know that an evolution was about to slowly and surely change my life. It was to begin in the form of a little book.
The issues in my life that I had been dealing with, as related to the thyroid cancer, I was later to discover. These issues had to do with growing up in a family of eleven and never feeling like I was heard. I was nicknamed ‘Cackleberry’ by my older brother, because I was always talking and ‘cackling’ in my desire to be heard. Since I was at the end of the string of kids, I always felt that I needed to state my opinions loudly and strongly in order to be believed and to be heard. Because of my chattiness, I was often scolded to be quiet which just added to my desire to be heard.
San Juan Mountains, near Telluride
I was disciplined once by my father who warned me to be quiet, and when I wasn’t he taped my mouth shut! This was a very impressionable moment for me - one which I will never forget the impact. I cried and cried over the event. My father, to his credit, apologized to me as an adult, because he somehow knew the effect on me. By that time, I had forgiven him anyway. I chose to believe that he and my mother had done the best they could to raise such a brood of children. Because of my forgiveness, I believe was why the thyroid cancerous tumor had been encapsulated and had not spread any further. I had already dealt with my feelings of anger towards my parents. Yet it was still very healing to hear the apology!
In my first marriage, I believe I inadvertently chose another situation in which I was not heard. My first husband was kind and sweet on the surface, and when he wanted to be. But underneath he was a rebel with an iron will, with strong opinions about everything. My opinions didn’t count, and especially my feelings didn’t count. His left rational brain was so overdeveloped, or shall I say his right brain was so underdeveloped that I felt crushed at every turn. Because of unexpressed feelings of not being heard, this experience also perpetuated itself by manifesting in my thyroid to bring the thyroid cancer. I had little understanding of the cause of my thyroid cancer at the time.
I said my affirmations for thyroid health, many times a day for many months, according to Louise Hay’s directions in "You Can Heal Your Life". Interestingly enough, at the time of my affirming, I didn’t even understand the real issue behind the thyroid cancer. I just faithfully said the affirmations. After repeating my affirmations over a course of time, I clearly believed that I was healed. And I didn't particularly believe in much at the time, nor would I have considered myself a spiritual person. I just faithfully said them.
Fast-forward about 5 years, and I am in the doctor's office, now a different doctor. I had different insurance coverage – hence a different doctor (another subject matter in and of itself). The doctor hears my history, and she is caring and nurturing and makes me feel totally guilty for not taking thyroid suppression medication. She puts the fear of God into me, relating a story of a young woman with thyroid cancer, who had a tracheostomy tube in her neck in order to breathe. She said, "You don't want that do you?" Who, in their right mind would say yes to that! Oh yes, I want to have my thyroid cancer come back! So I cowardly agreed to take the medicine once again ignoring my truth. Her final convincing point was to try a more "natural" form of thyroid, not the synthetic one I had been taking years ago. Sounded better, at least. I was into natural, and indeed I felt better on this medication.
I took the medication, half-heartedly, for the next several years, continuing to self- regulate the dose. I never really told my doctor the truth of my actions. I was able to check my blood levels and get prescriptions through the doctors I worked with at my job. I worked in a clinic, and for a small fee, I was allowed to order my own blood tests. Woo hoo – I was self-managing my health care! I was lucky.
Fast-forward again, about another 7 years. I decided that it really was time for a specialist re-evaluation of my thyroid condition (or lack of). 12 years had gone by since my thyroid cancer diagnosis, and I couldn't quite free myself of the notion that I should "medically" do something about my thyroid, despite my healthy status. The fear of the return of the thyroid cancer was strong in my psyche. Plus, I no longer had the job where I had such easy access to the lab for my own blood draws, and I did not want to take the thyroid pills anymore. I set myself up to see an endocrinologist, to see what they would advise. I couldn’t shake my culturally ingrained concept of Western medical management. I was in for a big surprise.
Bird-of-Paradise at the Quinta da Regaleira Palace in Sintra, Portugal
I arrived at the office for my consultation. It was at a large state-funded university hospital. It was the home of the biggest and the best. Where the latest in medical knowledge was practiced. Unfortunately as well, it was the home of the biggest medical egos. The first thing the endocrinologist said, that indicated to me that this was not going to go well for me was, “What did your doctor do to you? Put you on Armour thyroid? No one uses that old fashioned drug anymore! It’s impossible to regulate you on that medication!”
I attempted to explain my difficulty with synthetic thyroid pills. I told her I did not like how they made me feel, and I tolerated the Armour thyroid better. But she didn’t listen and proceeded to write a prescription for yet another type of thyroid medication, a blood test to check my thyroid levels, and an ultrasound of my thyroid gland.
I readily agreed to the ultrasound and blood test, but never filled the prescription. I wanted to wait to change the medication until the blood test came back, to check on its effectiveness. Why pay for another prescription if the one I was taking was effective? I didn’t have to go to medical school to figure that one out. But she was already convinced that I was not receiving a therapeutic dose!
As part of our conversation, I remember in frustration, she blurted out, ‘What is it you want me to say?’ I replied, ‘That I do not have to take the medication at all!’ She could only stare at me and say nothing. This advice would totally go against everything she was taught - everything she ‘knew,’ and plus, she wouldn’t be ‘doing’ something! She was unable to hear what I already knew about myself ~ that my thyroid cancer was healed.
It was a double bind for the doctor. Firstly, she only believed that what she advised could work, that the Armour thyroid medication was no good, despite the labwork that showed it was effective. Secondly, she did not believe that anything a patient could tell her about themselves could be true, or that such information was unique with each and every individual.
