When you hear the word radioactive, you start to think of a green, poisonous slime that gives you superpowers. That’s what I thought when my surgeon suggested I take radioactive iodine after my surgery. I had my thyroid gland taken out, took a pill, was radioactive for three days, and here’s what happened.
1. The Diagnosis
I was working at an ACME supermarket as a bagger. I felt like crap as usual. However, it wasn’t the job, it was something more. I was severely depressed and had been for quite some time. I was arranging items on a shelf when I saw the pharmacist on duty. I walked up to her and blatantly asked her how to get tested for depression. Besides being diagnosed by a psychologist, she suggested the cause could be something more, like an illness, and that I should get my blood tested.
I did exactly what the pharmacist suggested and had my blood tested. The results came back abnormal. I was referred to an endocrinologist to take a look at my thyroid gland. Before that I didn’t even know what a thyroid was. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped glad in your neck that controls metabolism and other bodily functions. I wasn’t producing enough thyroxine hormone so I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. One of the symptoms was, in fact, depression so I knew something was up. Further testing (including an excruciating biopsy) revealed I had thyroid cancer.
2. The Surgery
It was my first time having surgery and surprisingly, I wasn’t scared. I’ve never been cut into—except for the time I sliced my knee open on an inexplicably sharp bed frame—but that’s a story for another time. I washed myself that morning with this bottle of brown soap. I didn’t eat or drink anything, not even water. I was in pre-op getting hangry when my surgeon greeted me saying he’s running a bit late with his surgeries and I had to keep waiting.
Some time later, I was injected with anesthesia. I didn’t feel a thing. It wasn’t until they rolled me just two feet away that I slumped right into my pillow as if I had downed an entire gallon of NyQuil in under a minute.
I woke up, well, I wasn’t really awake. I was coming to hours later, I heard voices around me but I couldn’t open my eyes. I started shivering so hard and I herd someone shout, “she’s cold, she’s cold.” And just like that, I was out like a light again.
3. The Pill
No, not the birth control pill, radioactive iodine. My endocrinologist suggested I take it about a week or two after my surgery. Radioactive iodine is intended to kill any cancer cells that may still be lingering in your body after surgery. I had never heard of people ingesting radioactive things. Aside from the chemical slime from The Secret World of Alex Mack, I thought radioactive things were handled with gloves, face masks, and full bodysuits because they were that deadly.
I went in and the doctor had a plastic cup with two pills that looked like time-release Tylenol capsules. Despite looking harmless, I was told not to touch it and to swallow it as soon as he poured them into my mouth. I was to say in my room and away from people for three days. I also had the upstairs bathroom during the duration on my quarantine. Any feminine products or trash needed to be tied up and dropped off to my doctors. I wasn’t bothered by the doctors’ orders because I was used to staying in my room all day so this was nothing new.
4. Day 1
The days were, at the time, normal to me. I didn’t have a social life or a car, so there was no reason to leave my room. I spent my first day sleeping and playing The Sims from sun up to sundown. When I needed food I would call out to my mother and she would drop off the food at my bedroom door and run away, kind of like a ding dong ditch delivery…or USPS.
5. Day 2
I played some more video games. However, I slept more than normal. I wasn’t sure why but I was starting to feel bored and irritable.
6. Day 3
It was clear that I was coming down with cabin fever. I realized that I didn’t have a social life so why was i feeling this way. I think it was because I realized just because I had no where in particular to go, didn’t mean I liked having the restriction of not being able to go anywhere at all. I don’t like being told what to do, even if I am radioactive.
The radioactive iodine was probably the worst part of my cancer journey. I was quarantined in my room and even had to give my mother notice to hide when I came out of my room to go to the bathroom. In a nutshell, my free will was taken away. The thing is, I’m so grateful for it, because four years later, I’m cancer free. And no more radioactive treatments!