My First (and Last) Time to Skydive

In August I had the opportunity to use an event credit I had with a local adventure club, so I decided to use it towards skydiving.

Yes, skydiving.

It has been on my bucket list since I was in middle school, and even though I’m terrified of heights I thought I should do it if I had the chance.

The problem is that my husband exceeds the height and weight limit of skydiving companies here in Japan, so I had to go it alone.

Even though I really wanted him to be there I thought it would be no big deal to go by myself. We had just climbed to the top of Mount Fuji 2 weeks before, so I was sure this would be easy.

Except, it wasn’t. The whole language barrier thing kind of poses a big problem when you’re about to jump out of a plane at about 4,000 meters.

The day started by all of the club members arriving at Fujioka station early in the morning. This is a very small station and the closest store is about a 10 minute walk. It was so early that the store wasn’t open yet, so I started walking around foraging  for breakfast.IMG_0792

Luckily I was able to meet and talk with an older couple who owned a hardware store. My Japanese speaking ability is intermediate, but I was able to ask them if they had any snacks for sale.

Instead they gave me a bag of pastries and snacks and wouldn’t let me pay them. I told them I was skydiving that morning and they wished me good luck and sent me on my way.

I ran back to the station so I could be sure to catch the shuttle to the jump site and made it just in time.

So, we arrive to the site and we get the safety briefing in English. No problem. All of that was very clear.

What wasn’t clear is what would happen once inside the plane and how it would happen. You know, the logistics of who would go first and whatnot.

They were doing back to back jumps that day, so while everyone else was geared up and in the plane I was standing out waiting on my teacher to parachute down, unhook from the last jumper, and hook on to me.

By the time my teacher hit the ground he literally ran to me, strapped my to his chest, and threw me on the plane- no introductions, nothing.

What I didn’t realize (and nobody told me) was that since I was the last person on the plane I would be first one off.

So, we’re up in the air. It’s a hot summer day. We’re all sweating and terrified. I’m sitting on a stranger’s lap and he’s trying to point out mountains and such as we rise higher and higher in this little tin can of a plane.


About this time I’m thinking “hm, maybe I can still change my mind?” but at that same time my teacher threw the plane door open.

What happened next was somehow both simultaneously instant and in slow-mo. The door flew open. I’m thinking “oh, that’s a nice view” but then I realize he’s PICKING ME UP. I guess I’m supposed to be moving by myself at this point but I’m frozen and confused since I didn’t know I was going first.

He sits me on the edge of the plane. I still don’t know what’s happening. Then he throws us out the door. Untitled

My stomach goes up into my lungs. Then I realize I’m seeing the sky. I shouldn’t be seeing the sky. For several days after I thought we were having trouble in the air,  but now I think he was just trying to have fun with me. I was not having fun.

So, after what felt like 5 minutes of facing the sun he jerks my pack and throws me so that I’m under him, facing the ground.

Untitled3By this point I’m already confused about what just happened, it’s hot and muggy, and I’m free falling from 4,000 meters. There really is nothing like feeling the wind hitting you was you plummet towards the earth.

When our neon-green chute caught air we both jerked up  and thought I was going to vomit. But luckily that feeling didn’t last long.

The view parachuting down was nice. However, my teacher thought it would be fun to do some kind of turning left-to-right action, which I had to ask him nicely not to do because I already felt quite sick. IMG_0806

I was so thankful to hit the ground. Everyone else on the trip seemed to have a blast, and I’m glad they did. I, on the other hand, had a headache for the rest of the 1.5 hour train ride home and felt shaky for the rest of the day…but I did it!

I can attest that the sights, sounds, and feelings were certainly unique and something I will always remember, but once was enough for me.

What was the craziest/most adrenaline pumping thing you’ve ever done?

Our First (and Maybe Last) Time to Climb Mount Fuji

My husband and I just did something pretty crazy. We climbed Mount Fuji and reached the summit.

While many people reach the summit each year, this is a big deal because we’re city people.  We’re not outdoorsy. I’m from Arkansas, but have never been camping besides 1 time as a kid, and I didn’t even stay the night.

Needless to say I don’t really do “the great outdoors.” I’m moderately healthy and active, but am recovering from cancer. I exercise and eat well, but I have some obvious health conditions that could have kept me from making it to the top.  David’s much more capable of physical activity and roughing it than I am.

So, that’s who we are and how untrained we are, and here’s our guide on how we climbed Mount Fuji and reached the summit.

How it happened

We had gone back and forth about climbing Fuji. We wanted to do it last year- our first year in Japan- but my cancer diagnosis last summer kept us from climbing since Fuji is only open for climbing in the summer months.