Her dilemma was that she could not hear that my current medication was therapeutic for me. Also she did not want to hear that I was inquiring about the risks of NOT taking the medication at all, that perhaps the risk of the return of the thyroid cancer was very low indeed.
I was what the medical community would call a “non-compliant” patient. I was moving toward going against medical advice, a very dangerous ground. Instead of giving me information, and allowing me to make a decision based on that information, I needed to do as I was told. A real partnering event! It’s amazing, how small and like a child I always feel when I go to the doctor, despite the fact that I am a nurse!
What the layperson also needs to understand is that statistical, Western medicine wants to always “do” something. Something is always better than nothing, and in a world of liability, a doctor has to prove that he/she did all that the known medical community knew to do in any medical situation.
In my case, ‘doing’ something was to treat the possibility of recurrence of the thyroid cancer, not the thyroid cancer itself. I was to be treated based on the statistics of the likelihood that the thyroid cancer would come back. This was despite the fact that the endocrine specialist stated to me that my likelihood of dying from a car accident was greater than dying of thyroid cancer. I got her to admit that when I specifically pinned her down. After all, it had been 12 years since my diagnosis.
Nothing in this system accounts for the individual and the individual’s level of physical, emotional and spiritual health and healing. Nothing in this system accounts for personal, inner wisdom of the individual.
The Therapeutic Yoga Bow Pose to open your heart and open your throat
In my follow-up appointment, the endocrinologist had to eat crow. She was visibly embarrassed to admit, that according to the lab work, my thyroid medication dosage was therapeutic. I’ll never forget the look on her face, when she had to admit that she was wrong.
When I again tried to discuss with her the risk of not taking the medication at all, since my ultrasound was negative, and the likelihood of the thyroid cancer coming back was so low, she pretended not to hear me. I was trying to tell her, that I was willing to take to this risk. I was healthy and in tune with my body, and to me health, of course was more than physical.
Instead of listening to me, the doctor in fact took the disconnect even farther, and she suggested that since I had problems with synthetic thyroid pills, that she could give me a prescription that I could now take three times a day instead of once a day to manage my thyroid suppression! She just could not admit that the Armour thyroid was doing just fine. I just couldn’t believe my ears. It was as if the conversation at the prior appointment hadn’t even occurred. She was sticking to her guns, despite what she had heard. I was telling her I felt my health was great and was willing to take the risk of not taking any medication and she was trying to get me to take more!!
Message received: More intervention is better. Needless to say, I never took her advice, nor did I choose to see her again.
I decided, ultimately, to use my own inner wisdom, take myself off the thyroid pills and accept the small risk of getting thyroid cancer again. Since I believe that my emotional issues that had been manifested in my thyroid were now resolved, it was a small risk indeed. This concept was something the endocrinologist knew nothing about and totally refused to acknowledge.
Sometime later, when I was describing my experience to another sister, who works in a primary clinic, she suggested I just get a periodic ultrasound of my thyroid, for peace of mind. It was a wonderful suggestion, which I have taken. This was a perfect way for me to integrate Western medicine with a holistic point of view. I have learned to believe that everything I need to know will present itself to me, in due time. I say this as a positive affirmation repeatedly in my life. It works!
More than ever, it is time to take personal responsibility for our own health. In an age where Western medicine is fragmented from the body-mind-soul, and highly specialized, so that even our bodies are further fragmented into systems, prevention versus treatment of disease is paramount. We are not a respiratory system, or an endocrine system, or a cardiac/circulatory system. Nor are we simply a physical being. We are a whole person, body-mind-soul. The use of the Body Window to find health and healing is so important, in addition to seeking traditional medical care.
If you are having an invasive or surgical procedure (not just for thyroid cancer) in the near future, you can see my article on Integrative Medicine and the Doctor Patient Relationship, Post-Procedure to learn how to maximize your interactions with your health care providers.
Did you know that one of the leading causes of death in the USA is medical intervention? Several studies quote that about 500,000 deaths a year are caused by medical errors. A major directive from the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) is for healthcare organizations to reduce their medical errors. Things such as incorrect medication administration, surgery performed on the wrong site or body part, acquiring infections in healthcare settings, or failure to recognize and treat life-threatening symptoms and conditions.
Can this be the same medicine that makes the USA the #1 provider of health care? Can traditional medicine hurt the very people it sets out to help? Or are we ourselves responsible for our health and our medical destinies at least partially?
I believe that we must become responsible for our own health and well-being. We can no longer expect medical experts to be the be-all, end-all in our care. We need to integrate Western healthcare, as we know it, with our own self-awareness. In the age of the Internet we need to spend the time to inform ourselves so we feel comfortable discussing our care options with our healthcare providers. We need to voice our concerns, attempt to find partners in our care who will plan our care based on our knowledge of ourselves and based on our inner guidance. We know that which is best for ourselves if we take the time to listen to use our bodies for self-discovery, through the Body Window.
If you have had a similar experience with your traditional healthcare provider, please share your story. It may just inspire us all to rise up and take control of our own healthcare! (It's really very easy with the form below from SBI! Plus you will have built your own web page and perhaps become famous!)
Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...
Trusting My Body's Wisdom
When I was seeing an oncologist and undergoing treatment for lymphoma, one side effect from the chemo drug vincristine was peripheral neuropathy (numbness, …
The Open Threat from my Doctor
Thanks for sharing your story. During my cancer episode I had a referral to a chemo oncologist and a radiation oncologist. They both recommended treatment. …
The Nightmares of "Standard Treatment" of Care
Thank-you so much, Sue, for caring enough to take the time to share your health journey. I state "health" instead of "cancer" journey, because you truly …