One reads about misdiagnoses in the medical world but no one truly talks of the frustration, relief and anger that follows after a patient finds out they have been misdiagnosed for years. I, for one, understand that feeling and everything that comes with it –this is my story.
I am 27 years old and have been sick for seven years. When I was 20 years-old I blamed my illness on the HPV Gardasil vaccine, which sent me to the hospital after two days of taking the shot. Following that incident, I was in and out of hospitals for years as they tried to find out what I had. The doctors were baffled and didn't understand why I was having non-epileptic seizures; I experienced sensitivity to light, syncope, sudden loss of consciousness as many as 2 to 3 times an hour, followed by confusion, heart palpations, extreme fatigue and pain and weakness in my legs. Although doctors did every test in the book, none of them knew what was wrong with me.
In 2008 I met with a neurologist at Winthrop University Hospital. He immediately admitted me for an MRI and CAT scan of my brain. After several weeks in the hospital the neurologist sent me to Long Island Jewish Hospital in New York, where I was admitted for two weeks for monitoring. After weeks spent in multiple hospitals, the doctors explained they couldn’t find the problem and had no concrete diagnosis. I was confused and frustrated; I knew there was something wrong.
The pain continued to increase; I felt pins and needles throughout my entire body and soon I couldn’t feel my feet or be able to stand. If I tried to stand for a few seconds, I would fall. I tried more doctors, but many of them didn’t feel comfortable treating me. Needless to say, I started to give up. I quickly went from walking perfectly fine, to needing a walker, and then being confined to a motorized wheelchair. In such a short amount of time for a young woman, this experience was horrifying. I couldn’t hold a job or go to college since the pain in my legs and feet was excruciating.
After more tests – EMG, CAT scans, MRI’s, and CTA’s – my lumbar puncture test showed I had fluid in my brain. How could this be I wondered.
In 2010 I went to a rheumatologist and he discovered that I had Fibromyalgia and Peripheral Neuropathy. To confirm the diagnosis several excruciating nerve tests were done. It turned out that this disease caused my immobility for many grueling months. The test results concluded I had nerve damage in my legs, which was preventing me to walk.
After years of tests, scans, blood work, and thousands of dollars in hospital bills, this rheumatologist finally understood my diagnosis. Unfortunately, the seizure-like symptoms were still occurring. My entire family and I were ready to give up in the summer of 2010, when I decided to go to Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, New York to do Hyperbaric treatment. The doctors gave me Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, which was a life changing therapy. The seizure activity lessened as the weeks passed and I finally returned to college. I was feeling better for the first time in many years.
In the summer of 2012 I began to have severe pain in my neck. At this time I didn't have a regular physician so I found one and discussed my entire health history with him. The physician was extremely concerned so he sent me to see an oncologist right away. The oncologist reviewed my blood work and sent me to an endocrinologist because of the results. I waited several weeks to see the best chief endocrinologist in the area, when finally I felt some hope. I explained all my symptoms to the doctor including the pain in my neck, my weight gain, and my severe fatigue. He diagnosed me with Hypothyroidism. The doctor put me on a low dose of medication (Levothyroxine) and said, “see you in six months.” Hypothyroidism, I found out, is a thyroid disease in which your thyroid gland does not make enough of the thyroid hormone. That is why I had been tired and gained so much weight.
Weeks after this diagnosis, I began to have more pain in my neck and was starting to have problems swallowing food and water. At first I thought it was a cold coming on, but as weeks went by it didn’t subside. I returned to the endocrinologist and expressed my concerns but I was told that nothing was wrong and that I was suffering from a cold. I knew that I didn’t have a cold because I had just seen my regular physician who claimed I was healthy. The endocrinologist wouldn't issue me a sonogram for my neck, so I called my oncologist who wrote me a script that same day.
In July 2012, I had a complete sonogram done of my neck at the Woman’s Breast Imaging Center located in Garden City, New York. That day turned into a four hour appointment, which was uncomfortable to say the least, especially since following my sonogram I had to be issued a biopsy. Hearing biopsy for the first time in my life was yet another horrifying experience. I remember sitting up on the examination table, crying as my cousin and mother tried to calm me down.
Several days later I received a call from the doctor in the imaging center. I knew right then and there, something had to be wrong. The doctor said my name, then paused. My heart skipped a beat as I waited for the news. “Danielle, you have Thyroid Cancer,” he said. “You need to be seen immediately at a cancer center to treat the two tumors in your body.” Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t comprehend the words that were just said to me—I have cancer?
I realized then that the endocrinologist not only misdiagnosed me but didn’t pay attention to me when I was in pain. He brushed my symptoms and my concerns off as if I didn’t matter. Needless to say, I was livid.
Two days later I got a formal apology from the endocrinologist. I was shocked and impressed that he called. He apologized for misdiagnosing me and told me that if there was anything he could do to let him know. “I assume you do not want to come back to our office, but if you need anything I will be happy to help," he said. I told him that the one thing he could learn from this is to listen to his patients. He took this advice with an embarrassed silence.
It took me four days to figure out where I should be treated. I was overwhelmed by the words, ‘you have cancer” and understood these three words would change my life completely. After thorough research, I decided to get treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center located in New York City. I had an amazing surgeon who did a thyroidectomy and removed several lymph nodes that were cancerous. In December 2012, I started my treatment, which included Radioactive Iodine because of the spread. I had to be put in isolation for a few days because I was radioactive. While the experience was scary and unnerving, I owe a big thank you to my amazing surgeon and to my wonderful doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering for saving my life. It was a relief knowing that my doctors had my best interest in mind.
Knowing something was wrong with my body when the world kept telling me otherwise was a lonely and frustrating–especially for seven years. Although the time was tough, it also taught me that I had to become an advocate for myself. Not only did the diagnosis of Papillary Carcinoma Thyroid Cancer change my life, but the journey itself did as well. I learned to trust my instincts, and that I am stronger mentally, physically and psychologically than I ever thought possible.
PLEASE GET YOUR NECK CHECKED!!
Below are resources that help those suffering of Thyroid Cancer:
1. Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association- http://thyca.org
2. Light of Life Foundation - http://www.checkyourneck.com
3. Follow Danielle’s Journey: http://findinghopewiththyca.blogspot.com