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The Invisible Elephant – I’ve Been Keeping A Secret


The best way of keeping a secret is to pretend there isn’t oneMargaret Atwood

I’ve been keeping a secret for 353 days

It hasn’t been easy. It has not come without feelings of guilt and betrayal – because honesty is the cornerstone of all relationships. Keeping a secret is a fine balance between hurting the people you love by telling them your news or risking resentment for not telling them. My decision to keep this information to myself was out of a desire to keep those I love from feeling the emotions of worry and fear – something I was feeling myself. I wanted to spare them from that considering I didn’t have all the answers to the questions they would be asking.

It all began so innocently

My secret began on March 9, 2011 when I sat in my doctor’s office and asked her to feel my neck. The large lump. On the left side. Yes, that one. Could she feel it too? That wasn’t normal, was it? I wasn’t imagining that it shouldn’t be there, was I?

I was right to be concerned. An ultrasound was ordered. While we didn’t want to say it out loud the elephant in the room was unmistakable. We were both worried it was cancer.

I would get really used to playing the waiting game

I waited. And waited. And waited for a call about an ultrasound of my neck to investigate what we guessed was an enlarged left hemisphere of my thyroid gland. I would wait for six months before I finally had my ultrasound on August 3rd.

On August 25th I finally received my ultrasound results. Verdict? The left hemisphere of my thyroid has been nearly completely taken over by a 4cm nodule and another 1cm nodule. My right hemisphere also contained a 2cm nodule and multiple other nodules about 1cm in diameter.

My heart sunk.

A million scenarios rushed through my brain. What did this mean? Are they cancerous? Benign? How do we find out? What do we need to do to find out? When can we find out? What if they are cancerous? All of these questions and a million more rushed through my head at the speed of light. I felt overwhelmed. I felt sick to my stomach. I hugged my two little boys tightly and wept as I rocked them imagining all the worst case scenarios. If this was cancer had it spread? Is it treatable? What is the survival rate?

I kept going back to what my doctor kept telling me – “If you’re going to get cancer, thyroid cancer is the one to get. Rare, nearly 100% treatable and in most ways almost a non-cancer“.

But still that horrific word kept surfacing – CANCER.

Getting a diagnosis wasn’t a straight forward process

I waited nearly a month from my ultrasound to have what in layman’s terms is called a “hot and cold scan” on September 8th. I was injected with radioactive iodine in my arm and then about 15 minutes later I had a scan performed over the span of about 45 minutes where they took four diagnostic images. The radioactive iodine is supposed to be “uptaken” by non-cancerous nodules indicating the thyroid is functioning normally and is referred to as “hot”. If it isn’t uptaken by a nodule it indicates a probably malignancy and is referred to as “cold”.

September 13th I met with my family doctor to get the results of the scan.

Verdict: all the smaller nodules came back hot. The large 4cm one came back cold. Suspected malignancy.

My whole world felt like it crashed down around me that day

I’m not going to lie. I sat there and began crying in my doctor’s office and she looked me straight in the eye andΒ  stated “You’re stronger than this. Don’t cry. Even if it is cancerous, you’re stronger than this.You’re going to be fine.”

Have I mentioned how much I love my doctor?

Yet still I waited for a definitive answer

The next step was a requisition for an appointment and biopsy with an ear, nose and throat specialist or ENT. My family doctor ordered it and finally, after three months of waiting I had an appointment on December 7th.

Dr. Hart was amazing. He ran over the different scenarios of the outcome of the results and honestly didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know from my own research and based on what my family doctor had told me. He manually examined me and then determined he not only wanted to biopsy the large nodule in my left hemisphere (which he could see and feel without issue) but also wanted to biopsy the 2cm nodule in the right hemisphere. He could not accurately determine its exact location by feeling so he decided to postpone the biopsy and do it with the guide of an ultrasound. He assured me that it would be completed before Christmas.

