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 (smooths 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.

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.

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.

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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!

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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 going 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.

Dyson Ball DC24 Review

I have toyed with the idea of buying a Dyson ball vacuum for a few years now but I could never justify spending over $300 for a vacuum cleaner…until I used one.

I looked after a neighbor’s cat a few weeks ago and she had a Dyson that I used to clean up one of the cat’s messes. It was like the first time I ever used an iPhone. I knew what my next big purchase would be.

Then I got busy with work and school and forgot about it, but my thoughtful husband continued to price Dysons on Amazon for me. We are living in Japan now with a military APO address so not only does it take forever for things to get here sometimes sellers won’t ship to APO so that adds another variable into the price-checking mix.

He found a refurbished unit for $279 shipped and that makes this thifty lady very happy.

It arrived yesterday after about 2 weeks and I’ve been playing with it today.

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The difference between the Dyson DC24 and my Hoover Elite Rewind are obvious just from seeing them side by side.

The Dyson is smaller, lighter, and more agile. The Dyson’s handle telescopes to make it even  more compact when you store it away.

I can hold the Dyson off the ground with 1 finger; I can barely hold the Hoover off the ground  with one hand.

The suction is strong, though I wish I had remembered to vacuum with the Hoover then go  over it with the Dyson to see what the Dyson picked up.

The color was a coincidence since David just went for the least expensive ball model on Amazon with Prime shipping, but the red is nice. The Hoover’s finish is more shiny, though (get it together, Dyson! People like shiny things!)

Pros of the Dyson:

  • Light
  • Nimble
  • Quiet (my cats don’t even wake up when I use it)
  • Compact
  • Easy to empty

Cons:

  • No retracting cord
  • Shorter cord than I’m used to
  • Smaller canister

From Amazon:

Dyson DC24

  • Ultra-lightweight and compact – weighs only 11.65 lbs. and wand compresses for easy storage
  • Patented Root Cyclone technology ensures constant suction as you vacuum
  • Expelled air has up to 150 times less mold and bacteria than the air you breathe
  • No extra costs – lifetime washable HEPA filter and no bags to buy
  • Tough, see-through polycarbonate Clear Bin empties with the push of a button Motor mounted in ball for a lower center of gravity and increased ease of steering

Hoove Elite Auto-Rewind

  • Bagless upright vacuum cleaner with powerful 12 amp motor
  • 14-1/2-inch-wide cleaning path; 7 height settings; air-flow indicator; HEPA filter
  • Headlight; 24-foot auto-rewind cord; stretch hose for extended reach
  • Crevice wand, dusting brush/upholstery tool, and pet-hair tool included

The verdict? If you want something light and nimble and can cough up the cash for a Dyson ball then go for it because I’m very happy with this purchase.

Our First Impression Of Japan

*This is a draft that I never finished-we’ve been living in Japan for almost 3 months now.

Here is our first impression of our new adventure, originally written December 1, 2013

We’ve moved to Yokota Air Base, Japan and it is amazing, even though we arrived the day before Thanksgiving and all the offices were closed.

The 12 hour flight was manageable. The cats were in cabin with us and didn’t cry at all except for takeoff and landing when the pressure changed. Otherwise they were quiet and slept un-medicated. I was quite sure we would have to give them bendryl or something but they wouldn’t take it and still slept. I put them in the empty seat in our row and opened their kennel lids to pet them. Erik crawled into my lap under the blanket and since it was an overnight flight it went unnoticed. That made for a nice cuddly flight except for he is so heavy that he put my legs to sleep a few times.

We knew Japan was going to be awesome when we got off the plane and the luggage was waiting on us at the carousel. We had to go through immigration so we seemed to be the last to get our bags. In America you wait for 30 minutes for your luggage to get out to you, but here they were ready before we were.

We hired a chauffeur so we could come from the airport to the base with the cats. The regular shuttle doesn’t allow cats and we didn’t want to put them through additional stress. It took about 3 hours to get from Narita to Yokota with traffic and we fell asleep a few times but stayed awake long enough to see the Rainbow bridge and Tokyo Tower.

The next morning we had got a tour and had a traditional Thanksgiving lunch with some friends we knew from Little Rock Air Force Base. We went home to sleep off the jet lag shortly after.

It’s Monday now and while I’m still waking up at 3 am or so I no longer get tired at  4pm.