This summer rolled around and David and I had talked more about climbing Fuji. First we planned to go with friends. Then one of my hiker-enthusiast friends suggested I try a shorter 3-4 hour hike. She went with me on my first hike ever at Mount Mitake and wasn’t thrilled about the whole hiking thing (it was a nice place and I had fun with my friends). I’m just not into summer hiking in the humidity.

David and I stopped talking about Fuji after that. Even so, I started doing some stair climbing pretty regularly in addition to other exercise, because I had a feeling we would do what we always do and say “oh, let’s just do it and get it over with.”

And that’s how it happened. We picked a date and I booked a trip with our local military outdoor center so we’d be able to take a bus there and back, get cheap rental gear, and go with strangers. We didn’t know how we’d react to the challenge, so if it resulted in us being hot, tired, and grumpy we didn’t want our mild-mannered friends to see us like that.

In the end, we did it. We reached the summit through determination, pacing ourselves, and supporting one another. It was something that was nice to say we did, but we’d never do it again. Cool experience, and great for team building and such, but for us it was a “one and done” kind of thing.

Before the climb

You’re reading this because you’re either a regular reader (thank you!), or you’re interested in climbing Fuji (thank you!) I’m going to give you a run down of what I saw, what I did, and what worked for me.

I did a great deal of research on climbing Fuji before our climb date. I spent a lot of time reading both official website and personal blogs because I wanted to see what people of all shapes, sizes, and physical conditions said about their experience. I was particularly concerned about my health and endurance post-cancer, so I was looking for as many personal stories as I could find.

Unfortunately I didn’t find many guides, just mostly ” what not to do” in the form of people’s failed ascent stories.

From my experience, being prepared is critical to a successful climb- both physically, mentally, and supply-wise.

  • Research the different paths, too. We took the yellow route, the Fuji-Subaru line trail. We didn’t have an option, this was the route that our group guide chose. This is supposed to be the easiest path, though, so it’s worth noting.
  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol 24 hours before.
  • Tape up your feet with mole skin- the toes, sides of your feet, and heels.
  • Pack your gear, then make sure you have the bare minimum. You can buy water if you drink all of ours.
  • Be mentally prepared to make it to the top, but accept it if your body won’t let you. Don’t be too hard on yourself.


Here’s the supply list that was given to us with a few additions from me:

  • Thick soled hiking boots (casual shoes or trainers are not a good idea, in my opinion)
  • Long sleeved wicking shirt
  • Compression socks-wicking
  • Compression leggings- wicking
  • Wicking shirt
  • Medium size backpack
  • Lightweight rain gear
  • Warm/light fleece jacket
  • Headlamp with extra batteries (if climbing at night)
  • Gators
  • Trekking poles
  • Hat (with visor)
  • Small hand towel
  • Utility gloves (for climbing the vertical rock walls-wicking is best)
  • Water bottle or hydration system (i.e. Camelback)
  • Water (at least 2.0 liter)
  • Light meals (beef jerky/protein, etc.)
  • Aspirin
  • Small First aid kit (some adhesive bandages and ace bandages)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunblock
  • 3 folded up plastic bags (to keep your things dry & for trash)
  • Small roll of toilet paper
  • Blister kit with moleskin and scissors to cut the moleskin
  • Change of socks
  • Oxygen can
  • Wet tissue (to clean your face after the descent- dust gets EVERYWHERE!)
  • Cotton surgical mask (when dust rises on the descent)
  • Watch & cell phone
  • Camera
  • Map
  • Money for stamps on your hiking stick (each station’s stamp costs at least 300 yen) plus food, souvenirs, etc. I think we took about 30,000 yen (and as many 500 yen coins as we could).

We brought everything on this list except the gator boot covers (wish I had rented them- they’d keep the rocks out of your boots on the descent).

We used everything on this list except for the toilet paper, rain gear and warm jacket. Our long sleeve UnderArmour and gloves were enough for both of us.

I strongly suggest you pack all of these items, and be sure to keep your pack as light as possible. Around 5 pounds was what we were told to pack, but I forgot to weigh it before.

  • As far as food goes- we packed high calorie protein bars and those squeezeable protein gel pouches.
  • Packing your backpack correctly is important, too. I highly recommend a hiking pack instead of a regular backpack because a hiking pack is set up with a ton of pockets and easy to access hooks and pouches.
  • Put the protein meals and yen (to pay for burned stamps on your hiking stick, and other incidentals) in the pockets on your waist belt or shoulder straps for easy access.
  • Put your first aid kid (bring scissors!) in an easy-to-access area. Same with your map, phone, sun screen, and oxygen can. You want to be able to get to these things without taking your pack off, if possible.