Waiting. Waiting. Still waiting…

I left the appointment still no further ahead and now I had to do more waiting. I also realized that it was quite possible that I would find out my biopsy results right before Christmas. Would I tell my family and friends then? Would I wait? It tore me up inside to pretend everything was just fantastic in my life when for months I had been on this hellish roller coaster ride of the unknown.

Christmas came and went. No call for a biopsy. I chalked it up to the insanity of Christmas but by the 3rd week of January I started getting antsy. I’d been waiting over 10 months now for an answer to what this lump in my neck was. I phoned my ENT’s office on three occasions – leaving messages each time. Each message was more urgent sounding in nature. I was getting frustrated. Finally on February 1st I got a call back from his assistant. I was having a biopsy the next morning at 10am. Obviously my file had been mishandled. I was livid but also relieved that we were moving forward in getting a diagnosis.

Getting needles stuck into your neck isn’t much fun

I had the biopsies performed on February 2nd. My neck was sprayed before each needle was inserted to numb the area which was pretty much pointless. The ultrasound was used to visualize each nodule and then the needle inserted, wiggled around and then the extraction of tissue was done. Each of the two nodules they decided to biopsy required three needle aspirations each. Not pleasant. Imagine being pricked with a pretty decent gauge needle nearly in the same spot, three times x 2. There was also a lot of blood that needed soaking up.

Things you don’t want to hear the doctor say but I heard:
1) after the first needle was done – “Uhm…I’m guessing you tend to bruise pretty easily?
2) “Usually we tell patients they can take off the band-aids/tape, etc in a few hours. Uhm…if I were you I’d wait until some time TOMORROW…

So, the worst part was the uncomfortable part of being stabbed with six needles and then the wiggling around of them and the odd sensation of feeling the tissue being pulled out. Gulp. It was pretty close to my collar bone, did bruise quite a bit and was uncomfortable for the rest of the weekend.

I received a call that despite results usually being in within 10 days that my next appointment with Dr. Hart would be nearly three weeks away – February 24th. More waiting.

Finally, the results of all that waiting

Which brings us to today. Results day. The day I would find out whether I did or did not have cancer of the thyroid.

I walked into the Dickson Building and went to the third floor. My stomach was in knots. My heart beating like crazy. I registered and then sat in the waiting area to hear my name called. Toes tapping with nervousness. I was either going to get the news I had been preparing for when the scan came back saying “suspected malignancy” or I was going to get the “all clear”. Which was it going to be? Was this going to be the day my life changed forever or was it going to be the day my life stayed the same?

As my name was called I took a deep breath and followed Dr. Hart into the room. I sat down. Already prepared to hear the results had shown malignancy in the large nodule. I had reserved myself to the fact I would be requiring surgery. I also knew that today was also the day that I could finally share my story with everyone. I was going to need support and most importantly I finally, FINALLY had a concrete answer to give.

A comedy of errors delays the results, yet again!

As he went to open my file to read the results it went flying out of his hand onto the floor. He laughed and quickly tried to gather up the loose papers as I sat there thinking “You have got to be kidding me!” and tried to take a deep breath and calm myself down. Here I was in this damn chair, nearly a year after I first reported the lump to my family doctor and I’m 2 seconds away from knowing the final answer and my file goes flying onto the floor. Was I on Candid Camera?

He shuffled the papers and placed them back into my file folder. Glanced down at them and then looked up with a smile on his face and said…


*tear of relief*
*tears of happiness*
*tears of gratitude*

He said “I don’t often get to deliver that news so this is great!

So now what?

I will have a follow up ultrasound one year from now for monitoring purposes and have been instructed that if anything should change or it begins to bother me through obstruction of my breathing or swallowing or I notice a marked increase in size then I am to report it to his office.

They say worry is a like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but you won’t get anywhere. This is why I’ve kept all of this to myself until now so as to avoid giving you something extra to burden you with. I realize just now revealing this pretty heavy news to you may seem selfish and I understand those feelings of resentment you have.

Trust I chose to do so knowing that I saved you a year of worry and instead am able to give you a reason to celebrate with me. If I appeared to be preoccupied or burdened or not myself at any time during the last year it most likely has been during one of these trying times when I was trying to deal with the lack of information and all the frustration that came along with that. Keeping all of this to myself was incredibly difficult on so many levels and on so many occasions.

