I became a survivor in April of 1993 when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
They removed the whole thyroid. They found some in surrounding lymph nodes. I had to do radiation treatments with radioactive iodine. Somebody came in with this big radioactive suit on and said, “Drink this.” Then they tell you that nobody can be around you for a couple of days. You feel like, “That’s scary. I’m putting this in my body.” I had to go off my medications and have some tests done periodically to see how everything was going and if any cancer had come back. Each time I had to go off the medication, it takes many months to get back to my normal levels. That affects my life in every way: my work and my social life. I feel like my throat is very sensitive when I get a cold. I get a lot of sore throats, but especially since I’ve had my thyroid removed. I’ve asked my endocrinologist, and she didn’t really have an answer for me. I feel like I haven’t had as much energy since this whole thyroid event. I always try to get enough sleep and have a balanced diet. I go in for my yearly checkups to make sure my levels of medication are correct.
I was pretty horrified because right when you get the surgery, you look like Frankenstein’s Monster. It was springtime, and I was wearing turtlenecks because it’s this bright, red, long scar across your neck. It’s such a visible area, and I was very self-conscious. For a long time, it was pretty noticeable, probably more to me, I’m sure. I was conscious about that for the first several years. At first, I was conscious because, as you can imagine, losing your thyroid, being whacked out on medication, trying to get your metabolism right, and my weight was fluctuating. I gained a lot of weight, and I didn’t like that at all. I’d always been in pretty good shape with working out. So that was hard for me. It’s been pretty regular for the last six or seven years, so that hasn’t been an issue lately.
I’ve always exercised regularly, but I think I’m even better about it now. I’m certainly better about my eating habits now than I was before. Those are probably the two big things. I am taking a multivitamin now, which I did off and on before. I did see a naturopath for a while and got blood work done. He recommended a certain diet. I did that for a while, but then he moved out of town, so I stopped seeing him. I’ve done acupuncture, but not necessarily for my thyroid. If I was feeling tired, I might do it for that.
When I was diagnosed, I was a senior in college. All my friends and I, we were getting ready to graduate. They were in party mode. I think it’s hard for people to understand that sort of thing at that age, especially if they don’t have anybody they’ve known go through it before. It was disappointing for me because I didn’t really feel like my friends were there for me. They didn’t understand. They were there when I got the surgery, but the next week, it was over for them. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go out to the parties and go to the bars. That was hard.
I definitely have had issues with sadness and depression, especially around the first couple of years after the surgery. At the time, my boyfriend’s mom also died. Then my next boyfriend’s dad died. This was all within a couple of years of getting cancer. I went through a period where I wasn’t very happy and was trying to figure everything out, especially the whole death thing and sickness. For that period, I saw a counselor for a very brief time. I was never really very comfortable with it. The first day I started feeling better, I stopped seeing her. I’m not really sure that that’s helped me much. About that same time, I moved to Tahoe so I wasn’t that concerned with it then. I think I’ve grown up. I write about things sometimes and that helps or just talking to people.
I’ve met a couple of people that have gone through cancer crisis too. It’s therapeutic to talk to other people that have gone through similar situations and can relate. I feel social bonds with other cancer survivors. I did the Danskin Triathlon a couple of weeks ago. I did it one other year with a friend of mine, who has melanoma. We did it together and met in a cancer survivor group. That was a really great experience to meet everybody in the group and also be doing it with my friend. That was the first time I did it and this past year; same sort of thing. I actually met a gal at work that has thyroid cancer, the exact same cancer. We did the Triathlon together this year.
I did find meaning in my experience. I was actually glad that I had the experience, because I realized that up until that point in my life, I was living for other people, trying to make everyone happy and do the right thing. I started thinking about, “What do I want to do? What would make me happy? I want to make the most out of life.” Anything could happen any day. I think it changed my viewpoint and the way I was going through my life. I did get some steady work after college for a couple of years. I was restless and wanted to enjoy myself, so I went to Lake Tahoe, California and was a ski bum. I lived there for about a year-and-a-half. Then I continued on that same route for probably a couple more years. Not really caring about the whole career thing and getting ahead in life. All my friends were on that road but I felt like, “I don’t want to do that right now. I want to do some things for myself. Figure out what makes me happy, and not worry about money, getting ahead, and all these things that don’t really matter.” Well, they matter a little bit. I’ve come to a compromise. You realize that it helps to have a little bit of money to be able to buy a car that works and all that kind of stuff. So I came to a middle road that’s comfortable for me. Although I work hard and I have a good job, I don’t live for work. I won’t ever do that.
I had insurance through the University, which obviously ends when you graduate. I was in my last quarter. I had a major surgery and all this necessary follow-up care. I knew that there was a problem with preexisting conditions and being able to get insurance. It was about six months after school, and my parents had to help me because there was no way that I would’ve been able to afford insurance. I think that they were paying $500 dollars a month for me to have insurance. Luckily, after six months, there was a law passed that the insurance companies could not do that. They had to let people who had preexisting conditions have fair insurance coverage. After the laws changed, it hasn’t been a problem since then. Luckily, the jobs that I’ve had, it hasn’t been an issue. They’ve all had pretty good coverage. It is probably one of the top four things on the list of important things when looking for a job. Health insurance is important, unless you’re independently wealthy. I don’t know how anyone could afford it.
Live strong means paying attention to what’s important in life and not missing out. Going and doing what you want to do and enjoying life. Keeping healthy. That’s something that’s one of my top priorities. Exercising and eating. Experiencing life to the fullest. I live strong by challenging myself athletically, with the triathlons or skiing. Even challenging myself otherwise like traveling or experiencing new places or people. Trying not to say “No” to talk myself out of things.
I’m so happy that there is something like Live Strong because I know when I was 22 and going through something strange and different, I didn’t know anything. People weren’t even on the Internet then. You couldn’t just look something up. It was really hard to comprehend and understand anything. You feel misunderstood or like people can’t imagine what you’re going through. I appreciate the fact that the Lance Armstrong Foundation is doing this and that there’s research for people.
My name is Kristin Dorn, and I am an 11-year thyroid cancer survivor.