Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentines' Curse

Well, I had high hopes of our Valentines' curse lifting this year.  But it didn't, although at least this year we didn't go to the hospital.  That was a big plus for sure.

I've been struggling with some serious health issues, and they are still working out all the kinks.  But the current prognosis is Graves Disease.  I'm not sure it is right, but at least they are on the right track.  It's some kind of hyperthyroid problem. 

For those of you who don't understand much about the thyroid, it is an organ in your throat that controls your metabolism.  If it works in underdrive - hypothyroidism, then you will gain weight, be extremely tired, get cold very easily, and get depressed.  (There are probably many more symptoms for it, but I don't know too much about it since it doesn't affect me....yet.)  Some of the symptoms I've experienced myself with hyperthyroid are: insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, trouble breathing, trouble swallowing, goiter, rapid heart rate, difficulty concentrating, heart arrhythmia, heart palpitations, fatigue, dry eyes, irregular periods, muscle weakness, hyperactivity, feeling of being "keyed up" or unable to relax.....

The list goes on and on.  My hormone levels are way off.  My endocrinologist even called me the same night the labs were done to tell me I was right (because she had dismissed me earlier that day in her office, telling me that she thought I was having esophageal spasms and that they would go away on their own.  I knew I was right, and I was so grateful she called.)  I think Wes was starting to think I was a hypochondriac, and it didn't help that earlier that day when I'd done a Barium swallow test, the speech pathologist told me that I needed to "neurologically recondition my mind" since I was swallowing normally and I must be imagining my sensitivity.  That was a horrible test and boy was it a blow to learn nothing from it except that they thought I was crazy.

(Can you see my "difficulty concentrating"?  I totally went off on a tangent there...sorry.)  Anyway, the doctor called that night and said the schedule an ultrasound in her office (what I'd asked to do when we were there the day before).  She said it would tell if there was inflammation (meaning that the thyroid problem could be related to postpartum), a goiter (when your thyroid grows because of the autoimmune problems associated with it), a nodule (a part of the thyroid that can get swollen or make the rest of the thyroid to work overtime), or a cancerous tumor (which I doubt, because apparently, the cancer symptoms are 99% of the time related to hypothyroid or there are no symptoms at all).  It's scheduled for the February 24th and that day cannot come soon enough!  I think I will go nuts if everything looks normal, and here's why:

The treatments for hyperthyroid are not safe or effective as far as I've researched.  You have three options:
1.  Take anithyroid medications (which can cause serious liver damage, prevent your bone marrow from producing any white blood cells, and even cause death.).  They have to be taken for about 2 years in order to "stop" the thyroid from functioning in overdrive.  You then have a normal thyroid or hypothyroid (underactive thyroid, which they then medicate you for.)  Here's the real clincher:  relapse within 6 months of a two year long treatment happens 40% of the time.  What?!  You want me to take extremely dangerous drugs that can put me at risk as well as a baby (no we are not pregnant, but definitely in the "family planning" process now.) for a 50/50 chance of it only helping me for a few months?!  At that point, they will do surgery to remove the thyroid.  Then, since you have no thyroid making hormones in your body, you will have to take a thyroid pill every day for the rest of your life. 

