Country: Vietnam


Thyroid Cancer Blows, But At Least I'm Learning to Cook, Right?

January 14, 2014

Warning: This discusses food. I hate hearing about other people’s food issues/dietary restrictions, so feel free to skip. The jist is that I can’t eat any of the food I came home to eat and am being forced to cook. LAME.

December 23rd: D-day. Or should I say T-Day. No, no, not Turkey Day. Thyroidectomy Day. Second times the charm, as they say.  I stomped into the hospital hours before the crack of dawn (here in the PNW, the sun rises around 8:30 and sets around 4:30. Depressing), ready to give my birth date about 40 times and answer endless questions about the myriad of medications I’d taken in the last 30 days.  Between the Salmonella, infected blister and strange liquid in my lungs, I’d take 7 types of antibiotics within 2 weeks.  See ya later, stomach bacteria!!

Moving on. About an hour after donning my fashionable hospital gown, I was wheeled into the OR, and moved onto the operating table.  If you’ve never had surgery, it’s pretty surprising how big ORs actually are.  I mean, they look pretty spacious in Grey’s Anatomy, but IRL they’re even bigger. And more sterile and freezing and very, very bright.  Some nurses fretted over my nose ring and such, but eventually I was breathing straight oxygen and counting back from ten, the bright and sterile room fading to black.


Waking up from anesthesia can, in my experience, be the single most agonizing experience on the planet, or akin to waking up from a very intense Coma-Sleep (similar to Bed Lock but more… asleep).  Surgery one, I woke up and vaguely remember thinking I was dead/a monster/still in surgery because I was in complete and utter agony.  Surgery two I woke up feeling like I’d been punched in the neck and possibly knocked out with a blunt object, but otherwise without pain.  I was wheeled back to the You Aren’t Important area, and I think talked to my mom (or dad?) for a while. Not super sure. Eventually, after a few doses of morphine and a visit from my friend who works in the ER, I was wheeled out of the hospital and on my way to my favorite couch.

Whenever people ask me how the surgery went, I never really know what to say.  I know what they’re getting at (do you have cancer?) but half the time I couldn’t help but say “I’m not sure, I fell asleep and woke up so looks like it went well.”  Truth be told, the Pathology report wouldn’t be in for a week, so I had no idea how the surgery went other than I’d survived and could still speak and wasn’t foaming at the mouth.

A week went by.  Christmas happened.  I was tired but not miserable.


A week after surgery, I went to have my stitches removed and hear the results of my pathology report.  All too familiar with my body’s penitent for self-destruction, I was not as optimistic as my family and friends about the contents of said report.  It couldn’t really be that bad, but everyone around me was constantly saying “I’m sure you’ll be fine, everything will be ok, blah blah optimism and rainbows,” while I was approaching the issue with realism and cynicism.  I wouldn’t be surprised if something went wrong, I would be pleased if everything was hunky dory.

Everything was not hunky dory.  Long story short, there were still carcinoma cells in the remainder of my thyroid (but not in my lymph nodes PRAISE THE SUN) which increased the likelihood that I would need to do the radioiodine treatment sooner rather than later.

Fast forward to January 14th, the day I was meant to be leaving for Vietnam, and here I am. In my living room in Bellingham, occupying myself with mundane activities like making kale chips.

I will be receiving a dose of radioiodine January 29th, then will be isolated due to radioactivity for a few days and then will be allowed to have some human contact and then, hopefully, fingers crossed, return to Vietnam.


The only real impact this whole thing is having upon my everyday life (besides the obvious I’m-Not-Living-My-Dream thing) is that I cannot have iodine.  “Oh, bummer, just eat sea salt,” you may be naively thinking. WRONG. Iodine is in everything.  Well, 90% of everything that I usually eat. I have been forcibly put on the Paleo Diet with the addition of Matzoh and applesauce.  No dairy, no soy, no seafood or sea products (i.e. sea salt or seaweed), no baked products (I can make them myself with iodine free flour, but LOL NO), no egg yolks, no chocolate…basically, NO anything that isn’t a fruit, a vegetable or 6oz of meat. Red Dye #30 is also acceptable thank god. This also means NO EATING OUT. I can get black coffee or tea (but, as you may know, I think tea tastes like sticks, so that’s out of the question) and can also have beer, soda (ew) and most types of alcohol other than scotch.  Luckily, as I am not a 65 year old man, and do not consume scotch. 

This diet is forcing me to be extremely healthy AND learn how to cook AND avoid all of the foods I came home to eat.  It is also forcing me to learn how to cook.  I am generally apathetic about cooking myself food, but since that is now my only option should I wish to consume anything other than water, I have started cooking.  I hate reading about other people’s food problems, hate talking about cooking, hate watching people cook on TV, hate hearing people talk about the food they’re eating, hate when people instagram pictures of their food, and generally dislike anything that has to do with food other than grocery shopping and actually eating. 

Not only do I now have to plan out what I’m going to eat before I’m hungry, but I have to find recipes and follow them and patiently wait for things to cook instead of just scrambling eggs or making a quesadilla or sandwich.  It’s the pits, man.  Only kind of.  Because this is such a specific diet, the Thyroid Cancer association of America has its own cookbook with loads of recipes, which is awesome because otherwise I’d wind up eating brussel sprouts or egg whites for every meal.  Just made a spaghetti squash and other stuff ‘casserole’ (I’m not entirely sure what a casserole is, but since I cooked some stuff in a casserole pan, I assume that meets the main criteria) that isn’t too bad.  Still tastes like a pan full of cooked veggies that is conspicuously missing protein, but I’ll live. 

In 3 weeks time, I fully expect to be the most fabulously healthy and thin version of myself to have ever existed.  I should be glowing with holier-than-though dietary restrictions and the ability to one up most anyone in any conversation surrounding the topic of food. 

At the end of the day, other than forcing me to slow down on my life’s plans, live without a plan, cancel plane tickets, not be able to give a definitive answer when people ask “when are you going back?”, and not eating any of the foods I like, this whole thyroid cancer thing isn’t tooooooo much of a drag.