In August 2015, at the start of the final year of my undergraduate medicinal chemistry degree, my mum spotted a growth on my neck. Over the course of the academic year I juggled lectures, lab work, dissertation deadlines and doctor's appointments as I quietly had it checked out, going to and from the hospital for various ultrasounds and biopsies. After graduation, I had the half of my thyroid with the lump removed to be on the safe side and I was later diagnosed with follicular thyroid cancer in August 2016.
Although prospects were very good (thyroid cancer is one of the "better ones" to get, if such a thing exists, as it's very treatable) the timing was rather unfortunate: I was due to move the following week from Glasgow to Brighton to start a PhD in designing cancer drugs - oh, the irony. Thankfully, I was able to delay my start date and undergo the standard follow up treatment: I had the rest of my thyroid removed and then received radioiodine treatment - something I had had to write about in an exam only a few months previously. Who knew I'd be applying knowledge from my degree to myself and not a research project so soon after graduating? Luckily, I wasn't allocated the thyroid-based dissertation project. That would have been too on the nose.
Moving back in with my parents and being far from my friends in my university city at such a turbulent time was very hard. I really struggled to wait patiently for the NHS to dish out appointments. Learning who my real friends were during the few extra months of procedures and recovery was painful, perhaps more so than the surgery. It was difficult enough managing other people's reactions to the diagnosis while still processing it all myself.
As a person who always likes to be busy and active, I found the endless weeks of leisure, exhaustion and inactivity that come with hypothyroidism a real challenge. I couldn't even carry out my favourite pastimes, singing at the piano or playing violin, to pass the time while my neck healed. It didn't make sense that I had gone into hospital feeling fine and now felt too tired to do anything. Initially after my treatment I was on medication that didn't massively help my energy levels so I fought to be put on a different medicine so that I could begin to return to normality.
A family friend who is a Macmillan nurse came round to talk through things with me. Someone confirming my feelings of helplessness and abandonment by some of my friends as normal was really helpful. Speaking to other thyroid cancer patients on the forum helped me answer the little questions that you feel silly asking a doctor, or know they won't be able to answer because they aren't the patient.
My mum also found a leaflet to give to my grandpa around the time of my diagnosis for him to read without worrying himself sick by looking up misleading info on Google.
My thyroid cancer saga ended up being over a year from start to finish; I'm now taking a synthetic version of the hormone I can no longer produce myself and getting back to normality. I was well enough to move to Brighton at the start of this year after months of lethargy. I have thrown myself into my PhD project, joined an orchestra and am very pleased to have my singing voice back. It sucks I'll be on medication for the rest of my life because of a tiny temperamental gland in my neck but my experience has helped inform me of the cancer patient experience and continues to motivate me to design new medicines to make others better.
Fiona is supporting Macmillan Cancer Support's new brand campaign, Life With Cancer. Life with cancer is still life, and Macmillan will help you live it. Find out more at macmillan.org.uk