2.  Take radioactive iodine.  This is an actual radiation pill designed to "kill" your thyroid.  You take it either in the hospital or at home, and then you are allowed NO human contact for 4-5 days because you would be putting people at risk for radiation exposure.  Then, once you can finally see them, you need to stay several feet away from them for 4 days, and then you can't kiss your kids or husband, share food, etc. for another 4-5 days.  (HOW in the world is a Mom supposed to not see her kids, especially her baby, for FIVE DAYS, and then not be able to hug him?  How would he react, or the rest of the kids?  Who would take care of them?)  The iodine is supposedly safe and effective.  But, three things can happen:  1.  Your "remission" from hyperthyroid will end at some point, at which you are forced to either repeat the process or have surgery to remove the thyroid (and then take medication for life to replace the hormones).  2.  Your hyperthyroid can turn into hypothyroid, and then you need medication for the rest of your life.  Also, if your body absorbs too much RAI, other organs are affected:  saliva glands, ovaries, and stomach.  If that happens, you are at risk for infertility problems (my biggest concern, because this is what happened to my mom after her RAI treatment), chronic dental problems, loss of taste, and digestive problems.  3.  The radioactive iodine doesn't work, and then you have to make the decision of whether to have surgery to remove the thyroid, or repeat the RAI again.  Some people will repeat it 4-5 times throughout their lives.  Some, within the first few years, some back to back, and some very spread out throughout their lives.   Another "bummer" of this treatment, is that you are not allowed to get pregnant for 6-12 months, since the RAI can kill a baby's thyroid, and then the baby is at risk for many complications, including Downs' Syndrome and even death.  (this risk is also present with the antithyroid medications).

3.  You have surgery to get your thyroid removed.  You then have hypothyroidism for life.  You take hormone replacement pills - one a day - and you're good to go.  You run the typical risks of surgery:  the surgeon missing something or damaging a nearby organ (in this case, the windpipe or the larynx), going under the anesthesia, and getting an infection post-surgery.  But other than the typical surgery risks and having an organ missing from your body for the rest of your life, you are good to go because your hormones will stay level and treatable.  They can fluctuate, but you will never have hyperthyroid again.

You can also choose not to treat it, in which case can leads to many different problems from schizophrenia to congestive hart failure to diabetes and so on and so forth.

Which would you choose?

I did my research and came ready and accept option #3.  It seemed inevitable to me.  But, much to my surprise, the doctor did not want me to have surgery, she wanted me to take the antithyroid medication (did I mention that one of my mom's friends opted for the medicine, and it actually made her symptoms worse and cause a lot of damage to her eyes?  It took her 2 years and 6 surgeries later to fix them.).  The said that 60% of her patients have a long, even lifelong remission, and she wasn't going to let an otherwise-healthy-twenty-something have surgery if the problem could be corrected.  She then went on to tell me that I wasn't her only patient with hyperthyroid and I wasn't really in a position to make a rational decision myself....apparently the concerns I have with the other options are moot in her brain.  She said they do liver function panels with the medications and they stop them if the problem becomes severe.  So what?  Then I just have to deal with permanent live damage and then get my thyroid removed?  This is crazy!

She then confirmed my ultrasound, and prescribed me some beta blockers and sleeping pills (the sleeping pills I won't be taking since I am still nursing one of two feedings a day).  I took my first beta blocker tonight and I don't think I will ever be taking one again.  I feel so awful and weird.  Like I am not really in my body.  I feel calmer, but not really in control.  My head is buzzy and vibrating and I am so dizzy I can hardly stand or walk.  The only perk is that it does seem to be helping my heart rate some.

Needless to say, I feel very unsettled and nervous about the whole thing.  I did another blood test tonight, and if the levels are worse, she wants to start the medication tomorrow.  I really don't think I am willing to take it at this point....I think I'm going to get a second opinion.

Now that that long tangent is over, the Valentines' Curse was not lifted this year.  I spent all but one hour of Sunday night gasping for air and fighting off panic attacks until I finally fell asleep for an hour at 5am.  Wes left at 7 for work, and I was on my own with three very excited boys on Valentines' Day.

Luckily, I had written my cards for Wes the night before, as well as placed his gifts and decorated his car (I gave him a card with a gift three different times during the day.  It was fun!), so I didn't have to sneak and get up that morning.  I let my poor boys watch TV for 2 1/2 hours while I struggled to take a nap, take care of baby J, and call my doctor.  Once the movie was over, I let them deliver a few Valentines, and they played together outside for a little while (thankfully, it was a beautiful day outside).  Luckily, I had planned on Papa Murphy's heart-shaped pizza earlier that week, which my mom kindly picked up along with a treat and dropped them to me and stayed until Wes got home (I started to feel really lousy and got kind of nervous I would pass out or something).  With Hallie and Abby's delighted help, I got out our traditional Valentines' table settings for our "special dinner"....complete with Martinelli's in champagne flutes.  Pizza came out of the over right as Wes walked in, and off went my mom to prepare her family's dinner.  (Thanks, Mom.)

