• Nancy Cooke

I don’t know if I’ve ever known what healthy feels like: My Thyroid Story

I think I was about 12 years old when my sister was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to get surgery. I have a vague memory of her sitting at the kitchen table feeling the newly discovered lump in her throat, and knowing that cancer kills people. She was only like 23. I was scared, but she had surgery and eventually resolved her cancer.

It was only a few years later that I discovered a lump in my neck, and my heart sank. I was convinced it’s cancer. Thyroid cancer is hereditary. How could it not be cancer?

When I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid. They called my growth a hot nodule. Basically the growth had taken over the function of my entire thyroid and the normal part of my thyroid was essentially ”turned off.”

I was so relieved it wasn’t cancer that even though I had something wrong, I felt like I was in the clear.

My only treatment options were radiation or surgery. Radiation could lead to secondary cancer and both options would likely lead to me needing medication for the rest of my life.

At 15, I felt like these options were too invasive. “What would happen if I left it untreated?” My thyroid would eventually burn out and then I’d need medication. “So treating it or not treating it leads to the same result?” I decided to wait and see if medical science would advance and if I could manage it naturally in the mean time.

I started studying alternative and natural thyroid remedies. I changed my diet, started juicing, gave my thyroid Reiki, cleared my chakras, saw an herbalist, an acupuncturist, a shiatsu massage therapist, established a seasonal enema routine, started chanting, got a soul retrieval, confessed my deepest secrets, even tried the dreaded Kambo. It worked for a while.

I was a stoner, so I’d often attribute many of my symptoms to being stoned. When I look back, it seems likely that I smoked so much weed to medicate my thyroid symptoms. Hyperthyroidism makes your heart race, which leads to fatigue, and heart palpitations. Marijuana slows your heart rate. So when I was stoned, my heart rate would be comparable to a sober person my age at rest.

It wasn’t until my mid to late 20s that I started to recognize how my disorder was limiting my life. My resting heart rate was increasing. My heart palpitations were worsening. My fatigue was intensifying. But I was still trying to live a normal life.

I remember being on Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca with my boyfriend at the time. He wanted to hike the island and I was dragging myself along, feeling defeated and weak and humiliated and unattractive and not good enough and mostly just totally exhausted, wondering the whole time how I would ever make it to the other side.

At that time, my limitations only bothered me because of how they might cause my boyfriend, or others, to reject me. In high school, my friends would exclude me from their social outings, like snowboarding, because they perceived me as fragile. The guy I was dating at the time wanted a girlfriend he could adventure with, and my disorder didn’t allow me to be the best candidate. I knew from past experiences how this has caused people to reject me so I wanted to hide it, even from myself.

I convinced myself I was just out of shape, and this was high altitude, and my backpack was heavy, and it was hot. I thought I’ll just try harder and I’ll overcome this.

Fast forward two years, my 300hr yoga teacher training. Again, I was brought face to face with my physical limitations. That training kicked my ass, but I felt stronger by the end. So again, I thought I was just out of shape and I need to try harder.

I started remodeling my attic to try and challenge myself physically, and to create a nice space to motivate a daily physical practice. What would have taken someone else a weekend took me 4 months. Still, I thought my fatigue was something, anything other than my thyroid disorder.

A year later, I led my first residential yoga teacher training in Peru. My disorder slapped me in the face, hard. There were days I couldn’t even lift my arms to instruct. I had never felt fatigue to this degree. I was underweight and weak. My metabolism was so fast I literally couldn’t eat enough to keep up with it. I was in a bad way, but somehow I still thought this was from lack of effort. So, I still didn’t seek treatment.

When my disorder started impacting my thinking and mental processing, I started to really pay attention. It was 2018 when I finally started seeing an endocrinologist again, after 17 years of suffering with these symptoms. It took me another year to try a temporary medication, and then about 6 months to decide to get surgery.

It wasn't until I started to feel better that I realized just how bad I felt before. I guess I was so young when my symptoms started, I had forgotten what life felt like without them. As I came to know a new level of healing, I felt depressed. I had put myself through so much unnecessary suffering. And it was then that I realized why self-care had been such a challenge for me.

I had made the decision to get the surgery because my doctor was warning about me about bone loss and damage to my heart. I asked her if there were any tests to see if I had already caused damage. She told me flat out, "you have to treat your thyroid first. That's the elephant in the room."

That was the answer I had spent years looking for. None of the other self-care I tried was working because I was neglecting my body by not addressing my biggest health issue.

It’s been about 9 months since my surgery now and it hasn’t been easy. My menstrual cycle and really my whole hormonal system was disrupted for a few months, which obviously impacted my moods. The depression was hard to push through, but I feel like I’ve received most of it’s messages, at least for this round.

I feel renewed and am looking forward to rebuilding my relationship with my body. I’ve been making some videos on YouTube to share some of the glue that’s been holding me together through all of this. If it resonates, I invite you to follow along:

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