Thyroid Cancer Student- Rebecca Hetherington
Name: Rebecca Hetherington
Age at Enrollment: 26
Major: metastasized stage 2 papillary thyroid cancer
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis? For two years prior to diagnosis I experienced a variety of hormonal changes, occasional difficulty swallowing tablets, recurrent thrush and pain in neck area when drinking alcohol.
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor? I noticed a growing lump on the left side of my neck and then a smaller lump near my shoulder blade.
Courses completed: I had extensive neck dissection surgery along with a total thyroidectomy. A month later I underwent a high dose of radioactive iodine for which I was put in isolation for 5 days. I have recently found out I need another round of surgery and radioactive iodine.
What was your hardest moment (or moments) and how did you you get through it/them? After my surgery, because my cancer had spread to some parathyroid glands which were removed, I developed hypoparathyroidism and experienced severe symptoms of low calcium including paralysis in my hands and feet for 3 days. I also found isolation quite hard but distracted myself by saving TV and film recommendations and watching them all!
Any helpful (tangible) tips or tricks you discovered for dealing with your symptoms and/or cancer? When you first find out, give yourself a few days to just adjust. Your emotions will go mad, but let them. It will get better. Be kind to yourself, others might not know what your are going through, but you do- so treat yourself how you would treat a friend in your situation.
How did your family and friends respond? My family were brilliant and still are. Friends were strange - some of the people I was closest to before diagnosis are now not even in my phone book, and then some I didn't see very much or know at all really showed up and supported me.
How did/do you find joy during this experience? I honestly think in some ways having cancer makes you appreciate things so much more, especially at a young age. You learn to take nothing for granted and accept what you love and bin what you don't.
Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what was it? I already knew I was a strong person but this has really showed me how strong and how much of a stoic I can be.