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THYROID CANCER SURVIVOR RUNS A CANCER SUPPORT GROUP

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Gemma - Thyroid Cancer Survivor
“Darkness exists so that stars can shine”

Gemma, was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer in 2013. She has successfully defeated her disease. She is a “fighter mummy” and runs a Facebook closed group for families and friends of those affected by cancer.

The Diagnosis

She was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer on 13th September 2013.

The Journey

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“In 2013 I was a studying a degree in Mental Health Nursing which I loved, with an amazing future ahead of me. I had 3 small children who depended solely on me for everything. In the January after just a few first dates with Glenn, I found a lump on my neck. I booked into my GP straight away only to be told it was an inflamed lymph node and not to worry. Two weeks later it was still there so I went back. This happens 3 more times until I was taken seriously and was referred to a specialist. This was the beginning of 4 years of letters I couldn’t understand with medical jargon consuming the whole page. I would attend where and when told and not have a clue what to expect.”

“I was told that my biopsy results came back negative and that they weren’t going to do anything more. I pleaded with the consultant saying the same as before that it was getting bigger and getting in the way of breathing at night time. After a while, he agreed for me to have a hemithyroidectomy, which is just removing half of the thyroid gland, the side where the lump was, but only for cosmetic reasons. If I hadn’t have pushed they were quite happy to let it be.

It took a few months to get an operation date through, which by this time was scheduled for 29th July. Six whole months since I originally went to see my GP.

I was terrified on the morning of the operation. Glenn drove me to the hospital which was 45 minutes away. The longest 45 minutes of my whole life. I was checked in, given the sexy green stockings and told to wait for my name to be called. My operation lasted 10 hours and was a success. They managed to get it all and it hadn’t spread outside of the thyroid gland. I later found out the Glenn had sat in the same chair in the waiting room the whole time I was gone, just waiting for me. I will never begin to understand how scared he must have felt that day. But he stayed, for me.”

“At some point after the operation and after 3 lots of anti-sickness drugs had kicked in I was told it didn’t look like cancer. I remember even writing a status on Facebook letting everyone know I was ok and that it was benign. Oh, how wrong they were.

By now it was the summer holidays and I had missed so many days of placement with appointments etc, that I had to work 3 out of the 4 weeks of August to complete it. It meant not spending the summer with my children, but this was a sacrifice I was willing to take to better my future, our future.

Early September I received a letter in the post which was addressed to my GP from my consultant to confirm what they had found. The letter was filled with medical terms which I didn’t have a clue what they meant so I just briefly scanned over it, with the intention of filing it with the others. However, the second paragraph through up some familiar words. ‘Carcinoma’ and ‘a tumour’ stuck out like a saw thumb, but even then I couldn’t work out if it meant I had it or didn’t have it!

My appointment seemed to take forever to arrive. Friday 13th September. Unlucky for some but for me, I never believed in superstition. I got called in, Glenn by my side keeping my mind busy with his silly jokes! We sat down and the consultant didn’t even look up. He proceeded to read my notes as if we weren’t even there. He finally looked up and it was like a horrible joke. He muttered the phrase ‘It was cancer…..’ as soon as I heard him say those words my eyes filled with tears. I instantly felt like I was going to be sick and my ears started ringing. I’ve read before out when people are diagnosed and hear the word Cancer they don’t hear anything beyond this point, but I didn’t realize it was such an intense physical pain. I thought I was going to pass out. Glenn was amazing, he stayed calm, listening to what was being said while at the same time reassuring me. I honestly would not have got through that day if he wasn’t there. When I finally composed myself the consultant looked at me and said “But it’s ok, it’s the good Cancer” I’m sorry, what?! Please tell me what part of what I have just heard and felt was good?? I couldn’t believe he thought that was a nice thing to say.”

Next operation:

“This time the operation was closer to a home where I had a private room. The operation itself was quicker only a couple of hours I think and again Glenn sat and waited outside. In all of this, I never took the time to ask how he was. How was he coping with it all? The same month we got together was the same month it stated. Our whole relationship didn’t know any different. Will he always think of me as a patient? Did he only stay because he feels sorry for me? All I know is if it wasn’t for him, my best friend, my rock, I couldn’t have done it. This time I took a while to come round. My blood pressure plummeted to 85/60 and it took 5 anti-sickness medicines to stop me from being sick. I felt like I had been run over by a bus. But the Cancer had gone.”

Next, a clinical trial run by Cancer Research. It was to see if RAI iodine treatment made a difference to patients with Papillary Thyroid Cancer.

“I was shown into a tiny room which was like a prison cell. Glenn was told he had to leave me at this point. I wouldn’t see him again for 4 days. They gave me the pill to take. It was the size of a small child! Weirdly my biggest worry at that moment was I hope I don’t dribble the water down my t-shirt!

The pill was swallowed successfully, a T-shirt was dry (result 👍🏻) and the door was closed. In my room, I had an en-suite bathroom. In reality, it was a cupboard with a toilet and a shower in. Everything was covered in cling film to stop contamination while I was radioactive. In the main part of the room, there was a bed, a tiny tv, and a table. Again, everything covered in cling film. I have never been so scared and felt so alone in my whole life. The hours blurred into one long Jeremy Kyle binge, the only thing to make my life seem normal. Meals were thrown through a tiny opening in the door. It was like a prison.

The day came when I was finally allowed out. I was allowed home and in the same room as Glenn and the children, but we had to be at opposite ends.”

Motivation to fight cancer

“I’ve worked too hard to let this get me! I was halfway through university and I wasn’t going to let cancer get me down “

Biggest hindrance

“Lack of support, so I have since set up a Cancer Support Group to help others.”

Message to other cancer patients

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“Ask as many questions as you want, never feel silly for doing so, it’s your body.”

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