I think that getting to the summit was more mental, than physical. I saw several fit-looking young men turn around at the 8th station.

I’m sure there are plenty of other tips from real hikers….but as a semi-athletic non-hiker this is what worked for me.

  • What you want to do is pace yourself and take your time. If you don’t make it to the top, that’s okay. You don’t want to over do it and you don’t want to get altitude sickness. Pushing yourself makes altitude sickness worse and you need to turn around immediately if you feel lightheaded, get a headache, or feel nauseous.
  • Stop for a rest when you need it, but try not to sit down and try to keep it under 5 minutes. We found that stopping for 1-2 minutes frequently helped us regain the strength to keep going.
  • You also want to climb and descend, when possible, in a zig-zag. Instead of walking straight ahead, you zig-zag in a wide pattern and you do it slowly.
  • I don’t know why this works, but I met a elderly man on the mountain who told me he climbs twice a year and he taught me this method. I had heard about it before from my hiking-enthusiast friend, but totally forgot about it and had never done it before until this kind man showed me.
  • When you climb stairs or the rock climbing section of the trail you want to alternate legs that you push yourself up onto.
  • Hydrate. Drink water when you stop for a rest. Even though I drank probably 2 liters of water I didn’t have to use the bathroom until the 7th station on my descent. Your body will thank you for staying hydrated!
  • The trekking poles make hiking SO much easier. Get them if you can.
  • From the 7th station to the 8th station it is about 2 hours of vertical rock climbing. Literally. You’ll need gloves and hiking poles. Sometimes I got so tired that I just climbed with my hands, and that’s okay, too.
  • At the summit you can see several souniveer shops and little resturants. We ate udon at the summit and got a few flags for our hiking stick. They offered to stamp the date on the flags, so that was pretty cool!
  • You can even what is probably one of the world’s highest vending machines and post offices there at the summit.


For me, this was the hardest part. My husband said it was difficult, but not painful like it was for me.

You’ll need your mask or towel here, the dust stirred up by other hikers is very thick. Just a heads up, when you get home you’ll find it in your nose, ears, and hair.

I was wearing rented hiking boots that were fine on the way up (I got a blister around the 8th station, but mole skin did the trick and I didn’t feel it after that). But, on the descent this was a different story. Even though the ends and sides of my toes were taped up very well, the descent wrecked my toes.

The descent is at a steep slope of lava rock from the summit to the 6th station. Some of the slopes had some soft grey rock, and that was easier on my toes because I could dig my heel into it, but the majority was this awful, hard, slippery red lava rock that provided zero comfort.

My toes keeps hitting the ends of the boots with each step. I tried side stepping and zig-zagging, but it didn’t bring any relief to my pain.

In the end I hobbled pathetically down from about the 9th station to the 6th station. My husband carried my pack from the 7th station on, and our guide realized that at my pace I was going to miss the bus. We said that was okay, and that we’d just get a hotel and stay somewhere…but he ran to the base of the 6th station and found some horsemen with ponies I could ride.

It cost something like 16,000 yen (about $130 usd), but I was no longer in pain and it was well worth it. David couldn’t open his wallet fast enough, and I got a pony ride out of the deal… so it wasn’t all bad.

It’s the morning after our trek now, and while my toes and legs hurt I’m not as exhausted as I expected. I kind of expect it to catch up to me tomorrow..but as of right now this semi-capable 14 month-post cancer patient is doing okay. My husband took the day off, but still went to the gym to lift weights. So, that’s how a perfectly healthy person feels the next day.

Final Notes

Just do your research. Take it easy. Respect the mountain, and listen to your body. If you ever climb Fuji, I hope you have a good experience!

Also, please donate 1,000 yen (less than $10 USD) when you see the little booth by the horse pen at the 5th station. It goes to the conversation of Mount Fuji and I heard that many foreigners aren’t donating in recent years. You get a cool button showing you donated and the year, and a free 3-day wifi passcode that works on top of the mountain!

Update: 2 months have passed, and the worst thing that happened to me was that I lost 4 toenails due to the injury I sustained on the descent. We have also been talking about maybe hiking again next year… so…we will see what happens!

My Time on NHK World’s Cool Japan TV Show

“My name is Angela and I have 2 cats.”

Since March I have appeared on 5 episodes of the long-running television show called “Cool Japan” that is broadcast on NHK’s BS1 channel, as well as on their global broadcast called NHK World.