In the last year I have experienced the loss of people I love due to cancer and am currently cheering others on in their fights. I feel incredibly lucky that even if my test results had been the opposite that I was still going to be considered extremely fortunate to only have a highly treatable and contained version of it. I feel a renewed sense of vitality and of gratitude and endeavor to not put off things I have been.

A celebration of gratitude

This whole experience has been a major catalyst in my decision to stop trying to juggle so many balls and to decide what is a priority in my life – to listen to my dreams and act on them. Make steps towards achieving them. Spending time doing what brings me the most joy. I do so knowing that many others are not afforded this luxury and the test results they receive are much different than mine were. I feel extremely humbled, grateful and relieved.

I ask that you do only one thing as a result of reading my story – don’t put off getting things checked because you are scared of the outcome. It could save your life or it might also give you reason to celebrate.

Tonight, I celebrate!





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  1. Wow. Congratulations, first of all. Honestly, I do always view people who keep this kind of thing a secret (from family and friends, NOT blog readers or Twitter followers) with a degree of suspicion, although these people are usually fictional. I sometimes suspect a bit of martyr syndrome. But I do understand that people have their reasons, and I know that when I’m in that place where I worry that everything is cancer I would often BE better off not talking about it to my husband, because it doesn’t help me and it burdens him. I hope you don’t get major blowback from people close to you on this. In any case, great news.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. My husband knew. Our families did not (until prior to me sharing this publicly). I am so fortunate the end of the story has such a happy ending and that they did not have to wait and worry in a state of limbo. So far their feedback has naturally been shock, followed by relief but in the end just happy for me that the results were such happy news.

  2. So happy for you!
    How horrible for you that you had to wait so long for the results! You must be so relieved.
    Beautifully written.

    1. Relieved beyond measure. Certainly not as serious of a position to be in compared to so many others but definitely glad I can move on from this little bump in the road.

  3. How scary Tammi! I’m so so glad that you are cancer free, and that this year of worry is behind you. I’m also extremely happy that the takeaway from this is to truly LIVE your life, for you, your way. You’re SO right-not all get that chance. Thanks for sharing your private journey.

    1. Thanks Tracey. It wasn’t an easy thing to keep so privat, especially given my nature to share my thoughts and feelings so freely. Whie the process of it all was very lengthy it also gave me lots of time to reflect, prioritize my life and truly focus on moving forward in a more purpose driven way. I feel so fortunate.

      1. Tammi, I am so happy for you, Adam, Luke and Kyle: What a scary experience you have gone through. As, I said many times you are a strong lady. I thank God it worked out this way, You are a remarkable women Tammi, and I only wish , I had your strength.
        Now, Tammi move forward and do remarkable things.. and again I am so thankful that you received this exceptional news.

        Tammi, I am so happy for you, Adam, Luke, and Kyle You are a remarkable lady, and I wish I had your strength. Thank God for the news you received today. Tammi, go out and do remarkable things. You are truly an amazing person, and it is proven in everything you do. Hugs

        1. Thanks so much Marie. It was a very difficult year keeping it to ourselves and dealing with a newborn and the isolation of being on maternity leave. But, I got through it and was rewarded with fantastic news. Now I can move forward without this worry hanging over my head.

  4. Oh my god, I am so releived for you, I was on the edge of my seat reading this. YAY for you, YAY for your family!! Sorry you’ve had such a rough year of worry though, even though it teaches us invaluable things in the end, that was a long wait. I’m celebrating right now with a glass of vino…cheers to you and your health!

  5. I am so glad for you, Tammi, not for the year of fear and waiting, but for the reason to celebrate! I, too, have two little boys (though not so little as yours!) and so your story struck a chord with me. I’m so glad you’re OK!

