Radioactive Dad (or when cancer makes you a superhero)December 16, 2013
Note from Jon:
To those of you that I work with or are friends with and are hearing about this for the first time, I want you to know it’s not because you weren’t important enough to find out or even that it was a big secret. I didn’t tell a lot of people because of the gut reaction people have when they hear the word “cancer.” Having done all the research and knowing that it would all work out fine, I chose to handle this privately rather than unnecessarily place the burden of worrying on people. I’m sorry if I may have hurt feelings. This was the choice I made because to me the whole thing was just a bump in the road and not anywhere close to the gravity of the issues that other people deal with, even within my workplace. For those of you that knew and offered help and support, we thank you.
Cancer. The word strikes fear into the hearts of many. But it’s so broad, diverse. And thanks to medical research and innovation, the C word is much more likely to be a chronic (treatable) disease as opposed to a death sentence.
I guess I always thought if cancer invaded my family we’d be sitting in a mirthless medical office, behind a big oak desk as a doctor wearing a pristine white coat leaned toward us – hands clasped – and said solemnly, “It’s cancer,” before we dissolved into tears.
But that’s not what happened.
Jon: Hey, can you feel this? I think I have a weird lump in my neck.
Me: I don’t feel anything.
Jon: It’s sore. I think it might be cancer.
Me (ever the compassionate wife): You don’t have cancer. But if you’re worried, go see a doctor.
He ignored me. Then when his mom (Nana) suggested he visit a doctor as well, he decided that was probably a good idea. He just had a bad feeling in his gut (not to mention the increasingly sore throat).
The general practitioner told him it was probably nothing, but ordered an ultrasound to assuage his worries. The heterogeneous hypervascular mass in the midpole of the left lobe demonstrating multiple small non-shadowing echogenic foci (a 2 cm lump) they found did not do this. So it was off to get biopsied.
“Highly suspicious,” came the pathologist’s report a day later.
Turns out, “highly suspicious” is medical speak for, “Oh shit, you have cancer.”
Less than a week later, I was sitting beside Jon in the hospital as he was prepped for a complete thyroidectomy.
Thyroid cancer occurs in the butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck. The purpose of this fluttery organ is to regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. Jon and I sat side-by-side in this same hospital three and a half years earlier desperately wishing for our tiny babies to be able to do exactly those aforementioned functions.
Oh how ironic must things come full circle. “I can’t believe *you’re* the first one in our family to get intubated,” I joked, referring to the superpower of our ex-27-week preemies to breathe (mostly) on their own from birth.
Jon was diagnosed with papillary carcinoma of the thyroid, with some of the surrounding lymph nodes showing metastatic cancer.
This is the most common type of thyroid cancer, making up about 80 percent of all diagnoses. It is highly treatable, with survival rates for Stage I and II being “near 100%” per the American Cancer Society.
So at least he had the good sense to go and get the good fixable kind of cancer.
In addition to being a very slow growing cancer, the thyroid is the only part of the body that collects and retains iodine. So after suffering a very bland low-iodine diet to starve the body of the mineral, patients are given a radioactive iodine pill.
Thyroid cells eagerly absorb the iodine they’ve been missing and the cancer cells all promptly die a nuclear death.
The boys and I left Jon in isolation the weekend he made his transformation from mild-mannered suburban father to RADIOACTIVE DAD.
The need for isolation made a lot of sense – especially after seeing the Geiger counter go haywire and malfunction if Jon even got near it.
He’s fine. A body scan showed the cancer was caught early and had not spread to his bones or lungs. He’s back at work. He’s on a synthetic hormone that will trick his body into thinking it was never missing its thyroid. He’ll go back in a year for another scan.
But to me, he will forever more be RADIOACTIVE DAD. Apparently all the boys in the Stream family are superheroes.
PS. Jon has asked me to inform you that sometimes WebMD is totally right.