Thyroid Cancer — It’s (Not) All “Good”

Even though I have a list of posts I need to write a mile long, I went ahead and let this one cut in line because of its timeliness and importance. I don’t think the others will mind!

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Chances are, you know of someone who’s had (or has) thyroid cancer. It’s one of the only cancers that’s actually increasing in numbers in this country. My youngest sister had thyroid cancer and was diagnosed right as she started college. There’s no good time to learn that you have cancer, but right when you’re starting life on your own is particularly devastating.

If you know someone with this type of cancer, you’ll also likely have heard it called “the good cancer.” I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it’s much better than being called “the bad cancer.” On the other hand, I think it minimizes what thyroid patients go through. Although the vast majority of patients with thyroid cancer survive and go on to life cancer-free lives, they are also left without thyroids in most cases, and have a lifetime of health issues to manage because of this.

My sister (and I really hope she doesn’t mind me blabbing all this!) had a thyroidectomy, followed by a radioactive iodine treatment, where she was in a hospital room where everything she touched had to be thrown away if it wasn’t covered in a radioactive-proof plastic. There was a huge sign on her door that said “CAUTION: RADIOACTIVE,” which I’m sure didn’t make her feel like a freak at all. She had to stay there until she had either sweat or peed out enough of the radioactivity to be declared safe to mingle with other life forms.

Her surgery left her with a scar across her neck, which has since faded considerably, but when it was fresh was pretty noticeable. People on campus asked her about it, if they were kind enough to not just stare. One guy even asked her if she tried to kill herself.

Yes, with a machete across the throat.

Some of her professors in college were less than understanding about the fact that she had to miss classes and generally felt horrible. One professor didn’t believe her. I’m pretty sure he felt differently after she ripped off the scarf she wore around her neck. At least I hope he did.

Since she had her thyroid removed, she has to take synthetic thyroid hormone on a daily basis. If you didn’t know, the thyroid regulates basically everything in your body. And believe me, if it gets out of whack you can feel so tired that you can barely get out of bed, sweat like a pig in July, or my favorite, “brain fog,” where you basically feel like an idiot incapable of coming up with the simplest of words. It’s like your brain has become detached from your body.

So obviously taking these supplements, and taking the correct dosage, is extremely important. You can imagine, then, how she feels when she has to go off these for several WEEKS before having a body scan, to make sure the cancer is still gone. It’s like someone hijacked part of your life.

Know the symptoms of thyroid cancer you can for look for yourself. Most have to do with the neck or throat:

  • A lump or nodule in the front part of the neck, near the Adam’s apple
  • Sensitivity in the neck area, such as with neckties, scarves, necklaces
  • Hoarseness, changes in the voice
  • Difficulty swallowing, feeling like you’re choking
  • Persistent or chronic cough, not due to allergies or illness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain in the area from the neck to the ears
  • Asymmetry in the thyroid (if it’s big one one side and not on the other)

These are the main symptoms, however more aggressive forms of thyroid cancer can affect neurological function as well. (This type would not be considered the “good cancer.”)

DearThyroid has a great article on thyroid cancer. This site is great because it’s a tell-it-like-it-is source written by thyroid patients, and it’s funny too, which is always a plus.

Mary Shomon is probably the most knowledgeable non-doctor person in the world on thyroid disease. She is a contributor on and has written several books on thyroid-related subjects. If you want to know anything about thyroid disease, start with her!

I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) after Boy #2 was born. I literally felt like I was either dying or crazy or both. I knew something was WRONG with how I felt. It was beyond just “normal tired,” but I was assured (rather condescendingly, I might add), that I was just a working mom with two kids who was busy. After bugging the doctor to the point where I didn’t even care if she thought I was crazy, I convinced her to run tests. And she called later to say that I had the highest TSH levels (the higher the TSH levels, the less active your thyroid is) that she’d ever personally seen. Hmmm, ya think?

So this began my journey through the wonderful world of thyroid. Fortunately, I have not had thyroid cancer, so I don’t have to go through everything my sister did, but I have suffered through the ebbs and flows of thyroid secretion, and finding the right doctor, and right dosage, has been a real challenge. I was also diagnosed with Graves’ disease a few years ago, which means my thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. I’m still not sure how I can be on both ends of the spectrum at the same time (I also have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disease that causes hypothyroidism), but I guess all that matters is that they make me feel better. For that I had to have a thyroid ablation, where they basically try to kill your thyroid using radioactive iodine. Fortunately, I didn’t have to stay in the hospital, but I did have to swallow a pill, was told not to sleep or lay next to my children for several days and to flush the toilet twice. Really, those were about all of my instructions. Makes you feel safe, huh? Needless to say, I stayed with a friend who didn’t have kids, just to be safe. And I did flush her toilet twice.

