By Kenneth Selke
This is going to be an extremely difficult article for me to write, but I feel that in some way, sharing this story may bring some long-sought relief—simply getting this off my chest, and out in the open, where I’ve always received so much support and encouragement. What’s more, perhaps someone reading this may benefit from my story. If you can relate to anything that I write about here, I plead for you to go to your doctor for a checkup. Ignorance is not bliss; however, realization can be one of the scariest burdens you’ll ever have to bear.
In the late summer of 2017, I had scheduled an appointment at a new primary care physician’s office that had opened near my job. It had been quite some time since I had been to the doctor’s office for a general checkup, but it had been on my mind for some time, nagging at me, so I finally picked up the phone and scheduled the appointment. When the day finally came, and I was taken into my exam room, I eagerly awaited the doctor’s knock on the door. I remember nervously scrolling through Connect as I waited, trying to keep my mind from wandering over all the “what if’s.” After about 20 minutes of waiting, the doctor came in, and started asking all of the typical “new patient” questions, filling out my profile and trying to get some insight into my history. I spoke proudly to her about my success with Weight Watchers, and she was amazed that only a few years ago, I was a 500-pound man. While she congratulated me on my success thus far, she pushed back on me a bit asking about how my weight-loss efforts had been faring recently. A bit embarrassed, I admitted to her that I had lost nearly all of the weight in the first year that I was on plan with Weight Watchers, and that I had hit a floor in my weight loss. I explained I had been frustratingly stuck within a 10–15 pound range of weight fluctuation. With no significant changes to my diet or my activity levels, she inquired as to any medications that I had been taking. I let her know that the only medication I have ever taken regularly was 150 mcg of Synthroid for my hypothyroidism, which I had been on since I was 14 years old. Not surprisingly, she recommended we order some blood work to check on my thyroid and see if I was still on a proper dosage of my medication. We wrapped up that appointment, ordered the blood work, and scheduled a follow-up appointment in roughly two week’s time.
Fast-forward those two weeks—I had gone to the diagnostic lab to have my blood drawn, and the results were back in my doctor’s hands. She called me two days before my scheduled appointment, and cheerfully said that a spot had opened up for her that day, and if I could possibly come in, I would be helping her out of a scheduling jam. I agreed to come in, and thought nothing more of it. In hindsight, it should have triggered a red flag in my mind, the fact that SHE called me, not the appointment-setter, not a physician’s assistant; it was her, my doctor, personally calling to ask me to come in. Without any apprehension at all, I let my co-workers know that I would be taking a “long lunch” that day to go to my appointment. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be going back to the office after the appointment I was about to walk into, not realizing it would be more of a brick wall than a simple follow-up appointment.
I got to the office about five minutes before my appointment, and didn’t even have to wait. I was shown straight to an exam room, and within 3–4 minutes my doctor came in the room with her laptop. She greeted me, and kind of awkwardly asked me how I’d been, what’s going on, etc. Small talk. Then she got to the point, and I realized there was no coincidence that I was being ushered to the front of the line to see her. She pulled up my blood work on her laptop and in a calm and seemingly forced upbeat tone, explained to me the number under each hormone they tested, and referred to a scale to show me how far off my levels were compared to where they should be. As I was sitting there trying to keep up with her in her explanation of what I was seeing, I simply sat back confused and asked her, “What does this all really mean in plain English?” I’ll never forget the next words to come out of her mouth: “It’s called Hashimoto’s Disease.” My heart sank. The confusion and fear on my face must’ve been unmistakable, I had never heard of Hashimoto’s Disease, but I knew darn well it couldn’t be good. She continued her explanation, I can’t remember exactly what she said, but through the fogginess of my memory, I remember her explaining that it’s an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your thyroid, and disrupts the connection between the thyroid and the pituitary gland. The result is an extreme hormone imbalance that can affect almost every normal bodily function—from fatigue, to weight gain, depression, and skin disorders. What made my case particularly worrisome was my white blood cell count was also abnormally high. The doctor prodded around the base of my throat, and was looking to see if she could feel any lumps or abnormalities. While she couldn’t tell me conclusively if anything was out of the norm, she did feel the right course of action was to have an ultrasound of my thyroid conducted, and to immediately increase my dose of Synthroid. Now completely enveloped in a full-on panic attack, I asked her what else could possibly be going on. What are you looking for with the ultrasound? “It could be as simple of a thing as a goiter, but the white blood cell count is what we want to figure out. It could be high due to your immune system being in its overactive state, or there may be small nodules on your thyroid itself.” I asked her immediately after hearing the word “nodule” if this might be cancer, and her answer back was, “There’s no way to be sure yet.” I felt the world crumble around me. I walked out to the reception area, made my way to my truck, and drove straight home. That was one of the worst nights of my life; thank God my wife was there with me.
