Story: Cochran women share thyroid disease experiences

COCHRAN, GEORGIA: A little over a year ago, at the age of 37, Amy Ingram was diagnosed with having thyroid disorder. The mother and grandmother said, “I had fought different diagnoses and treatment of side effects for years.”

Amy continued, “I was diagnosed with thyroid cyst about four years ago, and was given a medicine and found I was allergic – then changed to another.”

Amazingly, this little gland is more powerful than most people realize. Located at the front of the neck, just below the Adam’s Apple (Larynx). Butterfly-shaped, the organ contains two lobes located at either side of the windpipe(trachea).

Amy Ingram

There were times though that Amy just wished she had known more about the disorder and the whole picture.

And she is not the only one.

Mickey Harbin was diagnosed in 2006, at the age of 27, about a year after she had her last baby. Mickey told The Murphy Gazette, “I went to the doctor because I just never felt good anymore. I was run down, not feeling rested even after having a reasonable amount of uninterrupted sleep. My skin was dry to the point that moisturizer was no help and my hair was falling out in chunks.”

Mickey Harbin

She continued, “I was foggy headed and unable to focus, not even able to complete simple tasks some days. Though I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression my entire life, I felt myself sinking into a black hole that I didn’t think I would be able to pull myself out.”

Mickey said, “I knew that something had to be wrong and that I needed help fixing it fast. Initially, several doctor that I saw laughed my concerns away, pointing out the fact the I was the mom of three young kids and that, of course, I should be exhausted. They chalked the skin, hair, and foggy brain up to the fact that I’d been either pregnant or breastfeeding for nearly five years, throwing my hormones way out of whack.”

The worsening depression was chalked up to, again, three young kids and other life stressors,” she stated. “It took some time, but a doctor finally took me seriously enough to investigate. To this day, I’m pretty sure he did the extensive testing just to humor me.”

According to Mickey, “The blood work came back showing that my thyroid was barely functioning. The ultrasound that followed showed a mass that had to be removed (precancerous growth).”

“My overnight surgery ended up being a six day stay because my parathyroid was nicked during surgery, causing my potassium to drop drastically low, which in turn caused my heart to start acting funny until my potassium was regulated.”

Mickey added, “About two years ago, my thyroid started to grow back. The doctor is watching it to determine if/when it will need to come out. I have the diagnoses of Hashimoto’s and hypothyroidism. I been on all the different kinds of hormone replacement pills. If you can name it, I’ve done it.” She currently takes a T3 and a T4 drug and does blood work every eight weeks to see “if I need adjusting. It’s not perfect, but it’s okay for now.”

Becky Holland

In 1995, Becky Holland started feeling really low. She had no energy. A mass grew on the side of her neck. “it was a real odd thing – this mass grew, and it was hard, and I had all these crazy symptoms of things. When they finally decided it was a thyroid issue, things started cooking, literally.” She said that she received radioactive iodine treatment and later, surgery to remove the thyroid. When it was removed in 1995, the thyroid was the size of a tennis ball.

“That was a weird thing – they put me in a room, and when they came in they were suited up in white suits, masks, gloves and more,” Becky laughed. Her thyroid levels went up and down for years. “Different doctors treated it differently and went by different scales. I got so flustered about it all and the inconsistencies just drove me crazy. So, I kind of just didn’t keep up with things for a while like I should. And that is where I suffered – weight gain, mental health issues, aches, pains and just was tired all the time.”

About 10 years after her first surgery, her family physician found a mass of thyroid nodules. After the necessary tests to ensure it wasn’t malignant, she had a second surgery. The mass was the size of a softball. “For a non-athlete, it was kind of funny that they decided to use all these sports’ comparisons.” She laughed.

Becky said, “I do a lot of research on it. My current physician is amazing and we work well together … but before I found out more information about the disease than some of my doctors knew.”

When asked how the disease has affected them, all three women gave similar and not-so-similar answers.

Amy stated, “I have gone through brain fog and exhaustion, skin dryness, hair loss and dryness.”

Becky reflected. “Oh, the list would be endless of how it has affected me physically, emotionally, mentally, and yes, even spiritually. I have had relationships changed because of how the lack of the thyroid or the crazy of the thyroid has impacted my life and moods.” Becky’s thyroid was discovered to have grown back. “Yeah … it came back or maybe it never left. Right now, it is behaving. My NP and I are keeping a good eye on it, and keeping up on blood work. This would be number three of surgeries if we go that option.”

Mickey said, “How has it affected me is a loaded question. How hasn’t it affected me would be easier to answer. I’m tired. Always. Tired. I struggle with the pervasive bone deep exhaustion that accompanies this disease. There are times at which it will put me to bed for days. Because I’m so weary, I sometimes struggle to keep up with my teenagers and their various activities, or even take care of my family.”

Becky stated, “Oh, the weight gain. Everyone thinks I eat a lot. Now, I admit, I have made bad choices in what I have eaten, but never been an overeater really. I gained 75 pounds in 20 years – and 55 of which could be related to my thyroid disorder.”

“I’ve had to postpone things that I’d like to do, like finish college, because I don’t physically have the energy to take care of my family and pursue an education. I know how crazy that sounds, but it’s hard to explain to someone that’s never felt it before,” Mickey said. “Besides the fatigue, I have all the other hallmarks of this hateful disease – swollen and painful joints, skin and hair issues, extreme intolerance for heat (to be fair, menopause doesn’t help that, either), slow heart rate and the weight gain.”

Mickey added, “Oh my gosh the weight gain. I was always a curvy girl and I know that I’ve had three children, but the weight gain and the difficulty losing it is ridiculous.”

When asked if there was any advice that they would give others who have a thyroid disorder, all three women offered the following reflections.

“Always be your own advocate. Know your body, and don’t give up trying to find the answers so that you can be the healthiest version of you that you can be,” Mickey said. “Sometimes that means finding a new doctor. I don’t think there’s anything that anyone could’ve told me other than that that would’ve impacted my diagnosis and treatment.”

Amy said, “Don’t give up. Keep fighting to find an answer.”

“I agree with Mickey and Amy. You have to remember though we are all different, we all will respond differently to treatments, we all will have different symptoms and be impacted differently … So, even though I encourage having conversations with others with the disease and researching, you have to be careful,” Becky said. “Take information from the right sources. And, be consistent with the treatments – and remember, your doctor is smarter than you are.”

Mickey commented, “Having thyroid issues has taught me a lot about learning to pace myself, and to prioritize the energy that I have towards the things that are most important to me.”

Now – unlike years ago when Becky and Mickey were first diagnosed – there have been a number of technological and medical advancements in the treatment of the thyroid disorder.

So, yeah, that is good news!


Author: rlhwrites

Curator of prose and such.

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