Ooh, and I haven’t even mentioned the weight gain yet. Yeah, that’s fun too. Being hypothyroid slows down your metabolism, not to mention that you’re too dog-tired to exercise anyway, so that you usually gain weight. And since your metabolism is compromised, you have to work twice as hard to get it back off. Obviously there are much worse fates than gaining weight, but it does become a frustrating battle that you know will continue throughout your lifetime. Right now I am at a weight that I never thought I would see, except during my 8th or 9th month of pregnancy. (And I’m currently not doing a darn thing to get that weight off. I’m starting NEXT WEEK, though. Yep, really, I am…)

If you have some of the symptoms of thyroid cancer, please, see a doctor. It’s not a hard one to diagnose, and the sooner you start treatment, the better. And if you’ve experienced unexplained weight gain, fatigue, dry mouth, body temperature fluctuations, or you just don’t feel like yourself, ask a doctor to check your thyroid. They’ll do a physical exam and at least a TSH blood test. However, a more thorough work up will include T3 and T4 tests as well. Mary Shomon explains the different blood tests, and what they test for, here. Thyroid disease is hereditary, so if someone in your family has it, the more likely you are to develop it as well.

Statistics show that out of every 10 people diagnosed with thyroid disease, 7 to 8 are women. Many experts think this is because many of the cases of thyroid disease are caused from an autoimmune condition, which occur more in women than men. So ladies, get yourselves checked out if there is any question in your mind about thyroid disease or cancer. And while you’re waiting for the doctor appointment, check out one of these great books on the subject. I’ve read several of them and have really benefited from their information and advice!

Image found here on The thyroid is called “the butterfly gland” because of it’s shape.
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Healthy lunches — and a giveaway from Libby’s

***Congratulations to #5, Elaine! You were randomly selected as the winner of the Libby’s giveaway! Thanks to all who entered!***

Do your kids eat school lunch, or do you pack their lunch?

Although it’s much easier to just send them off to school at the mercy of the school lunch menu, I’m trying to be more prepared this school year for packing lunches to send with the two youngest boys. (Boy #1 would probably rather die right now than have his mommy pack his lunch. How embarrassing!)

The fact is, I was sick when I saw what we spent on school lunches last year. And that was just for TWO boys. We now have THREE in public school. And then when I factor in the fact that Boy #2 is so darn picky that I probably paid $2.50 for him to eat a roll and a carton of milk on many occasions, well, I don’t even want to think about it.

But my concern isn’t just in the cost of the meals; I’m also becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of the food they’re eating. I’ve always been a stickler about eating fruits and veggies, but I’m starting to become more wary of processed foods and things with a million ingredients. Part of the reason is that one of my boys has digestive and intestinal issues, and what goes into his body definitely makes a difference in his day-to-day health.

One way I’ve tried to make a difference in our nutrition is by serving more “whole” or “separated” foods (FYI, I’m no nutritionist, if you couldn’t tell), as in cut up fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat without a lot of doctoring or ingredients added, a sensible amount of lean dairy products and whole grains. So instead of making a hamburger casserole, I’m trying to instead fix things like cut-up chicken breasts on pasta with steamed green beans and grapes.

This approach actually works pretty well with lunches. Here are some of the components of a “cold lunch” that my kids seem to eat—and enjoy:

  • Whole-grain tortilla wrapped around sliced or cut-up turkey breast
  • Low-fat string cheese
  • Sugar-free and/or natural applesauce
  • Craisins or dried pineapple
  • Whole-grain bread with honey spread
  • Plain popped popcorn in a little baggie
  • Raw cauliflower, broccoli or carrots
  • Whole apple (I don’t cut it because they don’t like it to get brown)
  • Segmented oranges
  • Raw baby spinach (they like to eat it plain, like rabbits)
  • Graham crisps with dark chocolate (a good dessert)
  • Dry cereal in a little container, like Frosted Mini-Wheats or Multi-grain Cheerios
  • Grapes

I was contacted about doing a giveaway sponsored by Libby’s, and since school lunches were already on my mind, I thought it was a good fit. I didn’t realize, however, that Libby’s has, besides canned fruits and veggies, a product that was made for school lunches: Libby’s Jumbo Cups. Here’s the scoop:

  • Unlike the 4-oz. fruit cups currently on the market, Libby’s Jumbo Cups contain 6 oz. of fruit, offering 3/4 a cup of fruit toward your daily nutritional needs.
  • The cups are extra-thick and easy to open, minimizing spillage in lunch boxes, backpacks, or at the cafeteria table. That’s definitely a plus!
  • The Jumbo Cups are sold in 3-packs in 4 different varieties: Diced Peaches, Mixed Fruit, Diced Pears, and Cherry Mixed Fruit. I think Diced Pears would be my boys’ top choice, but they’d eat any of them.

I really wanted to try these out but was disappointed that I couldn’t find them at either of the two supermarkets I checked with in my area. So I’ll have to do a little more investigation to find out where I can buy these locally.

