I Am Radioactive

//I Am Radioactive

I Am Radioactive

I’m waking up to ash and dust
I wipe my brow and I sweat my rust
I’m breathing in the chemicals
-Imagine Dragons

Want to get away from it all? Try this: finally agree to radioiodine treatment for your Graves disease.

Aside from the “get away” part, it sounds grave, huh? And I was actually in a cemetery, almost fainting on a gravestone or two, when I first realized I had a health issue, that turned out to be Graves.

But, it’s just named after Dr. Robert Graves, the Irish physician who documented this “newly observed affection of the thyroid gland in females” back in 1835. If you were from Germany, or some other European or African country, you’d call it von Basedow disease, after Baron Carl Adolph von Basedow, one of the first physicians to kindly focus on the physical symptoms, as opposed to the mental ones, of hyperthyroidism, in 1840. (And if you were from Vietnam, you’d call the Vietnam War the American War. So many things in this world are just a matter of perspective.)

Historically, the thyroid – that butterfly-shaped gland wrapped around your windpipe, just above your collarbone and below your Adam’s apple – was known as “the gland of the emotions”. This had a lot to do with its proximity to the brain. I’m an emotional gal, so it’s actually impressive that mine got me to almost 50 before spontaneously combusting. In his book The Thyroid Solution, Ridha Arem, M.D., outlines the connection he sees between stress and illness, writing, “But if you are stressed for a long time; experience major upheavals, setbacks or traumas; or have difficulties coping with stress, your endocrine system becomes chronically challenged and causes health problems.”

I’d known my adrenals – that’s your fight or flight response – had been taxed due to dealing with a lot of death in the family in a short space of time. And, of course, we all handle stress in different ways. I worked on various ways of coping – meditation, massage, reading spiritual self-help books, exercise, climbing a mountain and so on – and then there was another shocking death. I experienced these physical symptoms:

*heart palpitations
*fatigue, exhaustion
*weight/sleep/hair loss
*feeling too hot

And these mental symptoms:

*anxious, panicky
*loss of enthusiasm for life

All of these symptoms are kind of vague, can be attributed to other things. Your heart can race if you’re excited or upset. Work hard, get tired. Hot? I’m an older (ugh!) woman. Hot flashes, anyone? Loss of enthusiasm for life? Yeah, throw a lot of death your way, that’ll happen.

Because thyroid symptoms aren’t in-your-face symptoms, it’s estimated that 50% of thyroid conditions in Canada go undiagnosed. And although stress can play a factor, so does genetics. We also have environmental toxins, like processed foods and pesticides, wreaking havoc on the thyroid gland; 12% are afflicted in the U.S., 10% in Canada.

In my case, being hyperthyroid, my thyroid is (was) working too hard, producing too much T3 and/or T4, the most important of four hormones produced by the thyroid. With hypothyroidism, too little T3 and/or T4 is produced. There is another condition – a good friend of mine has it – referred to as Hashimoto’s disease, named after the Japanese doctor who wrote about it in 1912. It’s an autoimmune disease in which your immune system mistakes your thyroid for a danger and starts attacking it.

Once diagnosed though, most thyroid symptoms are easily and quickly brought under control with medication. I’ve been on declining doses of Tapazole since I was diagnosed and would have happily stayed on it for the rest of my life but my endocrinologist recommended otherwise. There’s a small chance of developing a serious reduction in white blood cells that fight infection. Plus it hasn’t really been tested for long-term usage. Plus my endocrinologist could be tired of seeing me year after year.

So, I went for radioiodine treatment and now, as Imagine Dragons (perhaps they’ve had thyroid issues?) sing, “I’m waking up, I feel it in my bones, Enough to make my system blow, Welcome to the new age, Whoa, oh, oh, oh, I’m radioactive.” I willingly (?) went into a freezer in a hospital, put on gloves, and drank a small amount of mysterious bland-tasting water through a straw from a beaker encased in a huge chunk of lead inside another freezer. “Don’t worry,” said the nurse. “We just deal with it so much, we have to protect ourselves.” Oh. And then I agreed to isolate myself, to protect others from me, especially pregnant women (my daughter), small children (my grandkids), small pets (my dog, adopted from my daughter), and so on. Apparently the radiation radiating from me is similar to that from medical and dental X-rays.

The plan is that the radiation from the iodine will decrease the function of my thyroid cells, so that my thyroid will function normally, or most likely, less-than normally, in which case I’ll be treated for hypothyroidism, which is preferable. I’m told.

So, I’m at my cottage. Alone. There are worse places I could be. I have books and pens and paper. Wi-fi. Computer. Food, but my husband B is not here to prepare it. It was cold yesterday, so I didn’t even radiate outside. I’m comforted, not by people, or small pets, but by my fact sheet: “Most of the radioiodine not collected by your thyroid gland will be eliminated during the first 2 days after your treatment. At the end of treatment, no radioiodine remains in your body.”


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