Today I got my first message from a viewer through my blog (thank you for writing, Ich!), and it dawned on me that I should probably post about my experience on the show.

Whenever people find out that I have appeared on the program they always ask me how I got on the show, what it’s like, etc. so, there’s the scoop on it.

I started watching the program when we moved to Japan in November 2013. I enjoyed the show, and watched it almost every week.

Then in June 2014 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and during my “surgery summer” I was home recovering, which meant I was able to watch every episode of the show.

During this time I also spent a lot of time online researching and happened to check out the Cool Japan website on NHK. At the very bottom of the site there was a button mentioning they were accepting new cast members, so I thought.. “what do I have to lose?” and I applied sometime in July 2014.

A few months went by without hearing anything. Then around September I got an email asking me to come for an audition. Of course I said yes. The only problem was that I was in Hawaii receiving cancer treatment and would likely not make it back to Japan in time for the audition. I said yes, anyway. I convinced my doctors to let me fly home maybe 2-3 days before my big audition.

I was jet lagged and filled with a low level of radiation. My hair was falling out and I was exhausted. But I made the trip to Roppongi from my city and auditioned. It was awful. The asked me to tell them about myself. I had not been asked that question since being diagnosed with cancer. I stuttered. I said “My name is Angela and I like cats.” I didn’t say where I was from, that I worked for Dell (at the time), that I was married, that I had a master’s degree…none of it. They looked at me like I was nuts.

It was a group audition with 3 other foreigners in my group. They were very genki and  from big metropolitan cities. I was sick and was from a small southern state in America. The audition topic was about night life. In my state nightlife consists of clubbing (which I don’t do), and going to the 24-hour Wal-Mart. We don’t really have anything else that’s open 24 hours, so I had very little to contribute to the conversation.

After the audition I was pulled aside and asked some questions about gachapon machines, but I didn’t feel it was a good audition at all. I was so sick, so I don’t remember much else about it at all.


From my first episode- I was sure I’d never get asked back, so I wanted to be sure and get a picture!

A few more months passed-I assumed I made a fool of myself and would never hear from them again. I was so surprised when I received an invitation in February to appear as a panelist on the topic of Kawaii 2015 that would tape in March. I went. I talked. I had a blast.

It was so much fun! I couldn’t believe that I was sitting just a few feet away from people I watched on television every week. It was surreal and I turned into a fangirl for a moment.

Then I taped the other episodes I mentioned earlier.




For those interested, my episodes so far have been:

Kawaii 2015


Edged Tools




It’s been a really fun and exciting summer, and I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to work on the show. I’m not sure if I’ll be asked back in the future, but I will always cherish my memories and experiences from the episodes I’ve done so far! I’m feeling better each passing month, and I think that being on the show and making people laugh has helped me in my cancer recovery.

If you’ve stumbled upon my blog because you saw me on the show, thank you for watching. I hope you enjoyed watching the episodes!







How Thyroid Cancer and Hypothyroidism Changed My Body

Here’s a link to my post detailing my Cancer diagnosis and treatment timeline . I used to have a very predictable, dependable body. I knew how much exercise I had to do to work off that cookie I had at lunch. I knew how long it would take for me to recover from vacation/travel eating. I knew my body really well. Then I got cancer. I think an active list of my symptoms might not only help me, but might benefit someone trying to figure out their new life as a hypothyroid patient. I am not a doctor, so please track your own symptoms and discuss them with your doctor. Symptoms I have experienced so far:

  • weight gain
  • hair loss
  • insomnia
  • nightmares
  • pungent body odor
  • brain fog/forgetfulness
  • language/writing problems

1. Weight gain After my other thyroid was removed I gained 10 pounds in a month. While I understand that 10 pounds is not much when compared to other thyroid patients, it is unusual for me. It is also a significant amount of weight for a petite person like myself. I am thankful for only gaining a small amount of weight, but I must note it as a way that thyroid cancer and hypothyroidism changed my body. I have lost 2 pounds since my RIA (radio-iodine ablation) mid- September 2014, but that’s the most my weight has budged.I have 8 pounds to go to be at my pre-cancer weight. I eat a calorie restricted diet and try to aim for high protein, low carbs. I eat a lot of fish, and soy. While soy consumption is controversial, my endocrinologist advised that I can eat soy, I just have to eat it 4 hours after taking my thyroid pill. Resolution (for now):  Yesterday (11/18) I started a 2 workout a day plan. I am not doing strength training, but have read that strength training/weight lifting might help with weight loss for someone in my condition. I don’t have easy access to weights, but I’m looking into how to change that. 2. Hair Loss After the second time my Levothroxine was increased I noticed that my hair began falling out. It isn’t coming out in huge clumps, but it does come out daily. I find it on my pillow, in my brush, in the shower, and in my bicycle helmet. This has never happened before. When I get my hair cut it is even worse, so I avoid going as often as I should. I had to explain to my Japanese stylist that I was taking medicine that made my hair fall out so he didn’t worry when he saw all of it come out as he cut. 3. Insomnia For the past 5 months I have been taking Levothroxine at night (per my doctor). I have never suffered from insomnia before, but I would lie awake for about 3-4 hours on average. Resolution: I decided to start taking my medicine in the morning (which is what is on the bottle) on 11/6.  The day of my first morning dose I had a lot of energy (ran/biked 2 miles) and I fell asleep within 30 minutes and had no nightmares. A week later and I still have had no more nightmares and no trouble falling asleep.

