Monday 6th September 2021
Before you read on: This blog contains some pictures of post-surgery scarring. We wanted to let you know in case that’s not something you want to see right now.
My name is Leah and I found out I had a malignant papillary carcinoma in one side of my thyroid at the age of 17.
Having surgery for cancer at my age is a big thing to face. People find different ways of coping with this, but for me, taking pictures of the different stages of my experience really helped me face what I was going through, and acknowledge how far I’d come.
But before I get into the photos, here’s a little bit about how I got to having the operation.
I have always suffered with bad headaches and tiredness, which got worse after Christmas 2019. I also found that I had swollen lymph nodes at both sides of my neck and above my collar bones.
This worried me and my family who instantly turned to Google, which definitely didn’t reassure us.
My mum phoned the doctors who told us not to worry and that the swelling would go down. This didn’t happen so we phoned again and they said the same thing, although we persisted and eventually got an appointment, six months after initially phoning. The doctors were hesitant to see me even then because of coronavirus.
The doctor was lovely at the appointment. She felt my neck and was worried about the swelling and sent me for an urgent scan.
The scan revealed I had a thyroid nodule (which is an unusual growth of thyroid cells in the thyroid gland) which they thought was suspicious, so I was sent for a biopsy.
Before this scan I had never heard of a thyroid or even knew what they did. The doctor was great at answering all my questions which I found reassuring.
As someone who is extremely afraid of needles getting a biopsy was very daunting. I won’t lie – it was painful, but not as bad as I thought. It was over in about an hour and my neck was a bit stiff and bruised for a few days after.
The results came back and it was unsure whether it was malignant (cancer) or benign (not cancer). We were told the safest thing to do was to remove half my thyroid pretty much straight away.
As this was all happening during the coronavirus pandemic, I was told that they wanted me to self-isolate for a week before my surgery. I then went for a coronavirus test and was told to come into hospital very early in the morning on the 1st of October 2020.
This was a very odd experience as my mum had to leave me at door because I had just turned 17.
I had never even been to the doctors by myself, so I was anxious and quite confused.
The nurses in hospital were extremely kind and made me feel much less anxious almost straight away.
Thankfully, my surgery went well. I woke up in a recovery ward in which I had to stay for a few hours as I kept being sick due to the general anaesthetic. I was then moved to my own room where I phoned my friends and family.
Here’s my photo diary of my surgery – I hope it helps others facing surgery to see the different stages of what I’ve been through.
This was me five hours after my surgery in hospital.
After my operation, I got to go home late the next day. I just slept and watched TV.
I found it very hard to focus and do daily tasks such as walking upstairs, getting changed and swallowing food due to my neck feeling stiff and sore.
I also was extremely tired during this time as I found it hard to find a comfy way to sleep after surgery.
This was me three days after my surgery. My neck was very swollen and bruised at this stage.
My friends and family were great during this time and really helped me.
I found leaving the house hardest as I was scared people would look at me funny or stare.
This did happen and at the start I was embarrassed and I tried to hide my neck, though I quickly realised it was nothing to be embarrassed of and just decided to embrace it.
After returning to school I found out that it was a cancerous tumour in my neck. They told me that they got it all out.
At the time I was extremely relieved as I had been worried about it for so long.
The doctors calling it a ‘good cancer’ helped at the time, however now I wish they hadn’t.
I felt like I was being selfish to get upset, however my family, friends and my Teenage Cancer Trust Nurses helped me realise what I went through was scary and that I shouldn’t feel like I ‘got let off easy’.
This was me a few weeks after my surgery.
This is my boyfriend Dylan who was amazing after my surgery at helping me catch up with school and just being positive in general.
I returned to school a few weeks after my surgery and found it hard to keep up. I had missed a lot and found it harder to concentrate.
The social workers from the charity Young Lives vs Cancer really helped me after my surgery by contacting my school and helping me get the support I needed.
The Teenage Cancer Trust Nurses, especially Liz McLean, have also given me constant support since my surgery. Liz phones me regularly to check in, and she is there any time I need a chat or to ask a question.
This is me up in the mountains.
Since my surgery, I have been trying to look after my health more and I’m currently doing a challenge to run 50 miles in August.