I’m radioactive!

Seriously. I took a radioactive iodine pill earlier this week, and for the last three days, I’ve been in quarantine. Or at least I was supposed to keep three feet away from other people, especially pregnant women and babies. I’m okay to be around now, though.

It’s been a strange experience. You may or may not remember that four years ago, I developed a thyroid problem — hyperthyroidism. I’ve lived with it pretty easily since then, feeling perfectly normal because of my anti-thyroid medication, although I’ve had to get blood work done once a month. But, eventually, it makes sense to get rid of the thyroid entirely instead of taking anti-thyroid medication with its rare but dangerous side effects. Taking thyroid hormone replacement is much safer and easier to regulate.

So, my choices were surgery or radioactive iodine, and although the iodine treatment is not perfect, it’s much better than surgery, or at least I thought so. The thyroid is the only organ that absorbs iodine, the radioactivity kills it, and that’s that. I prefer to keep knives away from my throat if at all possible, so radioactivity it had to be. The treatment itself is very easy: all you have to do is take a pill, although I needed a thyroid scan first, and I had to sign a bunch of documents, which I think mainly said that I understand what I’m doing involves radiation, I’m fully aware of what I’m doing, etc. But the treatment itself was anticlimactic — the doctor simply handed me a plastic cup with a normal-size pill and a cup of water, and that was it. He was careful to make sure I didn’t touch the pill with my fingers, though, which was … well, strange, since why would I want to put such a thing in my mouth? But I just thought about avoiding knives at my throat and swallowed the pill.

Afterward the doctor gave me a card that says, “This patient has received an Isotope for diagnostic imaging or therapy. The amount received is not considered hazardous, however may trigger a sensitive radiation detector.” Cool! Apparently, people sometimes get pulled over when police officers detect radiation, especially at high security sites like bridges and tunnels. And airports, of course; it’s definitely best not to try to fly after one of these treatments. I haven’t gotten pulled over for being a radiation threat, but I’m still hoping it will happen.

The next couple days were anticlimactic, though: I felt nothing. I sat around thinking “my thyroid’s dying right now,” but I couldn’t feel anything as it slowly absorbed the radioactive iodine. I’m not really sure what’s going on now, and I’m curious: is it all dead? partly dead? Shriveling up? Disintegrating? The treatment takes several weeks to take effect, and it can go on happening for months afterward, which is the main downside to this form of treatment. Surgery involves knives, but on the other hand, its effects are immediate. So I’m waiting. I’m slightly hyperthyroid at the moment, which happens because the treatment takes so long to kick in. Eventually, in a few weeks most likely, the process will be finished, and I’ll switch over to hypothyroidism and start my supplements. I’m just hoping we catch the switch-over quickly, so I don’t feel too much fatigue and whatever else might be involved.

My feelings about this are mixed: I’m grateful that there’s a treatment for me, very grateful that modern medicine has allowed me to live a normal life, instead of feeling weak and shaky all the time, which is what hyperthyroidism is like. But it’s also very strange to deliberately kill off an organ of mine, and I don’t like the idea of depending on hormone supplements for the rest of my life. Even though my thyroid has messed me up, I’m kind of sorry to see it go. It tried its best, after all, and since all this is caused by an autoimmune disease, my thyroid is actually a victim — a victim of the rest of my body. A victim of civil war, I guess. I’m looking forward to the end of hostilities.

20 Comments

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20 responses to “I’m radioactive!

  1. The pill sounds much less scary than a knife near your throat, even though it takes longer to work. I’m glad that you didn’t have a goiter to deal with either. Are you still able to ride your bike, or do you need to take it easy til you recover? I’d think radioactivity would be an advantage in a bike race. :)

  2. So while you were radioactive, did you glow in the dark? And will you metamorphose into a lycra wearing superhero? ;) I can imagine how weird it must be, knowing your thyroid is dying but not feeling a thing. When your thyroid is dead, will your body absorb it or does it just shrivel up like a raisin? I hope you don’t mind me asking, it is quite fascinating because I have never heard of this before.

  3. It does sound very weird, but at the same time a rational choice. Keep us posted. I hope that everything proceeds smoothly.

  4. As the others above, I hope everything goes well and this takes care of the problem. Feel better!

  5. I would definitively have made the same choice as you did! It’s kind of strange though, that you can’t touch a pill you are about to put in your mouth …
    I wish you a speedy recovery!

  6. I hope the treatment continues to go well. Like you, I’d kind of enjoy the idea of getting pulled over for being radioactive.

  7. The temptation to spend those three days setting off every sensitive alarm in the area would have been far too much for me. I would have been a positive menace to society. Seriously, I’m glad it’s all been so straight forward and I hope they get the dose right first time when you move onto the medication.

  8. Ha, I love the image of you being pulled over and having to show your card to prove you’re not a threat. :-)

    Seriously, the whole experience sounds a bit surreal. And I relate to your mixed feelings about the wonders of modern medicine but not being crazy about relying on a pill for the rest of your life. We have been dealing with similar mixed feelings in my household about my partner’s anti-anxiety medication. But the bottom line is (at least for us), improved quality of life is the way to go. And it sounds like this will be that way for you.