4. Nightmares

I would also have terrible nightmares every night. It became normal for me, but just a few days before switching to a morning dose my husband commented that I have had persistent nightmares. Over time I just stopped noticing.

Resolution: (see #3)  5. Pungent body odor I have tried many things to alleviate the body odor that has accompanied my thyroid condition. What was strange is that after I had my surgeries the odor was gone for a few months while my thyroid medication was very low. Once it increased to 125 mcg the odor came back. I don’t drink coffee, only 1-2 cups of black tea a day. I don’t drink much soda, maybe 1-4 diet sodas a month. I’ve tried washing my armpits with baking soda, stainless steel (smooth stone) soap, rubbing alcohol, lymph drainage massage, antibacterial body soaps, and all kinds of deodorant+ antiperspirant. I shower twice a day, sometimes more. One arm is stronger than the other, and it’s opposite the side of my body where the cancer was present. Very strange. I have tried a variety of laundry techniques, too. Baking soda, vinegar, ammonia, sun drying, boiling water, several different sports detergents and laundry scrubs. That worked for a while, but once my hormones start getting out of control the smell comes back.  Resolution (for now): I learned about transdermal magnesium chloride therapy while talking to another hypothyroid patient on Reddit. I figured that I had nothing to lose, so I bought a bottle on Amazon. I have been using it for 3 days, and my body odor is minimal, even while on my period. I did not ask my doctor about this, because he told me he does not believe that non-prescription methods work. He also did not believe that my strong body odor was related to my thyroid issues. I am not a doctor, but this is my body, and I disagree. Update 7/4/15: The transdermal magnesium spray was a game changer. I have been using it since the date of this post and am back to only 1 shower a day, no overwhelming odor (unless I drink cheap coffee), and I couldn’t be happier. My doctor still did not believe that this spray helped, but it worked for me.

6. Brain fog, forgetfulness, scatterbrain, thyroid brain I have always been known for my amazing memory and ability to complete tasks quickly and efficiently. However, after the most recent dosage increase I noticed I could no longer remember even the most basic of things. I repeat stories, I forget what I was doing, I have trouble completing work and household tasks. It is extremely frustrating for me. I have told my doctor, but the symptom remains untreated. I asked about taking ginko biloba, but the doctor told me  that it probably won’t work and that it isn’t FDA approved, and left the conversation at that. Resolution (for now):  I keep forgetting to take it (go figure), but I think that taking my Levothroxine in the morning has helped. I am still foggy and forgetful, but it seems like it doesn’t disrupt my life as much as it did before switching to a morning dose.Update 7/4/15: In May my doctor FINALLY listened to me (once my husband went in to the appointment with me- that’s a whole other blog post in itself) and increased my dosage to the next strength. I have had more energy, and less brain fog every day since then.

7. Difficulty writing/editing As a technical writer this is very difficult for me. My job involves writing, and having to proofread so diligently and STILL finding basic mistakes makes me want to scream. Writing and editing have always come naturally to me, but I can no longer do it in the same capacity that I could before cancer and hypothyroidism. Resolution (for now):  This one is tough. I keep making mistakes. I will keep making mistakes unless I am very careful with my editing. There are probably mistakes in this post that, even though I’ve combed over it a few times, I still don’t see. I just have to keep an eye on it and try harder.

My Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Timeline

I am a healthy woman who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 29. I do not smoke, drink alcohol rarely, avoid fast food, and exercise frequently.

Cancer is scary. While thyroid cancer is treatable it leaves us with completely new bodies. Nothing works like it used to, and trust me…that is frustrating.

I am writing about my experiences in a series of posts because I hope it can help somebody else who develops this condition.

One question I am always asked is “how did you discover you had  cancer?”  Well, that’s an interesting story.

