Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Butterfly Effect... What even is a Thyroid?!

One of the things I found most difficult to deal with, particularly in my early days of diagnosis, was the general lack of awareness of what a thyroid actually is, and what roles it performs in the body. The mere mention of 'thyroid' triggers bemused looks from most people; they are familiar with the word, but generally have no clue what it does, or even where it is located.

"Oh I don't think I have one of those," someone replied to me as I was explaining my condition. Erm... I'm pretty sure you'd know if you didn't! Because the truth is that you cannot function properly as a human being without one, unless you are being medicated daily to cope with the lack of its presence. Others believe the thyroid is only relevant to the elderly - or at the very least the post-menopausal - and many are also unaware of the fact that men also have a thyroid, not just women. If you have ever watched an episode of the medical drama series 'House', starring Hugh Laurie, you will likely have heard the thyroid being bandied about as a possible cause in many a diagnostic deliberation. But what does the thyroid actually do?

The thyroid is a small yet powerful gland situated in the neck, in front of the windpipe. Similar to a butterfly in shape - hence the nickname - it has two lobes mimicking the silhouette of a butterfly's wings. Part of the body's endocrine system, one of the thyroid's main jobs is to produce the hormones which regulate the body's metabolism (the process of turning food into energy). Regulated by the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) secreted by the brain, the thyroid gland produces three different types of hormones - T3, T4 and calcitonin - all of which have wide-ranging effects on the body.

Some of the main functions T3, T4 and calcitonin affect include:
- The body's metabolic rate (metabolism)
- The rate and strength of the heartbeat (cardiovascular)
- The rate of breathing and consumption of oxygen
- The activity of mitochondria
- The level of blood flow
- Body temperature regulation
- Brain cell development
- Maintaining normal sexual function
- Maintaining a healthy and regular sleep pattern
- Thought patterns and memory
- Maintaining a healthy and regular menstrual cycle
- Maintaining blood calcium levels

So, as you can see, that little butterfly in your neck plays a very significant role in the health and functionality of your body, and without one, or with only a partial one, or a malfunctioning one, you can imagine there are several aspects of life and wellbeing which become that bit harder to maintain.

Whilst I wouldn't expect anyone to know this level of detail off the top of their head, what I would ask is this: next time you hear of someone suffering from a thyroid-related problem, don't be so quick to shrug it off or dismiss it as a genuine affliction. Because as someone living through it, I can assure you it is very real indeed.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Why I'm starting Butterfly Free

I am an avid Googler. I think I get it from my mother, who instilled a sense of curiosity in me from a young age, with her relentless passion for researching things and looking everything up in her multitude of reference books. Well, that was in the early 90s, and nowadays we don't need a library at home to have access to such a vast array of information.

Googling has helped me through two of the biggest physical challenges I have faced in my life: firstly, thyroid cancer, which struck me in late August 2015, and now - a year and a half later - pregnancy! I instantly google every little thing, every symptom, every random query that may pop into my mind in the middle of the night, both to reassure myself and to ensure I remain fully informed.

Whilst the official, technical, medical, scientific websites found when googling are extremely helpful and important for building a decent knowledge base, it is through the personal experiences shared by others online that I have found the most comfort. The power of being able to connect with and relate to others all over the world and knowing that you aren't the only one going through a particular circumstance is really quite marvellous.

And so, that is why I have decided to take to my keyboard and begin sharing my experiences through Butterfly Free; that of being a thyroid cancer survivor, born and raised in the UK and now living in Dubai for the past five years, married to an Emirati since last year and now into my second trimester of my first pregnancy.

Overcoming my thyroid scare was a great achievement, and I intend to share with you how I got through it, how I am still coping with it, how it is now impacting my pregnancy, and how it will affect me in motherhood too. I will also share inspirational stories of other thyca survivors whom I look up to, as well as other mothers and mothers-to-be.

I hope you will enjoy joining me on my journey, and if my writing of my experiences benefits just one person in the way I have benefitted from reading others, I will consider this a success.