  9. Debby — I have ridden a couple times after the treatment, and I’m going to try to ride again tomorrow. But I can feel myself slowly becoming more and more hyperthyroid, so I may need a break until the treatment really kicks in. If it weren’t for the hyperthyroidism, I could have tried out my radioactivity in the race today — who knows what would have happened :)

    Stefanie — well, a friend told me that she sees a glow off in the distance above my town, so perhaps I do :) Since I wrote this post, I’ve started to get a little swelling and soreness in my throat, so finally I can feel something. As I understand it, my body will absorb my thyroid, which is weird, but better than thinking of it shriveling up like a raisin. That would be gross! :)

    Lilian — thank you — I will definitely write a follow-up post, or at least a note.

    Bardiac — thank you! It will be awfully nice to get past this.

    Sigrun — yes, the whole thing has been quite strange, which is why I wanted to write about it here. Apparently lots of people go through this, though, so I’m not in any danger, thank goodness.

    Teresa — thank you! Wouldn’t that make a great story!

    Annie — thank you! I’m very tempted to go into NYC and start crossing bridges and going through tunnels, just to see what happens :)

    Emily — It hasn’t happened yet, sadly :) Yes, quality of life is what matters, ultimately, and I don’t see the need to be an absolute purist about these things. I am generally very, very grateful for modern medicine, but it’s strange and disturbing how it requires to trust doctors so much.

  10. I found this fascinating and very beautifully written. I am so with you on the choice of one pill over the knife, and now have my fingers crossed that you can effect the changeover very simply. I know all about feeling weak and shaky and it doesn’t have much to recommend it. Do let us know how you get on – I’ll be thinking of you.

  11. What a wild experience–sort of scary, too, though. I’m glad to hear you should be radioactive-free now, however. I hope this solves the problem and you’re feeling better. How miserable to always be fatigued but at least there seems to be a solution that you can live with without too many problems. I’d opt for the pill any day over the knife–I’m a complete wimp when it comes to medical things so it’s great you have a good sense of humor dealing with this!

  12. Dorothy, you’ve written about your experience – which sounds very scary – with such a light and upbeat pen! That positive attitude is half the battle, right? Hang in there, kiddo. Best wishes.

  13. Bob went through similar thoughts about having to take medication everyday when he had to have his thyroid removed. Now he thinks nothing of it (but don’t be too surprised if it takes a while to get your dosage just right, nor if it changes occasionally). Hope you feel great soon.

  14. MJ Matera

    Glad the treatment hasn’t left you without your writer’s voice. You’re so good to read, Rebecca. Feel better.

  15. bookgazing

    My first thought was – did a spider bite her? Super hero films will ruin your mind ;) I hope all is well now and that your body is waving the flag of truce.

  16. Litlove — thank you! I’m doing okay so far; haven’t gotten too weak and shaky yet and so have hope it won’t get that bad. I’m so grateful to have extra time right now to deal with this — thank God I don’t have to worry about work right now. That helps a lot.

    Danielle — I’ll be very glad when this is all sorted out, and I can just take my pill every day and feel normal. I’ll get there soon, hopefully. In the meantime, I appreciate your support!

    Grad — thank you! I do feel fairly optimistic about it; as long as I have hope of getting better, I do okay. But still, the sooner this sorts itself out, the better!

    Emily B. — I remember Bob going through thyroid problems. It’s frustrating that it can take a while to get the dosage right, but knowing a little about the process helps out.

    MJ — thank you! It’s nice to hear from you, and I hope you are doing well.

    Bookgazing — funny! I’m going quite well, thank you, and have high hopes of doing even better soon.

  17. Pingback: Updates | Of Books and Bicycles

  18. cheryl

    I can sooo identify with what you have written. I received my glow-in-the-dark radioactive membership card February 2011….and I agree that it is a very “weird” treatment. I’m glad you were able to avoid the knife to your throat….unfortunately I was not as fortunate. They surgically removed the left thyroid node with goiter attached (sub-thyroidectomy) on December 15, 2009. Then following the biopsy of the goiter they discovered the small amount of cancer (papillary is the type) and then removed the remainder of my thyroid on May 14, 2010 (total thyroidectomy). Each time it took a considerable period to recover my voice……wish they would have don’t the radiation from the beginning.

  19. Meg

    I’m four days away from going through this, and your post put me at ease. Thank you SO SO very much. Hope you have been enjoying your new found health!

  20. Helena

    My son did what you did. Sorry to say he now has to suffer for the rest of his life. He is in his thirty’s, can’ t talktoo much. Has to eat mashed food. Mouth is swollen like the mumps. The pain is through the roof , is on a high dose of meds 24/7. Please try not to take this radioactive pill. Don’ t want anyone else to suffer. You can read many stories about these bad effects from this pill. Good luck.

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