I’m Radioactive! (Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Radioactive Iodine)


No, really.

Let me explain. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer seven years ago and had to have my thyroid removed. Considering that I didn’t even know what a thyroid did at the time, I was still sad to see it go. Lucky for me, thyroid cancer is a very slow-growing and hardly ever fatal cancer. The good thing about it is that it only affects thyroid tissue, so they way they treat it is to remove the thyroid surgically, then make you drink a big dose radioactive iodine to “kill” any thyroid tissue they miss. (Supposedly, because the thyroid is the only tissue that absorbs iodine, it is the only one affected by the high dose of radioactivity.) Ummm… yeah, not sure I buy that since when I had this procedure done, I had to stay in the isolation ward in the hospital for three days and anyone who came in contact with me had to wear lead aprons, and carry a Geiger conter and shit. My door had big radioactive symbols all over it. It felt a little strange to say the least.

Anyway, now I have to do tests every other year to make sure that I have no thyroid tissue (or cancer) in my system so this means that I have to take a radioactive iodine pill and then have a body scan two days later. Now, the pill is much less of a dose than the lovely drink they make you do the first time around. So, although I don’t have to stay in the hospital, I do have to stay away from people and animals for a few days or I could wreck their properly functioning thyroid. I have to sleep in another bedroom, eat off throwaway plates and utensils, and go nowhere near children for a week. (The hardest part is keeping my cat Martha off my lap, as she loves to sit there while I am on the computer.) I even have to use a different toilet and flush three times after using it!

So, yesterday I go to the Nuclear Medicine department and they bring out this little capsule thats encased in a giant lead container and the technician is wearing a lead apron again. Then, he hands it to you and tell me to swallow it. I have to tell you, even though I have been through this test five times now, I always hesitate before I pop the pill. I mean, they tell you it’s “safe” (for me anyway) but it just seems so wrong!

I took the pill, but didn’t finish the water bottle they gave me. As I got up to leave, the technician nods towards the water bottle and says, “That’s all yours!” I laughed when I remember that he doesn’t want my water because it’s now completely contaminated. Great. So, one more swig and I finish it.

They’ve been doing this particular treatment for thyroid cancer since 1947, so I guess it’s safe, right? I sure wouldn’t want to know how they figured out this treatment, or be one of the first guys they tried it on!

Excuse me now while I go and contaiminate the bathroom.

5 thoughts on “I’m Radioactive! (Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Radioactive Iodine)

  1. A couple of things….wow it’s seven years and wow you told me about the cancer and these periodic tests that you have to go through and it has always seemed rediculously interesting, but nowhere as interesting as when it is out there in the written word!

    Because life always throws the daily “curve-balls”, I sit here today, not able to concentrate, just thinking about how amazing medicine truly is….you with your story and a radioactive pill, my mom with heart disease and a stent procedure to relieve 3 clogged arts……Who thinks of this shit?

    In the end, as brilliant as these people are, you’d think they would figure out how to grow hair on my head – dumb-asses!

  2. I read this science fiction book once where this guy was so radioactive that you could see his skeleton in the dark. I don’t know why he didn’t die…I’m gonna have to go back and reread that.

    You don’t glow or anything after you take the iodine pill do you? Cause that would be kinda cool.

  3. Thanks for the good post! I’m in the middle of taking 32 ugly big pills for a colonoscopy tomorrow. — I’ve just stopped feeling sorry for myself — now I’ll go sit with one of my cats (with one exception — who will NOT sit with anyone). Don’t you think those Techs in the lead coats could learn better “bedside” manners?!

  4. I hope your colonoscopy went well!
    Yes, those techs need a better lesson in beside manner for sure. I need to write a post on how the nurse at my Endocronologist’s office left me a voice mail at work telling me I had cancer. That was interesting.

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