People want to know how I found out I had a problem, so here’s my diagnosis and treatment timeline.


Late December 2012:

I went to the emergency room from work because I suddenly had pain with breathing. I called the nurse line and was told that because of my birth control I could be having a pulmonary embolism.

David was on the flight line, so I drove myself to the ER.

After several hours and many tests they discovered the real problem.

I had thyroid nodules/cysts that had gotten so large on the left side of my throat that that they had nowhere to swell too on my small frame, pushing the swelling into my lungs and throat.

Other symptoms that developed prior to this ER visit was a very pungent body odor. It wasn’t regular BO. It was worse than that. I actually blogged about it here.

Thyroid nodules are prevalent in my family, so I wasn’t too concerned.

I was released from the ER and told to schedule a referral to an endocrinologist.

February 2013:

More ultrasounds and tests in January.

By February I had the needle biopsy, but it was only done on the largest nodule. It came back clear and this doctor said he did some sort of DNA analysis on me and I am very low risk for cancer.

The swelling was controlled  over the months with an as-needed steroid medication.

We moved to Japan in November 2013.

January 2014:

The doctors here in Japan noticed that I had not had a followup since last year and made me go through the tests again.

I really wasn’t trilled about it, but went ahead with it.

The ultrasound showed the left nodule had grown quite a bit, and had visible black spots.

I had another needle biopsy, and it came back clear.

However, I was urged to consider tissue biopsy, so I did.

My nose was broken when I was 5 years old. During the consultation for my thyroid the doctor noted that he could also fix my nose.

The same doctor would perform a septoplasty, but he got military orders to move later this summer. This meant he would not be able to do my nose work unless we acted fast.

I asked him to do both the thyroid lobectomy and the septoplasty at the same time because I really felt he was the best surgeon for the work.

May 2014:

He agreed, and I had both procedures done May 28, 2014.

Strangely I had no symptoms (other than the swelling in my throat) until about 2 weeks before my surgery date.

I started having trouble waking up and getting moving. I started feeling the need to take naps, and I started feeling very unusual- not like myself.

The tumor that was removed was a little over an inch long and had big black spots.

The tissue biopsy results revealed stage i thyroid cancer- papillary with a follicular variant. The tumor was t2 in size.

June 2014:

I had the second surgery to remove my other thyroid on June 30th. The masses on the right side that were removed also had possible spots.

July 2014:

Despite the spots, the right side had no cancer.

August/September 2014:

Received a small dose of radioactive iodine at an Army hospital in Hawaii. This should have destroyed any remaining thyroid cells that were left in my body.

I will have regular blood work and yearly body scans to check for cancer. The radioactive iodine treatment does increase my risk of getting other types of cancer, but at the moment I am all clear.

Living With and Without Cancer

This might end up being a post that I regularly update- I’m not sure yet.

“I’m not sure yet” pretty much sums up my life lately, both with and without cancer.

It’s almost mid August and I still mentally feel like it’s June (before I had my first cancer removal surgery). That’s weird. It’s weird that I still expect to celebrate my birthday and July 4th, and do all sorts of other summery things..but those have already passed.

I’m here, but I’m not here. That’s also strange. I’m here, but it’s not the me that was here before I had surgery. My entire body is different now.

I can’t even process alcohol the same way. I had 2 small drinks and thought I was dying the next day. I threw up all morning and in to the afternoon. That’s never happened in all my younger good-time-having years.

What worked for me to maintain my figure doesn’t work anymore now that I don’t have a thyroid.

I have developed a small protruding belly. I can’t run as fast as I used to be able to. I don’t feel as motivated to lose the weight because nothing I do seems to work.

I worry I’ll get to the point where I say “meh, I can’t get back to where I was- might as well have this big [soft pretzel/doughnut/piece of pizza/12 inch sub sandwhich]…” The old me would have turned my nose up at that junk.

I already ate well and watched my caloric intake before. I am swimming and running/walking on alternating days (or as weather permits). I wear my weight loss workout clothing, but I still can’t break through my post-op weight gain.

It’s only 4 to 5 pounds, but on my petite frame it sits right on my stomach, which is really irritating. I know, I know- I’m thankful to be alive-really. I just miss the old me, the body I worked hard for. The body that responded correctly to my input and exercise. I can’t figure out what to do to get back there, or if it’s even possible.

The scar on my collar bone makes planking uncomfortable, but I started again today anyway.

My doctor told me I was eating too few calories for a post-op healing body (at 1,000-1300 a day, which is what I was eating before surgery). but I can’t eat more. My stomach is much smaller than it used to be a few years ago.