Friday we drove around Fussa and had our first taste of conveyor belt sushi. We had a stack of plates, a beer, and soup and it only cost $20 between us. It was just as delicious as the expensive places we would frequent in the states and was a fraction of the cost.

Saturday we went took the train into Akihabara (Electric City) and Harajuku (a trendy/cute shopping district) and had a wonderful time. Once we got out of the Akihabara station I felt like spinning around in the street like Mary Tyler Moore.

The Akihabara I saw was made up of a lot of duty free shops, anime, electronics, and adult gifts/movies. The stores there are 5-6 levels so we got quite the work out. I did not go up to the “adult” stores even though I wanted to simply because there were no other women anywhere and I didn’t want to upset any of the Japanese men.

I was waiting outside for David and Austin in front of what I now believe to be a porn store only because some of the nerdy Japanese guys stopped and stared, giggled and looked up the staircase (which had an anime girl image on the steps) so I’m going to have to be more careful. It was hot pink so I just thought it was a cutesy store that hadn’t opened up yet (the front was still closed up)

I LOVE the train. Everyone is quiet and it is very peaceful. We ate in the train station and it only cost $6- which still will continue to amaze me.

Harajuku was very cool, but I only saw one Harajuku/Lolita girl. They had adorable clothes, but I just couldn’t bring myself to spend $50 on a coat.

I used a floor toilet in the train station and I must say it was a lot easier than I expected. There were bars to hold on to and toilet paper so that was a definite plus.

We headed back to Fussa because all the restaurants were closing to prepare for dinner so we visited CoCo’s (curry) for the first time. They have English menus. It was delicious, and I don’t like curry or spicy things. I got the mild base, but it was had just enough spice to be tasty without burning my mouth.

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Mario Cart IRL

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Hello Kitty in Akihabara

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Akihabara

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Akihabara

 

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Kappa Sushi

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Underwear capsule machine (new, not used. I’ve been told those are rare)

 

Living In Tornado Alley

We still have no electricity so David and I are at Starbucks mooching off their power and enjoying an overpriced high calorie caffeinated beverage. But at this point I’ve stopped caring about my caloric intake.

If you know me personally you know we are stationed in Oklahoma City while David is working on a special duty military assignment and if you’re watching the national news lately you know there have been devastating back to back tornadoes in our area.

5/19 in Shawnee, 5/20 in Moore and surrounding areas, and last night in Mustang, Yukon, OKC, and those surrounding areas, to be exact.

These storms have caused significant damage, injuries, and loss of life and last night we thought it was our turn.

The sky quickly got dark and began to look really dangerous as I was leaving Dell at 5:30 yesterday. I jokingly posted on Facebook about trying to beat the tornado home because I naively thought there was no way we could get hit twice in the same week. I had time to heat up a Healthy Choice microwave meal and eat half of it before the news reports started showing a strong vortex developing to the west of us and moving fast. And of course the condo we rent has no storm shelter.

David’s co-worker lost his home in the 5/20 Moore F5 tornado so we had put some thought into the kinds of things we’d need if we had to flee but we hadn’t put together a formal bug out bag and we had failed to make time to locate local shelters. We should have done that.

David and I quickly grabbed the cats, litter/litterbox, cat food, granola bars, bottled water, a blanket, medicine, firearms, and our small handheld firesafe and made for the car.

We headed east; there was no traffic yet. We waited for about 20 minutes in what seemed like a safe place, got gas, and thought we could head back towards the house. That’s when the tornado made a drastic turn south. Towards us. We immediately tried to go south, too, but so did everyone else.

The cell signal was spotty so we couldn’t locate shelters. In between the storm and everyone we know texting us both repeatedly we were lucky to have the news streaming and the gps working so we could try to locate side streets. I still have no idea how we were able to juggle all that and remain calm and focused.

We are lucky that we left the house when we did because that gave us a 5-10 minute lead and outran the tornado. Every time the weather crew was reporting activity on a specific street we had just passed it. We drove from 6:00 pm until 11:30 pm all over Oklahoma with 2 cats bouncing all over the car. Erik was surprisingly chill and had lay down, but Phil was moewing his head off and running all over the car peering out the windows and leaving little kitten noseprint smears all over them.

behind us

behind us

The storm started turning into the shape of a horseshoe so no matter where we turned it looked like it was enveloping us. I looked at the people in the other cars. All of their expressions were the same. Somber and focused, except for the occasional beating of their hands on their steering wheel in a desperate attempt to urge the cars ahead of them forward. If only that had worked. Traffic was painfully slow, which only added to the urgency of our situation.

