Monday, August 18, 2008

UPDATED: I'll glow, I'll glow, it's off to hosp I go

UPDATE, 8/21/08: Home and doing well! Much thanks for prayers. Will be taking it easy for the next few days. A good time to e-mail me a guest post if you've got a good one up your sleeve.

Original post:

This morning, I enter the hospital one more time, for the radioactive-iodine therapy that will, God willing, ensure my body contains no more thyroid tissue in the wake of the completion of my thyroidectomy last May.

As you may recall, that operation and the partial thyroidectomy that preceded it in January both found cancer, which the doctors said had not spread, thank God. The radioactive-iodine therapy is a targeted search-and-destroy procedure designed to kill any leftover, potentially cancerous thyroid cells.

Your prayers during this time have helped me more than I can say. I would greatly appreciate it if you would please keep storming the gates of Heaven, particularly over the next two days. To aid your petitions and also perhaps ease your worries (in case you might imagine this procedure is worse than it is), following is a rundown of what exactly is going on, including what I am expected to undergo and what I pray will not occur.

HOW AM I DOING RIGHT NOW? Great—when I'm on my thyroid hormone, as I was during my World Youth Day appearances last month. But my doctor had me go off the hormone upon returning home, so that my body could be ready for treatment—and being without it makes me sluggish and tired. So, right now, I feel like forty miles of bad road.

Once I am released from the hospital this Thursday, I will be put back on thyroid hormone. That should lead to a complete restoration of my usual good health and energy—again, God willing.

WHAT WILL I UNDERGO? After arriving at the hospital at 10:30 a.m. Eastern today, I will first be put through the proverbial, unspecified "tests."

Afterward, I will be led to my hospital room, which, as I understand from the reading I have done on the subject, will look rather creepy, as everything in it will be encased in plastic. Once my treatment begins, everyone who deals with me in the hospital will likewise be under heavy physical protection to prevent contamination. (At least I can take comfort that the nature of the procedure guarantees me a single room.)

I have been told I can bring my laptop and books if I wear double gloves while handling them. However, a reader adds that I must absolutely not sneeze, drool, or sweat on my possessions, as anything that is contaminated will be kept in the hospital—perhaps for weeks—until it is no longer radiation.

So, I will buy some dust masks before heading over to the hospital, just to be on the safe side. Yes, I know I could just make a "retreat" and leave my computer at home, but I am afraid I would be too lonely being sans practically all human contact, including e-mail, plus unable to leave my room.

Visitors can basically stop by and wave. There will be a line on the floor that they cannot cross. (That reminds me; I need to let my parish's priests know the rules. Perhaps canon law would allow them to place Communion on a table that could be rolled in my direction.)

OK—SO WHAT EXACTLY WILL I UNDERGO? Oh, yeah, the actual treatment: First, I will be given some sort of shot—in my shoulder, I think—to ward off nausea. Then I will take one pill containing radioactive iodine. And then I will "glow" for two days while the tainted iodine kills off my remaining thyroid tissue, until the doctors agree it is safe to re-inflict me on the outside world.

WHEN DO I EXPECT TO BE HOME? Sometime Thursday afternoon, but, as I said, it's the doctors' call.

WILL IT BE SAFE TO SIT NEXT TO ME IN A PEW THIS SUNDAY? Yes. The book my doctor lent me advises that, upon coming home, I "sleep alone for three nights" and "avoid kissing and sexual intercourse for three days." So, I can't attend Mass at Georgetown.

Cue rimshot.

HOW ABOUT AT MY OWN PARISH? The book also advises I not be next to anyone for more than an hour for three days. Assuming Monsignor Filardi keeps his homily to the usual length, everyone should get out of Sunday Mass alive. But, just to be on the safe side, I may use the radiation excuse to avoid the Greeting of Peace for the next 47 years.

WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL COMPLICATIONS? The worst risk would be not to have the treatment at all. My Feast of the Assumption scan showed I do have some leftover thyroid tissue, which the doctors have to assume is cancerous, even though it may not be. If it is cancerous, it would go straight to my lungs. So, [to the tune of "Louie Louie":] "Marie Curie, oh no, it's gotta go, ay-yi-yi-yi-yi ..."

So, then, what are the potential complications? The hospital's nuclear-medicine chief outlined them for me after Friday's scan:

  • Nausea—Hence the shot that I will receive before treatment. The doctor didn't say this directly, but I'm sure nobody there wants to do a hazardous-waste cleanup. Plus it would mean having to start the treatment again from square one, with my having to receive a second dose of radiation. They want to get it all done without my body's having to receive any more nuclear medicine. So, please pray the treatment doesn't sicken me.

  • Damage to my salivary glands—This can be prevented if I suck on sour lemon drops or lemon slices following treatment, and also if I am hydrating a lot. I have stocked up on the drops, lemons, and mineral water, all of which I am allowed to bring with me. Worst-case scenario, according to the doctor: having to use "fake saliva" for the rest of my life. Yikes! Please pray that doesn't happen.
And, of course, the doctor had to warn me about ...
  • ... really bad, horrible stuff I don't even want to think about— There are a host of other potential complications from radiation, all of which are thankfully very rare, but which include other forms of cancer. She pointed out the "1 in 10,000" risk of leukemia, for example. I have since read that the risk of such cancers is even more unlikely, at least if this treatment "takes" so that I do not need to have it done over again.

    So, please pray that the treatment does take, and that, just this once, I am not a "1 in 10,000" kind of gal. Heck, I don't even want to be one in a million right now. I just want to be completely free of my wayward thyroid tissue so I can be back at or near 100% next week—just in time to begin a new life as a full-time student in Dominican House of Studies' theology master's program. Come to think of it, it wouldn't hurt to address some prayers to St. Thomas and St. Dominic.
Many thanks! Know that, as one of my readers, you are in my intentions as I "offer it up." And, speaking of St. Thomas, in the words of one of my favorite Thomists, God love you!

In case I'm up for blogging from the hospital, please feel free to suggest witty, radiation-related headlines in the comments. Extra points for variations on my book's title.