I’m sick, but I’m not sick. I look fine, except for my scar. I’m struggling at work to keep up with my projects and not be the weakest member of the team. I’ve never been weak and inefficient, but I am now.

I have to ask for help, I have to turn down projects, I have to explain to coworkers from other teams who don’t know me and get frustrated with my work that “hey, I’m normally not this stupid/inefficient/inept at my job but I was diagnosed with cancer this summer and I’m trying my best to keep up-I’m sorry.”

Asking for understanding and forgiveness from others puts me at a disadvantage- it makes me look weak. They’re nicer to me and more understanding afterward I talk to them about it, but I don’t like being the weakest link. I feel like they feel sorry for me, and I hate that feeling.

Cancer has taken a lot of people I love from me in the past, and now it’s taken some things I loved about me away, too.


My septorhinoplasty and thyroidectomy

In the spring of 2014 I discovered that my thyroid cyst from last year turned into a tumor and was growing steadily.

I am at an air base in Japan on my husband’s military orders, so first I had to go off base to a Japanese hospital to have the needle aspiration biopsy done because the base hospital couldn’t provide this service.

The surgeon at Yokota still needed to examine me first and noticed that I had a severely damaged nose from an injury I received in kindergarten. A girl hit me over the head with her heavy 1990’s lunchbox complete with an old, heavy thermos and my nose has remained broken ever since. After he performed some initial breathing tests I was amazed at the difference that being unobstructed made and he agreed to revisit my nose problem after I had some more work on my thyroid done.

The second appointment was a consultation at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo, about 2 hours one way by train. I had to visit the bi-lingual doctor, then the surgeon for the needle biopsy, then re-visit the first Japanese doctor so that I could get the results back in English. February and March were exhausting with the back and forth appointments.

The FNA (fine needle aspiration) here was an experience I’ll never forget because Japanese medicine doesn’t use anesthesia like American medicine does. The doctor looked at me and said “don’t breathe, don’t swallow, don’t talk”  before shoving he long, thin needle into the left side of my throat. The needle could have been short, for all I know-it just felt like it was a foot long. My brain had no time to register what happened, so the pain didn’t come until an hour later.

He gathered cells twice (he called the needle insertions “punches”) and that still only took 10 minutes; the same procedure took 45 minutes with anesthesia last year in America.

The FNA results came back clear for cellular cancer, but the doctors were concerned with what we couldn’t see so I was sent back to Yokota to biopsy the tumor itself.

Here is another difference between eastern and western medicine; the Japanese doctors did not want to remove any part of the thyroid and only wanted to only take the tumor, but all the American doctors wanted to take both the mass and half my left thyroid.

Now I was faced with the decision of the actual surgery. I received a referral to the naval base even farther south (about 3.5 hours by train one way) and it was the same process. A consultation, a return trip for the surgery, and a lengthy stay.

I was really frustrated with the idea that I would have to miss more work to go even further away so I emailed the ENT surgeon I first met at Yokota.

This was around late April and as it turns out my surgeon was set to leave Yokota Air Base in July, so that is why my referral was for the naval base. I was able to talk with the surgeon and get him to accept my surgery before he left- both of them, actually. We decided that he would do both the  septorhinoplasty and thyroidectomy at the same time. The  thyroidectomy took priority, of course, and would be the first procedure he would do for me.

My surgery was the morning of May 28, 2014 and this is the story of my surgery and recovery.

I have never had surgery before, except for having my wisdom teeth removed, so I was pretty anxious about being down for so many weeks.

Luckily all of our bills, deposits, and withdraws are automatic so I had nothing to worry about there. I highly suggest you put as much of your life on “auto pilot”  as possible, it will make your life so much easier.

I finished graduate school a few weeks ago, so I have no loose ends to tie there, either. I only had to get my work assignments and tasks set up so that I can easily have someone followup on my work.


Wednesday after waking up from surgery

It took 3 times to get the IV into my arm, and my wrists have the bruises to prove it.

The last full day I remember is Tuesday, and that feels really weird to have lost so many days.

Immediately after the surgery I felt great, which really alarmed me because I wasn’t sure if that was the drugs, or if I really did feel okay. I was eating, walking, and sleeping relatively well. I had crackers that night, and the morning later was able to eat everything on my hospital tray.

The incision on my throat is fine, and I have minimal pain and discomfort. I can’t really put my head all the way back, but that’s no big deal.

My nose? That’s another story. I never expected the most painful and irritating of the two procedures would be my nose, even though I read about nose work beforehand and expected the itching. I’ve got both a nose cast on the outside and splints on the inside, and the itching is driving me crazy.