    1. Thanks so much for reading Tina. It was a rough year on a lot of levels (waiting for news, life with another newborn, maternity leave, etc) but I am glad that I have a reason to celebrate at the end of it all. Definitely puts things into perspective and I definitely hug the boys much tighter πŸ™‚

  6. OMG Tammi, I’ve got tears in my eyes, actually I got tears in my eyes soon as I figured out what you were writing about. It was hard to read the whole thing and not skip down to the bottom to make sure you were going to be okay.

    I have no idea how you managed to keep that to yourself, I would never have been as
    strong but I know you are a strong woman. Thank God you are okay. xoxo

    1. Thanks Valerie. It was a roller coaster, that’s for sure. Lots of days and nights of worry and what ifs and worst case scenarios running through my mind but I also tried to keep positive as well. I’m glad in the end that paid off.

  7. Happy dance! I think you were right. My dad used to say don’t worry until have something real to worry about and THEN deal with it. Your family and friends would have been very worried for what has turned out to be nothing.
    That pesky little thyroid. I cannot tell you how many friends I have who are now on synthroid for the rest of their lives. Thyroids are packing it in left , right and center. One culprit I’ve heard named is the flouride in our water. Who knows. SO glad you are in the clear. xoxoxoxox

    1. That was my logic all along – no need to worry others. I tried to remain positive and I’d like to think it paid off. πŸ™‚
      Now that that little bump in the road is behind me I look forward to continuing onward and look forward to all the fun things in store for me.

  8. Wow. It makes me think about how many others there are out there, going through their own personal secrets like this. Which is why it’s always important to give others the benefit of the doubt…we never know what burdens others are carrying.

    I’m so relieved for you that this story has a happy ending. What a huge weight off your shoulders.

    I’m also glad that you were able to take a valuable lesson away from this — to focus on enjoying life and those around you. That’s an important lesson for all of us.


    1. Thanks so much K. There truly is a lesson in every single thing we experience. All of it has value if we are open to it.
      I’m hugely relieved and am now excited to put this behind me and move forward and have some fun. Having a negative energy nagging at you like that for a year is exhausting so I’m glad to be giving it the boot and hope that the road ahead is a little less full of drama πŸ™‚
      Hugs back at ya πŸ™‚

  9. I understand why you would want to keep this private and manageable for yourself and your husband. All I can say is thanks for sharing now, and THANK GOD. I am lifting my morning cup of tea to you in gratitude that you are well.

    1. Thanks Mary. There were many days where my mantra was “a cup of tea cures all” πŸ™‚
      So glad to have this behind me and no longer hanging like a cloud.
      I look forward to enjoying much more sun πŸ™‚

  10. Oh Tammi, I am so relieved that you are well. What a weight to bear but I understand your choices. Momma Sunshine is right, sometimes we have no idea the burden others are carrying. Your sweet boys are so lucky.

    1. It has definitely given me a different perspective and also a deeper appreciation for the blessings I already have but sometimes take for granted. There’s a lesson in everything and I’d like to believe I was a student this past year.

  11. Wow, so glad everything ended up ok in the end. You must be very strong to deal with that mostly on your own, and your hubby must be very supportive to help you through it all.

    Events sometimes have a huge impact on your life and looking back at it its almost for the better and you can twist it positive.

    1. Thanks Holly. I strongly believe you need to have a balance of good things and bad things happen in your life to truly appreciate the difference between them. I’ve gained a new perspective and now think about things a bit differently as a result. While I wouldn’t wish living in limbo like this on anyone else, I am thankful I was given the opportunity to learn some things about myself in the process.

  12. Oh Tammi! So so glad the news was good! As a Mom I can only imagine the agony you have been in wondering how this would all turn out! I can totally understand your decison to keep this private until you had definite answers for your family and loved ones…I think it takes an incredibly strong and caring person to be able to bear that burden in silence. You surely have reason to celebrate today! ((hugs))

    1. Thanks Karen. I think being a mom took this to a whole other level, that’s for sure. As a parent you’re not only thinking of your own future but that of your children. It was a tough pill to swallow but trying to remain positive definitely helped me through the tough days when the emotions and the what ifs all seemed to weigh heavily. I’m just really grateful I received such wonderful news.

