Part of this was posted on my blog earlier this week, but I’d like to share it here as well — this is a great site.
At 19, I was stupid. I smoked, drank heavily, avoided sleep, and refused to waste time or money going to a doctor for something as unnecessary as a check-up. Then I decided I wanted birth control. Lo and behold, when one wants birth control, one must undergo an exam. Lucky for me, Planned Parenthood was right down the street, and they sold birth control pills for $5 a pack if you bought in bulk—the only catch was a yearly exam. Thus, the nurses and gynecologists of Planned Parenthood became my only doctors, and those annual exams my only check-ups, during my college years. The same was true for many other women I saw in the waiting room, many of whom were not college students, and weren’t lucky enough to have health insurance under their step-father’s plan.
During a routine annual exam in 2005, a nurse practitioner pressed her thumb to my neck and said, “What’s that?” “What’s what?” I said. “That.” She rolled her thumb around on a hard little knot just beneath my Adam’s apple. “You need to get that checked out. I think it’s a thyroid nodule.”
I totally ignored her (What lump? Bodies are lumpy, so what?), and when I returned the following year for another exam to keep the cheap birth control coming, a different nurse practitioner noticed the same lump. Okay, I thought, I guess I should get it checked out.
By 2008, after being diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, I’d had two surgeries to remove my thyroid gland and some lymph nodes in my neck (the cancer had metastasized), as well as radioactive iodine treatment. While I have a slow-growing and non-aggressive type of cancer that rarely spreads beyond the surrounding lymph nodes, I don’t like to think about the parts of my body it could have reached if gone unchecked—that is, if those two nurse practitioners at Planned Parenthood hadn’t been so observant, hadn’t been insistent, hadn’t been there at all.