May 31 was the worst day for swelling so far because it felt like my nose was going to break my cast in two. I was able to get the swelling down with ice packs throughout the night. June 1 I was reduced to putting on gloves while I slept because I had been waking up scratching my nose and the rest of my body like crazy.

The next day I had to file my newly-grown nails down quite a bit just to avoid accidentally hurting myself. Benedryl isn’t dealing with the itching anymore, either, but luckily I had a prescription for itching already.

I’m taking my pain medicine on schedule, and have not needed to take the full dosage but a few times, so I’m happy with that.

Overall it feels like have serious sinus pressure and/or a cold because of the nose pressure, my need to carry around a Kleenex to catch drips, and having to sleep propped up at at angle so I can breathe.

The saline flushes 4 times a day has already become my least favorite thing to do during this whole recovery process.

By Sunday the bruising is starting to change colors from black to yellow. My nose cast comes off this coming Wednesday and I’m really excited about that.

I have had some light numbness on my left fingers since the surgery and have read that it might be a calcium deficiency, but I’ll wait for my doctor to monitor my thyroid levels to see what he thinks.

Wednesday 6/4

1 week post-op and I had the cast and splints removed today.

The ends of the splints are wider than my nostril is, so the initial pull was both painful and satisfying as it passed though. There there was the weird sensation of what felt like pulling spaghetti through my nose (that was the rest of the splint).

Then I had to experience that again on the other nostril. While it didn’t hurt enough to make me cry from pain, the pulling and tugging around my nose area made my eyes water and tears began to run down my cheeks.

Then the cast came off. I expected that to hurt worse than the splints, but the cast was no big deal. Immediately after everything removed I recognized how freely I could breath.

My doctor says that my recovery experience isn’t typical and that I am bouncing back earlier than most people do. Now this could just be him trying to make me feel good, but I wanted to mention it here since other people may have a harder time than I did.

I was cleared to go back to work as soon early as Friday and I will be back to scuba diving and will get to try sky diving in about 2 months post-op.

I asked about the light numbness in my fingers and he said that, considering I had 2 procedures that was about 4 hour long, that he thinks the tingle comes from how they position your hand tightly against your leg during the surgery and that the tingling sensation should go away in a few weeks.

While I know I am swollen, I see a big difference already- no crooked nose and no bump! And most importantly, I can breathe correctly!


2 weeks post-op 6/11

Wednesday 6/11

Today marks 2 weeks post-op.

6/4 was the last day I used the pain medication, so I’ve been managing my pain very well. Most of the bruising is gone and I’m only left with some light yellowing on my cheek and the throat incision.

The numbness in my fingers is nearly gone and I’ve been able to crinkle my nose when I smile for the past few days, as well.

About 4 days ago I noticed a very strange droop/sag in both cheeks and I panicked.

It looked like I needed a facelift before I was 30. I emailed my doctor and he said it was likely just swelling and not to worry.

In the days since the swelling has indeed gone done and my cheeks are starting to look normal again.

I still have some swelling around my nose and cheeks and a little numbness on the tip of my nose, but I’m still breathing well and everything seems to be working out.

I did, however, get news yesterday that my biopsy results did come back positive for cancer.

The tumor had papillary thyroid cancer with a follicular variant. The doctors say that this is very treatable and My husband and I are staying positive and we both feel really good about it.

I’m scheduled for another surgery later this month to remove my right thyroid just to err on the side of caution. I’ll be on a thyroid supplement for the rest of my life, but it’s better than the alternative.

The other thyroid will be biopsied, as well, but it will be about another 2 weeks from the date of surgery to find out if they discovered any more cancerous tissue.

I will keep this post updated.

3 weeks, 2 days post-op

3 weeks, 2 days post-op


Monday August 4

It’s August now and I’m recovering pretty well. The tip of my nose still feels pretty stiff, but it’s not painful or uncomfortable.

My second thyroid surgery was successful and I was told I am cancer free at the moment, so that’s great news. That scar is healing up nicely and I feel so much better without the cancer in my body.

I did end up gaining 4-6 pounds after the second surgery, but I am working on getting that under control. Sometimes a few pounds take more work to lose than double-digits.

Overall I’m glad to have had the procedures, even though surgery and recovery took up the majority of the summer. I’m having some trouble remembering that it is August already because it still feels like the beginning of summer for me.

I hope writing about my experience can help someone who is looking to have either of these procedures done!

If you’re about to have one of these operations done-stay strong. Wishing you a smooth surgery and recovery.