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Abby Melendez

Posted on: September 12, 2018

30 Stories in 30 Days

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. For the next 4 weeks, we will post stories written by thyroid cancer survivors, caregivers and friends for our 30 Stories in 30 Days campaign. We hope their perspectives and insight will help others along their journey.

I remember the exact moment my allergist opened the door to my exam room; before even taking a step in, he asked, “Did you know that your thyroid is enlarged?”

Just like that, my thyroid journey had begun. Within days, I was seen for scans, blood work, and an FNA biopsy that would determine my course of action.

I will never forget my biopsy result: “likely benign with suspicious cellular changes.” What does that even mean? Suspicious or benign – which one is it? The uncertainty of the report frightened me, as I had to figure out a way to share this with my family. It was then we decided to consult a head & neck surgeon for his opinion. After examining my neck, he calmly laid out my options. “You are young,” he told me, “so we can watch and wait or we can do surgery.” After discussing this with my husband, Miguel, I opted for surgery.

After a successful partial thyroidectomy, my husband and I anxiously awaited my pathology results. “Abby, there is a chance that this could be cancer,” my surgeon warned me. Really, cancer? I had been told by my endocrinologist that the nodule was probably benign, or it could be the “bad thing.” Cancer was NEVER mentioned. Well, turns out – it was the bad thing; it was follicular variant of papillary thyroid cancer. So I underwent yet another surgery to remove the remaining half of my thyroid and returned home for the next leg of my journey.

In preparation for my radioactive iodine treatment, I went hypothyroid naturally (At the time, Thyrogen was in its infancy.) As a result I entered, what many of us referred to as “Hypo Hell.” I became extremely fatigued, anxious, and depressed. I cried all of the time. Having expressed my emotional state to my surgeon, he took it upon himself to connect me with a community of thyroid cancer survivors – that’s when I found ThyCa. From my very first encounter, (in this case via email), I received so much support, validation and encouragement. Together with the love of my family, the ThyCa community gave me the strength to dig myself out of the most difficult part of my thyroid cancer journey. It took several years of changes to my meds to get me regulated and out of that “Hypo Trench.”

After attending several ThyCa conferences, Miguel and I decided it was our turn to carry the torch and begin thyroid cancer support meetings in our very own community. Sixteen years later, my husband and I are still facilitating our local ThyCa support group. In addition, we just hosted our second full day thyroid cancer survivors’ workshop. As cancer has touched us both, my husband and I have become quite involved with the American Cancer Society. We were recently notified that we’d been awarded the St. Georges National Award, honoring outstanding volunteers who demonstrate ongoing leadership in community mission delivery. Though it was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, my thyroid cancer, set me on this amazing path and I am so thankful to be able to give back to a community that has given me so much.

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