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  • Chloe McElmury

Rotten, Rotten Recurrence

Updated: May 4, 2019

One of the tricks of thyroid cancer is that even if you've had a thyroidectomy, you can still have cancer afterwards. Recurrence of thyroid cancer can happen many years after initial cancer treatment. Because thyroid cancer can be pretty slow to grow, it may even take decades to be cancer-positive again.

This is something that I know too well. A few years after my initial total thyroidectomy where they also removed 30+ suspicious nodes, I was back in the waiting room being told I had cancer. Again. This second time was during 11th grade, right before the school year started. High school had been hard enough for me, but now I had to add another scar to my neck for all to see.

I wasn't jazzed to say the least. I had convinced myself I was going to die during this surgery. My surgeon removed two metastatic papillary thyroid carcinoma level III nodes. What a mouthful! Anyway, I ended up with another scar (this one vertical) and lived to tell the tale.

And now, I'm back to the possibility of having cancer again. Third times the charm, right? This time, it could be in my lung. Which would quite unfortunate, so I'm hoping what they're seeing on scans are just some weird pollen or something. However, this is an excellent opportunity to talk about recurrence and thyroid cancer.

The good part about this cancer, often why it gets dubbed as the "good" cancer, is that it is so treatable. As long as you don't get cancer in a crazy new place, it will probably be relatively easy to treat. However, there is the chance for thyroid cancer to spread elsewhere in your body. An online article from points out where this could happen: "The most common sites where recurrent thyroid cancer appears are in the lymph nodes in your neck. Papillary thyroid cancer may also re-develop in other parts of the body, such as the bones and lungs."

After getting over the initial shock and fear of the "c" word, it can be easy to worry about suddenly finding thyroid cancer again. I really enjoy what the American Cancer Society has to say on living as a thyroid cancer survivor. They acknowledge that it can be scary or stressful, something that my Pediatric Endocrinologist never thought to mention. Granted, I did cry a lot and she was probably worried I would start the water works again.

The American Cancer Society also mentions developing a survivorship care plan, which I had also never been introduced to. It's nothing in particular, but could include a potential schedule of when to come back for tests and scans, side-effects to look out for, and reminders or suggestions of how to stay healthy.

Have you had thyroid cancer recurrence? How did you handle it? I'm curious if anyone else out there has felt terrified at just the mere thought of thyroid cancer coming back. I find my mind wondering to the possibility at the most obscure moments-- in class when I'm spacing out or in the car, and it brings tears to my eyes each time.

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