Scholar Hurdles Surgery: Next up, Radiation Therapy

October 1, 2013

Opinion

Photo By Mario Andreatta Briana Hendrix's senior year has changed since her diagnosis.

Photo By Mario Andreatta
Briana Hendrix’s senior year has changed since her diagnosis.

By Briana Hendrix

Go here for Part 1 of Briana’s Story

Trying to Remain Positive

It has been three months since my diagnosis. Thus far, I have undergone an 11 hour surgery, spent three days in the hospital recovering, had blood tests two to three times a week, and numerous doctors’ appointments. With everything I have already gone through, it’s a little heartbreaking to know that I still have a long way to go before it is all over. In the coming weeks I will have to go through radioactive iodine treatment, several more blood tests, and countless more doctors’ appointments. It is hard to stay positive and maintain a good attitude when I know I will have to go through more struggles, however, with the love and support from my friends and family it makes this whole ordeal much easier.

Surgeon Spent Hours Shaving Vocal Cords

My surgery date was September 3, I checked into the hospital at 6:00 a.m., accompanied by my family and friends. After check-in, I was taken back to pre-op where they hooked me up to monitors, gave me an IV, and introduced me to my surgical team. Every member of my surgical team took the time to explain his or her role in my surgery, and gave me words of encouragement. Being a biomedical student and having taken numerous biomed classes, I went in that day with a good understanding of the process, however, the surgical team made me feel immensely more confident. My anesthesiologist also talked to me and explained the processes of putting me under anesthesia for my surgery, and that is the last thing I remember until I woke up in the ICU.

I was informed that in the 11 hours I was in surgery they removed my thyroid, part of my thymus(produces T cells for the immune system), some muscle tissue, 43 lymph nodes(where lymph is filtered and lymphocytes are formed) and one parathyroid(which regulates calcium levels in a person’s body). Twice during the surgery my surgeon pulled out a microscope to remove tissue because the cancer was so entwined around my vocal nerve that it was difficult to differentiate between what was cancer and what was vocal cord. She spent two hours shaving my vocal nerve because the cancer had attached itself.  The process of shaving my vocal nerve stretched the nerve and now causes my voice to be weak. My doctors told me that I need to give my vocal nerve at least six months to heal and repair, and in that time I am not allowed to raise my voice or strain it in any way.

While I was in surgery my family and friends invaded the waiting room. I was told that there were a lot of people there waiting and that the hospital staff almost kicked some of them out. I don’t remember much from when I was coming out of anesthesia, but I was told by my family that I was “very funny” and that “I was rocking the duck lips.”

When I was finally awake, I found out that I had been put in the Intensive Care Unit because they didn’t have room for me in recovery. The ICU turned out to be a blessing. I was the only patient in the ICU under the age of 18 and I was my nurse’s only patient for the majority of the night. She was constantly checking in on me and making sure I was comfortable. The individual care made me feel safe and relaxed; I knew that no matter what happened I would be taken care of quickly. Throughout the night my nurse came in to adjust my medications, change my IV bag, and make sure that I was doing all right. She made my experience in the ICU amazing; she called me “my baby” and bragged about how she had the best and most “normal” patient in the ICU. All of the other nurses in the ICU said that it was nice to have someone who wasn’t in critical condition in their unit.

Drinking ‘Slime’ not a Pleasant Experience

When I woke up, they had me try to drink water, and we soon realized that my swallowing reflexes weren’t working correctly. Every time I tried to drink liquids they would go down the wrong pipe and into my lungs. This made taking my medication difficult and I was then forced to drink thickened liquids, which are where they take whatever you are drinking and add a mixture that makes your drink the consistency of slime. It was not a pleasant experience having my drinks thickened, it changed the flavor of the drink a little and the texture was horrible.

