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Having radioactive iodine treatment

At the age of 50, Jill was diagnosed with follicular thyroid cancer. Now she looks back on her treatment, 16 years later.

Jill and grandchildren

Nothing prepares you for the shock

I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in early 1995. I had noticed a lump just before Christmas and was referred to the hospital. Although my first biopsy was clear, my specialist was still concerned, so I had part of my thyroid gland removed. This showed I had thyroid cancer. It had crossed my mind beforehand that the lump could be serious but nothing prepares you for the shock of being told that you have cancer.

Talking things through with my specialist was really helpful. Being able to understand what my treatment would involve made the situation easier to manage. I had the rest of my thyroid gland removed and was told I would need radioactive iodine treatment. I had this treatment about 6 weeks after my surgery.

Radioactive iodine

The radioactive iodine was just a capsule I had to swallow. I was kept in a room on my own, as the treatment made me slightly radioactive. I found the isolation really difficult. My family could only visit for a limited time and had to sit behind a lead barrier near the door for protection against the radiation. My daughter was pregnant and so was unable to visit at all. This was particularly hard as we had been used to seeing each other every day since my surgery.

I had a television in the room and I took plenty of books, magazines and knitting to try and keep occupied, but it was lonely and I missed having people to talk to. I didn’t have many side effects but I did feel quite sick for a few days. I remember the smell of food on the ward made me feel worse. Fortunately the anti sickness tablets helped to keep this under control and I was able to drink plenty of fluids to help flush the radioactive treatment out of my system.

My level of radioactivity was measured every day with a Geiger counter. After about 4 days it was low enough for me to go home. The nurses gave me specific advice about being at home, including avoiding contact with children and pregnant women for a short time. A week after I went home, I was finally able to see my daughter.

Cancer free

A few months later, my scan showed there was no sign of the cancer. That was a huge relief. I had regular follow up appointments with my specialist for about 10 years but now all I need is a yearly blood test. I take a thyroxine tablet every day and have done since my thyroid was removed. I stopped taking them during the radioactive iodine treatment as the thyroxine can stop the treatment from working so well.

I no longer think about cancer everyday but this has taken time. I suspect it will always be at the back of my mind. I think you can take ‘normality’ for granted and after having cancer I now appreciate every day.

Factfile

  • Thyroid cancer is quite rare. In 2007, 2,108 people were diagnosed in the UK
  • There are different types of thyroid cancer. Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common, followed by follicular thyroid cancer. Medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancers are much rarer
  • Treatment depends on the type of thyroid cancer you have and how far it has spread. Papillary and follicular thyroid cancers are often treated with surgery and radioactive iodine
  • Radioactive iodine is a type of internal radiotherapy
  • Most people with papillary or follicular thyroid cancers are treated successfully

There is information about thyroid cancer on CancerHelp UK.

Sharing your story

The Your tips and stories section of CancerHelp UK provides tips and support for people currently coping with cancer and treatment. You can use the Your tips and stories contribution form to tell us how you coped, so that other people with cancer, or their families, can gain help and support from your stories.

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Updated: 26 January 2011