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In lieu of a What’s for Dinner? post, I wanted to share something that’s been happening with y’all. Our menu wasn’t that interesting this week anyway.
Hey Picky peeps! I have a different kind of blog for you today. I share a lot about my personal life here, but it’s always from the angle of saving money. Today’s blog is purely about my life, with a few personal finance nuggets of wisdom sprinkled at the end.
I wanted to share this story because I believe in being transparent. The whole reason I started Picky Pinchers was to show people the reality of frugal living. I love talking about the positive things in our lives, but I need to talk bout the messy bits, too.
This is a messy bit.
This is the story about a mass in my thyroid, which I have affectionately named Thelma.
Once upon a respiratory infection
I came down with my annual respiratory infection in September. It clung on for several weeks and it was torture. After a few weeks, the infection mercifully subsided, but then turned into an annoying cough.
My life was one big coughing fit. But otherwise I felt fine.
In early October I woke up in the middle of the night to get water. My throat was sore and I had trouble swallowing, but that seemed par for the course with this annoying respiratory infection. I figured it had turned into a sore throat again.
That is, until I felt it.
A golfball-sized lump on the right side of my neck. I felt it, over and over again, wishing I didn’t feel it.
I took a look in the mirror, saw the huge mass, and said, “Oh f$*%^.”
I immediately told Mr. Picky Pincher about the lump in the morning. Since I had been sick and had a sore throat, we both assumed it was a massively swollen lymph node. It was huge, sure, but it made sense since I had been sick.
The idiot doctor
I waited two days and the sore throat refused to go away. Since it’s hard for me to get time off, I opted to go to a nighttime clinic to get treated for the sore throat. I assumed I had strep and needed meds.
When I finally saw the clinic doc, he was baffled. He looked down my throat and saw nothing. My strep test was negative. He scratched his tired head, unsure of what to do.
Instead of telling me he didn’t know what was going on and referring me to a different doc, he said it must be an infection. I got penicillin and went on my way.
The swelling went down on my neck later that week. However, I was left with a pretty hefty lump after it was all said and done. My throat didn’t hurt and the lump didn’t hurt. I assumed Libby the Lymph Node just needed some time to go back to normal.
Life carried on, and I put the lump at the back of my mind.
However, I promised Mr. Picky Pincher that I would see a general practitioner if the lump didn’t go away after FinCon.
Shiz gets real
My neck was still swollen when I got back from FinCon, so I dutifully made my doctor’s appointment. To be honest, I thought it was a waste of money and time, but a promise is a promise.
My doc took one look at my neck and said, “Um, no. That’s not a lymph node. That’s your thyroid. You need a sonogram. Like, tomorrow.”
I was taken aback by this. No one in my family had thyroid problems. I had certainly never had thyroid issues. Aside from high school biology class, I never thought about the little butterfly-shaped organ. Now it was all I could think about!
I made a sonogram appointment for the next day since my doc couldn’t do sonograms in the office.
I started to get nervous now. I convinced myself for so long that it was a lymph node. What if there was something gnarly going on? What if I was really sick and didn’t know it?
The sonogram was super quick. I laid back on the coziest chair I’ve ever sat in and the tech put a cloth over my neck. She spent 10 minutes scanning my neck with warmed jelly. It was like a weird, relaxing massage.
When she finished and began cleaning jelly from my neck, she said, “Oh, and just so you know, there is definitely something huge in your thyroid. Just FYI.”
She said it so casually, but that was a moment of panic for me. I was blissfully in denial. But now it was real. Something was growing where it shouldn’t be growing.
I kept a brave face as I left the office, but burst into tears as soon as I got into the car. I didn’t need this, man. Life is hard enough. And now I have to deal with a potentially big health thing? At age 25?
My mind raced. What if it’s cancer? Do I have to get surgery? What’s going to happen to Mr. Picky Pincher if I die from this? Oh, holy hell, I’m glad I got life insurance. Is this my punishment for being a jerk in high school?
Once my sense of humor returned, I renamed Libby the Lymph Node to be Thelma the Thyroid.
I was really, really worried at this point, but I was still hopeful. My internet research told me that many people get sonogram results that say the mass is benign. I patiently waited for the phone call telling me I was done and that everything would be fine.
I did get a phone call, but the doctor said something else. “It’s a really big nodule and I’ll need to get a biopsy to see what it is. It’s mostly liquid, but there’s a pretty big solid mass there too.”
For the second time, I said, “Oh f$*%^.”
The doctor seemed worried, which did not make me feel an ounce better about the situation. After a lot of back and forth with the doctor’s referral department, I made an appointment that next Monday for a thyroid biopsy.
It was Mr. Picky Pincher’s birthday weekend, so I was trying to keep my cool, but I was absolutely losing it at this point. I could barely eat or sleep because I was sick with worry. I was scared about our future, about the procedure itself, and not having any answers.
