I spent years in agony before doctors took my health seriously
I didn’t change doctors for eight years, and he never learned to pronounce my name. In retrospect, I should have been strong enough to fix him, or leave, or find another doctor in a town that was teeming with them. But I barely had enough strength to chew my food.
This guy was “New York’s best,” as my medical student friend called me. He had forty years of work behind him. I only had fifteen years of pain under me. So I kept going back, first once a year, then once a season, then once a month, to check the lump in my throat, which was first the size of an almond, then a walnut, and finally when I was twenty-nine years old , he targets the area with the ping pong ball.
“So listen, Francis-sa. I know, we said things were looking good, and they are…it does All the biopsies we always do come back clean and your thyroid levels are within the acceptable range. . . .”
I have had my thyroid levels checked hundreds of times over the course of eight years. All the doctors I went to, from my gastroenterologist to my primary doctor and my general practitioner, all ordered thyroid tests. They always came back “normal”. The normal range of thyroid hormones is 0.5 to 5.0 mIU/L. Sometimes I was 1.5, sometimes 4.5, but never too high or too low to worry the doctors.
I have since learned that this is common for people with thyroid conditions. Thyroid levels can vary from day to day, time of month, or season. The only way to really know if your thyroid is functioning properly is to get blood drawn frequently and see how it fluctuates.
During this time, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and colitis, two autoimmune diseases (when your body, thinking it is attacking a foreign substance or virus, attacks itself). In the case of Crohn’s disease and colitis, this fight takes place in your intestines. Sometimes the pain is weak and occurs after eating. Other times, it’s harsh and brutal, causing your gut to react by trying to throw out the food that upsets it as quickly as possible. Crohn’s disease and colitis are often accompanied by arthritis of the hips and back and are often associated with thyroid dysfunction.
So the doctors attributed my fatigue and pain to these autoimmune issues, dismissing my claim that there was something terribly wrong with my thyroid. My doctor only noticed it when it started to double in size.
“So sit back and I’ll take a biopsy and, well…wow, this nodule has gotten big,” I remember my doctor saying.
“Yeah, I thought so too,” I started to say, but a long, fat needle was pointed at my throat, and the same doctor, hovering over me, said:
The next few days were tumultuous. The biopsy was malignant (he had only found benign tissue in previous biopsies) and he scheduled me for surgery immediately. Suddenly I found out I had cancer, and two days later I didn’t. But I must have had it for eight years. And during these eight years, no one believed me when I said that something was wrong. The lump grew too fast, it hurt to swallow and it was hard for me to speak. And then in an instant he was gone. My throat was cut.
I know it wasn’t that easy, but I felt like I was silenced in an extreme and cruel way – first by being ignored and then by the way I was treated. And the worst thing is that I was right.