A few days passed, before I went in for my ultrasound. During that time, I didn’t really want to tell anyone until I knew for sure what was going on. I did let my boss know, as I was going to undoubtedly need time off in the coming weeks, but other than that, I kept it to myself. The ultrasound wasn’t painful in any way, but the anxiety leading up to it was the worst part. I was probably the most horrible patient that technician had seen that day; I kept trying to ask her if she saw anything odd or out of place. I knew, of course, she probably couldn’t say anything even if she did see something, but she candidly told me that it all just looks like a bunch of static on a screen, and that my doctor would be able to go over all my questions about the results, but until then she really needed me to stop talking while she was trying to get the images. My vocal chords kept moving everything in my neck around! Embarrassed, I stopped talking and the ultrasound was complete within just a few minutes. I apologized to her as I left, and she said not to worry about it. I remember walking out of there, and sitting in my truck with the keys in the ignition, obsessing over what I would find out in a few day’s time.
I was sitting at work when my phone rang, and the caller ID was that of my doctor’s office. Again, my stomach flipped as I answered the phone. This time it was the physician’s assistant who was calling me. She told me that my results from the ultrasound had come in, and when might I be able to come in again to go over them with the doctor. She scheduled an appointment for me to come in the next day. Again, a bad night ensued, and I was tossing and turning with very little sleep. The next morning, I didn’t go to work at all. I stayed home, and only left my house when I had to in order to get to my appointment on time. After arriving back at my doctor’s office, this time I did have to wait in the reception area before getting called back to an exam room, which I took as a good sign at the time. When I did get to the exam room, it didn’t take long at all for the doctor to come in. Results in hand, she verified that I did have a nodule on my thyroid gland, and the next step was to have a small needle biopsy performed on the nodule, so they could identify what it was, and whether this was something that might be more widespread. During this appointment was the first time the doctor had clearly stated that this might be a form of cancer, B-Cell Lymphoma, which could be affecting my entire lymphatic system. She went on to check my lymph nodes, feeling for any irregularities under my armpits, down my legs, etc. I believe I was in shock at this point, holding back tears, scared out of my mind. While she didn’t feel anything irregular, she still wanted me to have the biopsy performed, and left me with a bit of hope, saying that it’s possible it’s just a harmless mass or very small goiter; my thyroid had been attacked for so long by my immune system that anything was possible, and not to jump to the worst-case scenario. No matter what, I was going to get through this.
I had the biopsy done some weeks later, and during that time, all my life seemed to blur together. Work, home, trips home to see family, evenings with friends, all meshed together into a span of time that I can’t really remember. I felt like every day, I was simply going through the motions of life, and not actually living. This had to have been one of the most difficult times of my life, but I really can’t say that I felt anything really. My wife helped me as much as she could, encouraging me, and doing everything to get my mind off the elephant in the room, bless her heart.
When enough time had passed, and my phone rang once again from the doctor’s office, to my surprise, it was the doctor on the other end of the phone. You probably guessed it by now, but my stomach did its flip, and I sat down as she started talking. The results of the biopsy had come in, and nothing from the biopsy had shown up as malignant, or cancerous, or even as a goiter! It was simply a mass likely produced from my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, and in her opinion, would likely go away in our continued work to hone in on the proper dosage of Synthroid. No sooner did the words come out of her mouth before I leaned forward in my chair and just let it all out. I felt like this 10,000-pound weight was finally lifted off my chest, and I could breathe again. She let me know at that point there was no other reason that I would need to come into the office until my next regularly scheduled appointment to monitor my blood work. She might as well have told me that I won the lottery.
From the time that this situation began, to that last call I had with her on the phone, roughly five months had passed. While I was supremely grateful that I wasn’t diagnosed with cancer, I know that the rest of my life I will always have to live with managing my Hashimoto’s Disease, but I’m okay with that. I know it will be a challenge, it’s not going to be easy, but now I know what I need to do to take care of myself. Looking back, I am a bit ashamed of how pessimistic I was through it all, and how during the most stressful of events, my actions led me to a nonpurposeful life. I lost sight of everything during those five months, and I know I can’t get that time back. However, I’m optimistic for the future, in many regards, but the one thing that excites me the most is the fact that I think I know why I struggled so long to progress in my weight-loss journey, and now that I’m addressing the underlying issue, my journey can continue again toward my goal.
The Big Guy is back, and ready to Freestyle my way to success.
Follow Kenny on Connect @kdselke
Read more from The Big Guy’s Big Journey.