The next day I was moved from the ICU to the pediatric section of the hospital. Once in pediatrics I recovered extremely quickly. I was up and walking around with only the support that my IV stand offered. They gave me small amounts of medication and that was all I needed. All of my doctors were amazed at how fast I was progressing and I went home after only three days in the hospital. I spent the next four days relaxing at home with my mother; I began to regain my energy and strength. While I was home I became sick one day and had to go to the ER to receive an IV to hydrate me. Once I returned home from the night in the ER, I felt immensely better and the healing progressed even more.

Returning to ‘Normalcy’

On my fifth day home from the hospital I decided it was time to return to school. With support from my doctors and parents I packed my bag and my mom dropped me off at school. I couldn’t carry my own backpack so my fantastic friends all helped whenever they could. As the day progressed I realized that I am truly blessed with the people I have in my life. It wasn’t only my close friends who helped me but anyone that came across my path stopped and gave me a hug. They showed me how amazing The ASK Academy truly is, everyone has done a remarkable job at helping me recover. It wasn’t only scholars who showed me kindness and love, but also project managers. Every project manager I have went above and beyond to be sure I wasn’t overwhelmed. Even the managers I don’t have made it a point to stop and give me words of encouragement and tell me to take it easy (which is not something I do).

Next Hurdle – Radioactive Therapy

I have had my blood drawn two to three times a week from the time I came out of surgery. They are looking at my calcium levels and my TSH (Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone) levels. TSH is released from the brain when the thyroid isn’t producing enough thyroid hormone. It encourages the thyroid cells to grow and produce more hormones and because I don’t have a thyroid anymore, the levels of TSH will continue to increase in my body until we supplement thyroid hormone. The doctors want to allow my TSH levels to rise so any remaining thyroid tissue will be “starving,” and once they reach 50 they will introduce radioactive iodine which will absorbed by any remaining thyroid cells and kill them, preventing the cancer from returning. They administer the radioactive iodine by giving me a pill to take; it is then absorbed into the blood stream where it is circulated through my body until the thyroid cells absorb it. The iodine will stay in my system for about a week, and during the time I have it in my system I have to avoid contact with people for an extended amount of time. I also can’t be around children, animals, or pregnant women; because I will be radioactive I can cause permanent damage to them.

My last blood tests confirmed that my TSH levels are at 54 and the doctors say they will administer the radioactive iodine on September 26. Once the iodine is done, I will begin the process of supplementing my thyroid hormones. This processes can be a long process, trying to determine exactly how much to give me. If they get they don’t give me enough then I will be tired and sluggish, and if they give me too much then I will be hyperactive. Also I will be prone to mood swings and energy fluctuations throughout the day. The process of supplementing the thyroid hormone can take several months to get right. While they are trying to balance out my levels they will be taking weekly blood tests to determine how to adjust my dosage. Once the dosage is figured out they will continue blood tests monthly to make sure everything is staying balanced. I will have to take the thyroid hormone supplements for the rest of my life.

Asking for Help the Hardest Part

This process hasn’t been easy but I have had a lot of support from my family and friends. Everyone will have struggles in their lives, but they have to push on and not let their problems slow them down. If you can overcome your hardships, it will make you a stronger person. There is a reason why bad things happen; it is not always seen right away, but we must be patient. It takes a strong person to go through hard times, but it takes a stronger person to admit they need help. I know that I struggle with asking people for help – I am extremely independent and asking for help is one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn. Although this experience is far from over, keeping a positive attitude and learning to let go and trust in friends and family have made the process not seem as terrifying.

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6 Comments on “Scholar Hurdles Surgery: Next up, Radiation Therapy”

  1. Beth Says:

    I love you Briana!

    Reply

  2. Tracy Mitchell Says:

    you are a brave woman. we are prayin for you. thank you for giving updates so that those of us that are far away can follow your progress. all our love

    Reply

  3. Ashley Gates Says:

    Wow!what a story. You are an amazing young lady with incredible strength. Praying your next steps in this process are as smooth as they can be. Stay strong- I know you have one guy in particular rooting for you!

    Reply

  4. Christopher Morrison Says:

    I’m glad to know that everything went well and you have a clear path to recovery.

    Reply

  5. shelby Says:

    good article please be carful!

    Reply

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