  13. I am sooooooooooooooooo glad it is benign. No resentment there..us women are like that. We don’t want to worry anyone else yet..we do need support and prayers through this time..was there anyone at all that you told???? What about your husband..I mean..did he not see the bruising and the lumps?? Big hugs to you Tammi..big hugs.

  14. oops, wrote that before I saw you say you told Adam. Honey..this must have been sooo hard all this time..being on maternity leave and raising two active little boys and your schedule. You are very strong but I know inside you were vulnerable. SOoo happy it turned out fine.

    1. Thanks Laurie. It was a very, very trying year emotionally. Life with a newborn and an active toddler while being very isolated due to maternity leave. It felt on many days I was totally alone. Sharing would have lessened some of the burden but it would have also created burden for others. I had Adam and the boys to be thankful for and they definitely kept me grounded and thinking positively. Obviously it is a huge relief and I’m so glad my results were what they were.

  15. Oh Tammi, I am so happy that the news turned out to be good. I admire your strength, as I’m sure it must have been difficult to keep from your family & friends. Thank goodness your husband is obviously a wonderful support! Great message & reminder to get things checked! Enjoy your celebration!

    1. Thanks Anne. It was a tough year but the payoff was a clean bill of health so it was worth it in the end. It was incredibly tough to act like everything in my life was normal and it was hard feeling like I was betraying those I loved by not being totally honest with them but in the end my choice was the right one. They didn’t have to worry for a year and instead are able to celebrate with me.

  16. Thanking the GOD in heaven that you are CANCER-FREE! Blessings and continued health to you and your family.

    As a cancer survivor, I agree with your message. DO NOT DELAY SEEKING TREATMENT FOR FEAR OF THE OUTCOME. Thank you for sharing your story with us and again I send you love and well wishes!

    1. Thanks so much Sammie.
      I feel extremely fortunate and blessed that things turned out as they did.
      I wish you continued good health after your ordeal and hope that others will trust their instincts, be brave and investigate even if the prospects are scary.

  17. Hey Tammi,
    Congratulations on the positive results. Having been through some health issues and scare of my own the past year I totally get not telling people. Especially where it has dragged on for so long. My mother is the worst worrywort one could ever meet and I decided that when I have my next surgery I will not tell her until the morning of. Neither one of us needs that added stress. Good lord if it was cancer having to wait for so long could have brought different results. Although I have found the majority of medical staff to be great the waiting times are atrocious.

    My sister has Graves disease (severe hyperthyroidism) and had her thyroid killed with radioactive iodine. Like you she had two small kids at the time and it was not fun. I hope you get your thyroid all sorted out.

    I bet you had the best sleep last night!

    1. Thanks Shannon. This getting older thing really sucks, eh? πŸ™‚
      That was my reasoning too – I didn’t have answers and knew that the more people that were aware of what was happening, the more questions I’d be getting and I wouldn’t be able to answer them. It would have been extra stress for me and would have only created stress for them too.
      I did sleep much better knowing I finally had some closure.

  18. Hey Wam! I am so glad your news was positive!! However, if it had not been, I have no doubt whatsoever that you would totally kick its Ass. You, my friend are one strong bitch and don’t you ever forget it! If this is a family blog please feel free to edit or bleep my vulgarity lol. Love you and thanks for sharing. People find strength in solidarity, we cannot be solid without sharing and helping others. xoxoxo

    1. Ha. You crack me up – as you have for the last 33 years my friend πŸ™‚
      I’ll proudly take the compliment πŸ™‚

  19. I had to skip to the end as I was looking for the work benign as I could not imagine it could be any other way as you are one of the best people I have ever met and your 3 guys need you. You were always a rock but I feel sad that you went through this alone.
    Love you

    1. Thanks Peggy. It was tough but I think as a parent we come to know a whole other level of tough and can withstand much more than we thought possible at other points in our lives. Having an incredibly supportive husband and two awesome little people to keep the smiles coming to my face even when I didn’t feel like smiling was the key to coming out the other side no worse for wear πŸ™‚
      Love you too.

