Yesterday was World Thyroid Day, a day devoted to promoting more awareness of thyroid health. Until five years ago, I knew very little about this amazing butterfly-shaped gland that’s nestled at the base of our neck. But then I wrote The Everything Health Guide to Thyroid Disease with the amazing Dr. Theodore C. Friedman, chief of the division of endocrinology, metabolism and molecular medicine at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine at UCLA and learned a great deal about the thyroid and the many ways it regulates our body functions.
And then thyroid disease hit home.
In the fall of 2008, my husband Jeff went to the doctor for a routine physical. After years of avoiding the doctor, he finally relented and decided that it was time. The appointment lasted for hours, and when he came home, he announced that they’d found a nodule on his thyroid. A very large nodule. The size of your forefinger, middle finger and ring finger taped together, on a gland no bigger than a bowtie.
A preliminary needle biopsy revealed little information about whether the nodule was benign or malignant. The first endocrinologist suggested he remove his entire thyroid and go on Synthroid, the synthetic hormone that replaces what the missing thyroid no longer makes. Taking out the entire gland would eliminate any concerns about thyroid cancer. But a second doctor said he had the option to remove just half, namely the lobe with the nodule.
After many sleepless nights and conversations with friends, Jeff chose the latter. He didn’t want to depend on a drug, and removing only one lobe left open the possibility that he might not need Synthroid at all. But removing only one lobe also had inherent risks. If the nodule was cancerous and had spread, he was going to need another surgery to remove the rest of the gland. It was a gamble he was willing to take. After all, if the nodule wasn’t cancerous, removing the whole thyroid would have been for naught.
Two weeks after the surgery, Jeff learned that the nodule was indeed cancerous. Hearing the ‘C’ word came as a shock. The news became even more disconcerting when they found a tiny nodule on the remaining lobe.
His new endocrinologist put him on a small dose of Synthroid and began monitoring the nodule. Six months later, the nodule had disappeared, a feat she attributed to his use of Synthroid. Now he gets his thyroid checked and his TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) levels monitored every six months.
So yes, the thyroid gland does deserve a day all its own. After all, it works hard 24/7, setting our metabolism, regulating body temperature and controlling heart rate, respiration and mood. Celebrate your thyroid if it’s healthy.