I was really grateful and glad that I at least was able to manage dinner and a few exciting Valentines' deliveries.  The boys really got into the dinner, which was fun for me.  I never get to set the table with so much pink around here. ;)   I will post some pictures of the "good part" of the day soon.  :)  Luckily, the "good part" really was special and fun.  I love that the boys are getting to the age where they are excited about the holidays.  :)

What are my thoughts on our Valentines' curse?  It's really more of a reminder of our blessings.  All this hard stuff we are going through, my health only being a part of what's been going on around here, really have brought our family even closer.  You really don't have the same amount of growth - whether it's love, strength, humility, personal development, etc. - if you don't have challenges and trials in your life that you overcome.  I didn't realize, but it is the same with family.  I've grown and Wes has grown a lot during this time, but the thing I didn't expect was that our family grew just as much.  We are closer now than I ever thought possible with small children involved.  But their loyalty, love, and devotion to me and our family has been nothing short of a miracle.  I don't know how I got so blessed to have such angels for my children, but I really feel so lucky.  My dad gave me a father's blessing a few weeks back, and he blessed my children to be perceptive and sensitive to my needs and our families' needs, and to know and feel of my love for them, and I truly have seen that amazing promise come into our lives these past few weeks.  We've still had all thy typical crazies of course, some days I just want to send them outside to run until they stop being the active, rambunctious boys they are, but they are mine.  And I love them and they love me.

And the reason they are here is because of my Valentine.  My number one.  Wes is more than I ever could have hoped for and he has been so amazing not only lately, but always.  I am never short of in awe at his dedication to his role as a husband and father, and to his job.  Everywhere he works, he quickly become irreplaceable and extremely reliable.  He is a big asset wherever he is: home, church, or work.  I do my best to keep up with him, and I feel so grateful I've been able to rely on him more than ever as I surrender to the current situation and let him help carry me through.  He really is my knight in shining armor, and I love him more than I will ever be able to put into words.  His efforts and willingness to work, love, give, and serve are nothing short of heroic.  Nothing gives me more strength and joy than when I run into his arms when he gets home from work each day or fall asleep in his arms each night.

So, whether or not we've done the traditional Valentines' activities each year doesn't matter to me.  I am just grateful to be reminded of how blessed I am for the people I love in my life, and most of all, for my sweet Valentine.  And I love the opportunity to tell him all day long how I feel about him, and to let his love in too.  He always makes me feel so cherished, like there is nothing in the world that matters more to him than me and the boys.  I eat it up and appreciate the strength it gives me more than he will ever know.

To me, the Valnetines' curse is more of a humorous way of saying that Valentines' Day can be as crazy and unpredictable as any other day.  Each an every year we are blessed to have the opportunity to express our love to one another, reflect on our past year together and our blessings, and take a little extra time to make those "I love yous" of the day a little more special.  Valentines' Day is still one of my favorite holidays, not matter what kind of crazy or not-so-crazy events that unfold with the day.


Fay said...

Wow, Megan, I didn't realize the extent of your health problems. You will be added to my prayer list and that of the Temple and the Tab Choir so LOTS of people will be praying for your critical choices, your treatment success and your full recovery! I'm glad your Valentine's Day turned out good in the end. Love to YOU! Auntie Fay

Megan said...

Fay, you are amazing. Thanks for all the prayers. Reading your comment brought tears to my eyes. It's amazing how going through things like this really make you stop and evaluate your reliance on the Lord. I've learned a whole new meaning to having faith. I'm so grateful for the gospel. And of course for my amazing family. Thanks again for your love and support.


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