Notes on a Biopsy From an Olympic-Level Worrier
“The doctor won’t be using any local anesthetic, as it may interfere with the cells and cause inconclusive results” the doctor’s assistant states plainly as she briefs me before I head into the examination room. I tell myself that none of this should have been as stressful as it is. I had a feeling this day would come eventually, as it had been over a year since I had discovered the nodules on my thyroid. The specialist I had seen while living in the UK said there was nothing to worry about and it was something to just keep an eye on in the future. Though after reviewing my NHS records I requested for reference, the radiologists’ notes would have suggested that I should have had a biopsy at that time (which, my friends, has been easily one my top 3 “What if?” scenarios I’ve ever obsessed over) instead of now. But, even upon telling myself that this was the natural next step and that I’ll feel much better once I know what is going on, I laid back on the examination chair terrified. Unsurprisingly, having your thyroid gland biopsied is a fairly unpleasant experience. I consider my tolerance for physical pain to be fairly high, though I’ve realized over the years my threshold for withstanding emotional pain is definitely not as strong. “Why are you crying — is it this or something else?” my endocrinologist asks almost confusedly as he shoves a needle into my neck. “It’s just stressful, that’s all”, I reply as my face scrunches up like an injured child who wants to be brave but knows full well they won’t be able to keep it together. No matter how fine the needle, having a sharp object continually jammed and then wriggled inside your neck isn’t something almost anyone would call ‘relaxing’.
“Don’t worry, you won’t die from thyroid cancer!” the doctor enthusiastically shouts while I destroy a tissue with my endless stream of snot and tears. I don’t say much, but I manage to eek out an apology for being an “Emotional Cow” during the procedure. I immediately reprimand myself internally, not only for apologizing too much in general but for doing it when the occasion actually permits for me to be scared. I quietly head out, make my appointment for the results which I will have to wait ten (at times, excruciatingly slow) days to receive.
On the way home, I continually roll the doctor’s words around in my head:
“Don’t worry, you won’t die from thyroid cancer!”
It is a reassurance that I’m sure works for many people, at least for a little while, anyway. I wouldn’t die, apparently, (even though it is rare, it does happen) but my life as I know it could cease to exist. Like many other people who feed their anxiety unnecessarily, I’ve scoured the internet on what could happen if you have thyroid cancer and/or a thyroidectomy. The potential impact on your life isn’t pretty: significant weight gain, loss of sex drive, loss of mental clarity, loss of hair, depression and increased anxiety, to name a few. With each new fallout of having thyroid cancer and the removal of the gland I learned about, I felt my whole life and the choices I’ve made being basted in layer after layer of irony. I’ll explain all of that another day. For now though I get to pretend that I’m getting on with my normal day-to-day, waiting for the results when I’m actually stewing in worry that the news will be as difficult to swallow as my thyroid makes everything else I actually consume.
I know full well that I’m being dramatic and that plenty of people with significant thyroid issues have managed to have active and full lives. Statistically I shouldn’t be worried either — around 90% of thyroid nodules turn out to be nothing to bat an eyelash about. It’s those pesky 10% though — the ones with their speckled insides and jagged edges, the nodules that look like the ones lodged onto my throat, that continue to keep me up at night.