Saturday, December 14, 2013

My Body, Myself, Part 2

First, the good news: I don't have a double chin.

Now, the not-so-great news: I have an enlarged thyroid gland, aka a goiter. A goiter! Isn't that something people had in the Middle Ages? No, wait. That's gout. I don't have gout. Whew.

But a goiter? That still sounds so...ancient. I know, I know, I'm 53, in the midst of my own middle ages. Maybe I'm in denial; I don't feel that old, certainly not as old as my mom and her friends seemed to me when they were 53.

How did this happen? Who's responsible? I want names.

Anyway, I digress. As some of you may know, in my last installment, I wrote that a blood test had shown no markers for BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations linked to breast cancer. I was shocked; given that I was diagnosed at 39 and my paternal grandmother died of the disease at 48, I'd expected very different news. Instead, I had major reason to celebrate, but the festivities were cut short by some less positive news: my insulin level was sky high.

I knew that I'd had something to eat before the test, so I had reason to hope that had skewed the numbers. But given that I've had a dramatic weight gain over the past several years and my father had adult-onset diabetes and then a deadly heart attack when he was 56--a mere three years older than I am now--I got pretty scared.

I did my best to remain calm as my gynecologist, who had ordered the bloods, sent me packing to the endocrinologist. It's a good thing she did. After I had donated about 10 vials of blood and collected two days' worth of pee in huge orange jugs--what can I say, I write what I know--my kindly new doctor called me back into her office to share some utterly confusing news.

First, more good news: I don't have diabetes. (Collective sigh of relief.)

But she did have some confounding news. I have some pretty funky thyroid issues going down. I have two sets of antibodies waging war inside my body. One causes hypothyroidism--Hashimoto's disease--while the other brings on hyperthyroidism--Graves' disease). My doctor says the hyperthyroidism/Graves is winning out.

Her immediate response: Along with ordering a two-day scan that involved me ingesting a radioactive pill to show my thyroid function and another round of bloods, she put me on megadoses of vitamins D3 and B12--apparently, I was seriously deficient--and ordered up a gluten-free diet, saying it makes a lot of people feel better.

Of course, all this sent me to everyone's medical bible: the internet. Finally, I may have gotten some answers to much of what's been ailing me, much of which I attributed to stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, Graves' disease symptoms include fatigue--that's been a biggie--anxiety, difficulty sleeping. and even the fine tremor in my hands and fingers.

My luck, the only symptom I don't seem to have is weight loss with no change in diet. Perhaps that's the fault of whatever's going on with the hypothyroid/Hashimoto's antibodies, which may also be causing the fatigue and sluggishness I've been feeling for months, if not years.

I've been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support I've received from Facebook friends on this one, and slightly shocked by the number of women who's shared that they've had Hashimoto's and that they have plenty of tips for me if it turns out to be that. Interestingly, no one has mentioned Graves, but I'm sure there are sufferers out there.

So now I'm in a holding pattern till I get the test results back and see my endocrinologist after the first of the year. I wish I could tell you more; I will as soon as I know.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I never had any doubt that I would beat it. I was lucky, for real. It had been caught early and treated aggressively.

But I can no longer be blithe about my health. These thyroid issues have been taking me down, I don't even know for how long now.

One thing's for sure: After a long break, I've strapped the oxygen mask back on.


  1. Your line about gout made me chuckle. But I'm glad the outlook isn't as bleak as it could have been; it sounds like help is on the way. I'm sure your endocrinologist has checked or will check your pituitary and adrenals, too. Chronic elevated cortisol levels can lead to exactly what you're describing.

    Fingers crossed for good news and/or a good plan for the start of your new year. :-)

  2. Thank you for mentioning the cortisol level. She said it was fine but I sure bet it hasn't been over the years! She's also going to look at the meds I'm on, as some may be having an effect. Thanks for the crossed fingers; I'll be sure to keep you posted. Happy new year to all of us!