While trying to head west from Norman David got quiet and suddenly said “brace yourself. it’s coming.” I have no idea how he knew this; he must have seen something I hadn’t. We sat there holding hands tightly and petting the cats as the straight line winds pushed our car back and forth.

I don’t think we got any significant lift, but it was strong and it was frightening. Without saying a word I knew we were both prepared to die, and I was happy knowing I was with my little family. I have never before felt the kind of peace that I did in that moment. I knew where my family was. I knew I was loved. And I knew my life had meaning. Our grip on each other’s hand tightened as our car kept moving. The violent winds lasted only seconds, but it felt like so much longer than that. We survived.

The winds subsided long enough for us to keep pushing forward. We ended up in Purcell, which is only 31 miles from our house. It just took hours to get there. David and I are both stubborn, which is both our strength and our weakness, so with no hotels to speak of we kept going. We were determined to get home that night.

We headed over to Chickasha and on the way we were pelted with large golf ball sized hail. The hail slammed into our car and David told me to take cover under a blanket. The sound stayed with me. It was a loud crashing smashing sound that sounded like serious damage with each impact. While huddled under the blanket I prepared myself because I was sure the glass would break any second. Like the wind, even though the hail only lasted a minute or two it felt like 10 as we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and trapped with nowhere to go. We just had to ride it out and hope for the best, but expect the worst.

Tornado travel map

Tornado travel map

After that was over we lurched forward to Newcastle still believing we could get home. We knew the news was reporting I-35 and I-40 were shut down but thought we had a chance with I-44. Traffic was halted there, too, so that wasn’t happening. After waiting in line at McDonald’s for 20 minutes without moving we found a Braum’s that was still open. I caved and had a grilled chicken sandwich with cheese at midnight. Ever the nutrition conscious eater, I tried to remove the cheese but it was permanently glued to the rest of the grilled amalgamation I was about to eat. After the deed was done I instantly wished I hadn’t, but we were out of granola bars and we hadn’t eaten anything substantial in 6 hours.

Traffic was still backed up so with no other choice we slept in the car, only to be awakened by the sound of a lone shopping cart careening across the parking lot. To my surprise the bright clangy rattle of a cart galloping over the asphalt is discernible even while half asleep. We both immediately shot up from our awkward car seat sleeping positions, saw the cart was coming right for us in the with increasing speed, and drove to another spot in the mostly vacant lot. David and I watched as it continued on to where our car would have been and kept going to attack another unsuspecting vehicle.

We had difficulty going back to sleep after all the excitement with the unmanned cart so we checked on the traffic. Nothing. Roads that were packed both ways 30 minutes prior were completely empty now so we started the dark journey home.

Lights were out all over the city but we could still see the debris on the road and along the sidewalks. We were welcomed home by whole fences torn apart, trees split and uprooted, siding hanging from power lines, broken and leaning power poles, and darkness.

We finally got home around 1 am and found a massive tree down and blocking the door to neighbor behind us. The streetlights were out, too, so David turned the car around to shine the headlights in that direction and climbed over the tree limbs in an attempt to get to their door. Luckily nobody was home. We remembered bitterly that the garage door wouldn’t work without power so David had to enter from the front using his phone as a flashlight so he could go through the house and manually open the garage.

Once we got the car pulled in and the cats and supplies unloaded we settled down to text everyone who had been contacting us throughout the night to let them know we were safe.

We went room to room to assess the damage by candlelight. The condo has an insufferable existing leak in the downstairs ceiling and a leak in the wall of the upstairs bedroom closet so of course the Rubbermaid storage bin I permanently leave under the leak was full of water and the towel in the closet floor was soaked.

The upstairs was too hot and without the ceiling fan the air felt stagnant so we ended up camping out on the Ikea sofa bed downstairs. It has been a long time since I slept that well on something so uncomfortable.

So here we are. 8:22 pm the next day and we still have no power. We went and got lunch at Burger King in Moore since they had power and wi-fi, bought dry ice to try to salvage our cold food, and had ourselves a no-power feast: grilled chicken and a heated up can of sliced carrots on the grill.

We’re probably outwearing our welcome at Starbucks. We’ve been here for over an hour and my hair is a hot mess so it’s probably pretty obvious we’re squatters without power.

The sun is starting to set now and that means we’ll be going home to a dark house again. But the silver lining is that we’re safe. We’re happy. And we’re together.