There was a golfball-sized question chillin’ in my neck and it seemed to get heavier each day. I spent a lot of the weekend Googling graphic videos of thyroid biopsies so I could be prepared.
Mr. Picky Pincher took off work and went with me to my biopsy bright ‘n’ early that Monday morning. This place had a two-star rating on Yelp, so my expectations were pleasantly low, although the doctor himself had great reviews.
After a brief triage in a suspiciously filthy room, the nurse informed me that we “might” do a biopsy today. At that point I went from being scared to absolutely pissed off. I paid my $50 copay just to be told we “might” do a big, important test?
Mm, no. I was getting those needles in my neck today, dammit.
The doctor then came in after watching my sonogram. He said the risk of cancer was very low based on how the nodule looked. That was comforting to hear.
He then gave me three options:
1. Leave the nodule alone and scan it every three months to make sure it isn’t growing or changing.
2. Biopsy the nodule and maaaaybe get an answer as to whether it’s benign or not. Apparently biopsies aren’t a cut-and-dry, black-and-white sort of thing that say “No cancer / Yes cancer.” It’s a game of probability that still won’t give you a clear answer.
3. Surgery to remove that half of my thyroid.
I didn’t want to leave Thelma in my neck without knowing what she was, so option #1 was out. And I definitely didn’t want to commit to going under anesthesia to remove an essential organ without having more information, so out went #3.
I chose option #2: get a biopsy and see what the hell this thing is. I was also scheduled to get blood work the following week to test my hormone levels. With these two pieces of evidence I felt I could make a better choice about a surgery.
I have to be honest: I did not have a great biopsy experience. Don’t get me wrong: the doctor and nurses were very caring and wonderful, and objectively it didn’t hurt that much. In fact, getting a mole removed at the dermatologist was more painful than this biopsy.
My issue is that I’m afraid of needles, blood, doctors, and pretty much everything. I thought I kept my cool okay, until I started to pass out during the procedure. I nearly passed out three times, which made the charade take 45 minutes instead of 15 minutes. They had to put cold compresses on my head, lie me down, and give me water. I’m 99% sure the doctor was very annoyed at the end of the whole thing. Sorry dude!
I’d like to see him take five needles deep in the neck. It doesn’t bring out your best moments, y’all.
Anyhoo, pain-wise it wasn’t bad at all, but I’m a weenie and made it worse than it should have been. The nurse told me they’d have results by the end of the week.
Just two days later I was sitting on my couch, trying to muster up the motivation to tackle a hefty work assignment. I got a call from an Unknown number that jolted me awake. Normally I ignore any calls that aren’t in my contact list, but this health nightmare had me answering every call on the first ring.
It was the doctor! Oh man, my heart was beating so fast I thought it was going to fly away. He asked how my neck was feeling, and I told him it was a little sore, but fine. Then he said, “Well I have some good news! Your nodule is benign. It’s still huge, but it’s benign.”
“Oh hell yessss,” I breathed, soliciting a laugh from the doc.
Now what’s happening?
Now that the specter of cancer is out of my life, I feel like I can breathe again. I’m not still totally out of the woods, though. I need to get blood work done to see if the nodule is affecting how my thyroid is functioning.
The big question mark now is if I’ll need surgery to remove the nodule. It’s obviously a huge decision, so I’ll wait until I have enough information to make a choice.
What have I learned?
Remember when I promised a few nuggets of money talk? Here they are. 🙂
I am so glad I have life insurance.
I know life insurance is hotly debated in the FIRE world, but for the week when I thought I might have to deal with cancer, I was immensely comforted by having it. It affirms my belief that life insurance is necessary if you aren’t financially independent.
I am so glad I have health insurance.
This experience has made me grateful to have health coverage. So far I’ve spent maybe $250 out of pocket for all of this thyroid nonsense. I’ll probably need to have regular sonograms of my neck that’ll set us back $100 a pop, but still. Our coverage made it possible for me to quickly and affordably get answers.
Care about other people, even when you want to curl up and cry.
To be honest, I’ve been a wreck these last few weeks. The anxiety and worry that comes with a health scare could test even the most chill person in the world.
Since I am NOT the most chill person in the world, I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping and eating and generally staying calm. What helped me the most was focusing on other people instead of my own situation.
I’ve never been more sure about our life path.
This thyroid issue would have happened to me regardless of whether I was pursuing a debt-free life or not.
I’ve enjoyed all the changes we’ve made in the last year, and they’ve made me live a happier and more fulfilling life. These changes have also lifted a huge burden off of us financially.
If we do need to pay a hefty amount for medical treatment, we’re able to do that. A few years ago this wouldn’t have been an option. If I had a serious health issue while we were in debt, it would have been financially devastating.
This journey has been worth it. We’re not at the end, but it’s already been life-changing.
The bottom line
There you have it, y’all. I wanted to lay out the entire saga so you’d know what’s going on. I’m already feeling oodles better and we’ll continue to monitor everything.
We want to know: Have you ever had a health scare?