  20. After recently losing my mother to cancer in Dec. I have to say that, when you first mentioned the ‘c’ word, my heart sank. Utterly and completely. But as I read on, I was so thrilled and relieved to hear your wonderful news. Celebrate, indeed! YAY! πŸ™‚ Much love.

    1. Thanks Bev. I know the post was likely very triggery for you, having just experienced such a significant loss in your life recently. I am so very fortunate and blessed that this little diversion from my usual path led me back to the same road and I can continue onward no worse for the wear. I’ve had a great learning opportunity and have learned many new things about myself in the process.

    1. Thanks Kandise! The whole process really threw a monkey wrench into everything photography wise – couldn’t book for summer 2012 not knowing what a surgery/treatment timeline might look like and didn’t want to book only to cancel. Oh well, will have lots of time to enjoy summer this year for a change πŸ™‚

  21. I am so relieved to read your good news! I’ve been thinking about you a LOT since first reading bout this on LJ even though I hadn’t said anything. Secretly horrified at the wait you’ve had to endure. And from reading this I see it was even longer and worse than I thought!

    Feeling so much relief for you right now! *hugs*

  22. Its awesome (after all of the horrible cancer I see) to be witness to an honest to goodness GOOD person dodging the big C. So happy for you.

    1. Thanks Kristen. I’m still in awe that my results were what they were given a benign diagnosis is so extremely rare these days.
      Counting my lucky stars a million times over.

  23. So thrilled that everything worked out in the end. What a rollercoaster of emotions this past year must have been, but if anything, it shows you just how strong you are – strong like I always knew you were! Yay for great results!

  24. WOWSERS… I am so happy things worked out well for you Tammi, you are definately one strong woman.. Big hugs to you BABE! LOVE T.

  25. Your nodules are quite sizeable,however your neck looks absolutely normal on the outside (as far as seen on the pictures:) The thyroid nodules are like to hide!

  26. I had a similar scare with my thyroid, though my testing was all done much quicker. After 1/2 was removed, I got a call from the doctor that it was not cancer. I tried to explain to my 3 year old why I was so happy “because mommy doesn’t have cancer” to which she responded, “oh you can try again for cancer.” So glad you also got good news.

    1. Out of the mouth of babes. So glad you received good news as well. It certainly puts things into perspective.

  27. Hi there! I got here from PYHO. What an incredible story. I’m so glad you found the results to be benign. That was a life changing experience, I’m sure. I just randomly clicked on your link and now I am so glad I did!

    1. Thanks for reading Charlie. It was quite a bumpy road and I was unsure of where it would lead me but am so glad to finally get a clean bill of health and put it all behind me!

  28. Holy Shit Tam!!!! I’m so sorry I missed this until now!!! What an incredible burden to carry all by yourself! I completely understand your rationale for doing so and I think I might be inclined to make the same sort of decision for the same reasons. Also, I tend to know the husband as a bit of a “pessimist” about that stuff and he’d have me buried in a coffin in his mind and that does no one any good in any situations whether you’re waiting to hear the news or after news has been given.

    Jeez I remember you mentioned months ago (not sure if it was on your blog or on MFP) but you said something about needing to share something but wasn’t sure and now it makes so much sense.

    You are showing so much support for friends in need of hearing bad news, you should know that it would be/will be returned to you at any time and carrying that type of a burden is serious stuff so don’t hesitate to lean on “online” friends whenever you need to!!!!!!!!!


    1. Thanks so much Ang. It was a roller coaster ride for sure, especially factoring in feeling isolated on mat leave, not getting much “me” time and the stress of dealing with two little ones without any breaks – any breaks I did have were then spent editing my photography work. Going back to work from mat leave felt like a vacation πŸ˜› I’m just so thankful that things turned out the way they did. In the process of all of it I was able to dig deep inside and figure out what really means the most to me and helped me prioritize my life a bit better so I’m not running on empty all the time but spending my time doing things I enjoy and with the people I love.

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