Written and Contributed by Megan Marcacci
"Fight the Fight" – I like this slogan. It’s a great representation of the support that our community offered to me and my family during my battle with thyroid cancer from 2006 to 2010. It’s been a few years since my diagnosis but for anyone that has heard the “C” word, it feels like yesterday.
When I was 25, I was living in St. Louis with my best friend, Stephanie Haddad. We were single and living it up in the city.
During a routine check-up in June 2006, my doctor thought that my thyroid felt enlarged. Blood work was done and everything was normal. Then on Christmas Eve 2006, my sister-in-law, Susan, had mentioned to me that she noticed that the middle of my neck looked abnormally swollen. With Susan and my brother, Mike, both diagnosed with thyroid problems, our family was very familiar with thyroid issues so we immediately jumped to the idea that maybe it was my thyroid.
After the holidays, I went to Mike’s endocrinologist in Belleville at St. Elizabeth’s hospital. The doctor felt around in my neck and immediately said that there was a mass inside about the size of a large plum that he figured had been growing for 2-2 ½ years.
I was shocked and couldn’t believe it. A needle biopsy was done to see if the cells inside the mass were cancerous or not. It came back inconclusive and he pushed me to have my entire thyroid removed.
I was devastated. For most of my life, I had battled weight gain and always had a tough time with it. In my mind, removing my thyroid, which controls much of your metabolism and energy, would catapult me into another category of worry over my weight. I felt strongly about only having half of my thyroid out along with the mass, so I went to see a second opinion. He agreed with the first doctor and warned me that if they removed the first half of my thyroid along with the mass and it was cancerous, then I would have to go in for a second surgery.
I was told that there was a 10% chance that it would be malignant. It sounded like I had pretty good shot of keeping half of my thyroid. So on February 27, 2007, I had my first surgery at Siteman Cancer Center, removing half of my thyroid along with the mass.
One week later on March 6, I was sitting on the floor in my living room with my dog, Spencer, and I got the call. “It’s cancer, Meg” says the surgeon. I blanked out. I was numb. I was all alone and frozen in time. I think God was in the room in that moment though, because my dog literally sat on my lap and wiped a tear off of my face with his paw. I really wasn’t alone.
I called my parents and told them the news. They called the surgeon back for the ‘next steps’ because I had stopped listening once I heard the “C” word. May 2, 2007, I went back in for my second surgery. I was ready to get this thing over with. The days after my surgeries were tough. I had to be off of my thyroid meds during the time between surgeries and I was exhausted. My body was so tired every day that I would sometimes lie down on the carpet in my Chesterfield office to rest before I got in my car to drive home to the city.
I was told that I would need radiation – I would drink radioactive iodine one time two weeks after my second surgery. Everyone was dressed like astronauts in the Nuclear Medicine Department, when I arrived in shorts and a t-shirt. After my treatment, I was quarantined for 72 hours, which meant that I couldn’t come within an arm’s length of anyone, including my dog. And if you know me, you know that I’m a hugger. That was tough!
I thought it was over because I was told that thyroid cancer patients usually do one radiation treatment. Easy enough! …but then six months later, I had to have another radiation treatment because there were still cells growing in my thyroid. I thought it was over.
Unfortunately, my annual follow-up in 2009 proved that I needed a third treatment. Finally, in January of 2010, I was done. My body scan was clean, and I got to walk out of the lower level of Siteman Cancer Center with my parents and boyfriend, feeling very relieved and grateful.
Since my thyroid was removed, I had to work even harder to keep my weight under control. My energy levels were sporadically dropping, and I just didn’t feel right. Although my endocrinologist said that I was on the right dose of thyroid medication, I felt like I couldn’t settle and wanted to figure out what I could do to improve my quality of life.
In March 2010, I went to Dr. Dinkelmann, a chiropractor and holistic doctor in Wood River. He suggested to me that I needed to change my diet and attempt to go gluten-, wheat-, soy- and dairy-free. Wow. For this Italian girl, that sounded like it would be impossible. However, he assured me that I would feel much better if I did this. And it worked.
For over two years, I have begun reading the bottom half of labels and searched for whole foods and real ingredients. I attempt a gluten-free life and most days, I am successful. (It’s tough to pass up my mom’s cookies.) I love to cook and see it as an adventure as I find gluten-free recipes. I have a new attitude towards food and what it can do for my body. It truly is the fuel in my tank, since I operate on a synthetic thyroid hormone. I have an appreciation for those ‘super foods’ that everyone talks about, and I eat things that I never thought I would – roasted beets, anyone?
My life is better because of my experience with thyroid cancer. It truly is. I live a grateful life, and I’m more aware of God’s blessings. I was fortunate to have the ‘common cold of cancers’, as the doctors would say. However, the empathy that I have for someone that has heard the big “C” on the other end of the telephone is endless.
On August 6, 2010, my 20-month old nephew, Michael, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukemia (ALL). Before Michael’s diagnosis, I wondered why my experience with cancer had to happen. Now I believe it was to pave the way for our family to deal with and work through his illness. It can happen to anyone, even a healthy, darling little boy. Other than Michael & me, we don’t have a history of cancer in our family. Both instances blindsided us - emotionally, physically, and financially.
Our experiences are why I support everything that Pete is doing with Fight The Fight. The Gillespie/Benld community has reached out to me and my family in so many ways. I could never put into words how grateful I am to those that have supported us and prayed for us.
Although I don’t live there anymore, it will always be home, because that is what everyone there has made it for me. I’m truly grateful for our small community and the power that it has.
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