On to the giveaway: I have, courtesy of Libby’s, three packs of Libby’s Jumbo Cups AND this adorable bee lunch bag!

All you have to do to win is leave a comment on this post and give me an idea of something else I can pack in my kids’ lunch! That’s it! Would you like extra entries? Sure, why not. You can receive one extra entry for each of the following:

  • Tweet about the giveaway and leave me a comment with the URL of your Tweet.
  • “Like” Libby’s on Facebook: and leave me a comment telling me you did so.
  • Follow @LibbysTable on Twitter and let me know in a comment.

I will randomly select one winner on Monday, Sept. 13, at 8 p.m. CST. Make sure you leave an email address so I can get in touch with you to get a mailing address!

Leave a Comment—Win a Copy of The Lucky Escape!

Don’t forget to enter my contest before Thursday night! I’m giving away a copy of The Lucky Escape! from the Human Body Detectives series. CD and workbook included! Your kids will love it—guaranteed! And for moms of boys out there—it even describes farting and pooping! What could be more interesting to boys? 🙂

Click here to learn more and register to win!

Yes, Kids, Learning CAN Be Fun with the Human Body Detectives—A Giveaway!

I love, love, love social media. Why, you ask? Well, if it weren’t for the magic of social media, I wouldn’t have met sooooo many awesome, fabulous, incredible people. One of these awesome, fabulous, incredible peoples is Dr. Heather Manley, a naturopathic doctor from Hawaii. Now, beings I’m from Iowa, it’s not likely I would’ve ever run into Heather at a PTO meeting or come across her practice in the local yellow pages. Instead, Dr. Heather was referred to me by my friend Andi, a San Francisco blogger who I met at Blissdom 09 in Nashville, which I attended with Jody, my friend who lives a mile away but I met through blogging. Whew! Did you get all that?

I am so excited to be able to help Dr. Heather spread the word about her new educational adventure story, The Lucky Escape!, the first in the Human Body Detectives series. The series features two sisters (and “Human Body Detectives”), Merrin and Pearl, who magically enter different systems in the body to solve a health mystery. Through an action-packed audiobook on CD, listeners learn how the various systems work and what foods best fuel that system. An accompanying workbook filled with games and puzzles (and super-cool stickers) reinforces what kids have learned and help them further understand the importance of maintaining healthy systems. The second story, The Battle with the Bugs, is due out in October, with books to follow focusing on the circulatory, nervous, and muscular systems.

Dr. Heather graciously agreed to an interview with me so I could learn more about her as a doctor, an author, a business owner—and a mom!

You received your medical degree in Naturopathic Medicine. What exactly is Naturopathic Medicine, and how does it differ from traditional medicine?

I graduated in pre-med first and then went onto study at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. The schooling is similar to conventional medical school with all the “ology” classes, cadaver work, and hours in the clinic. However, we take a yearlong class in nutrition, extensive classes in physical medicine, as well as pharmacology and our own medicinal modalities like botanical medicine, homeopathy and hydrotherapy.

I love the philosophy of naturopathic medicine and how naturopathic physicians stand true to it. The six philosophies of naturopathic medicine are:

  • Trust the healing power of nature
  • First, do no harm
  • Find and treat the cause
  • Treat the whole person
  • Doctor as teacher
  • Prevention

I believe the integration of these two fields of medicine can be very powerful for the health of our country, and I hope to see more of it in the future.

What made you decide to write the Human Body Detectives series?

When my oldest daughter started school at age 4, I went in and spoke to the 4- through 8- year-olds about visiting the doctor’s office. I had them fill out chart notes and look inside one another’s mouths and ears, and we talked about the digestive system and nutrients. The kids loved the interactivity, the games, and the trivia I spoke of. I realized there were no books out there that focused on the different systems of the body—only the whole body—in a fun, adventurous way. I ended up going to many schools and realized one day that I might as well write a story about a voyage through the digestive system, as the kids just loved learning about it! To me, there was an obvious need to fill this void with my series, so I decided to “go for it” and I am glad I did – I am having fun!

What do your girls think about being part of the Human Body Detectives, both as characters and narrators?

I believe they really enjoy it. Merrin was not so happy about the outfit the illustrator put her in with the first book though so that has changed in The Battle with the Bugs. Merrin really likes the stories and testing out the activity workbook. Pearl loves the whole thing —learning about the body, going into the studio and hearing her voice!

What are some tips or advice you can give parents for helping their kids make healthy choices?

Hold off on any type of processed food with your children until they are much older. Kids will eat what is on their plate (eventually – they will not starve themselves), especially if it is on your plate. Set a good example!

Never have junk food in the house. We will have a movie night that is a special time where we will all pick out our favourite “treats”—ice cream and root beer or chips. The kids love that.

I think it is important to have a balance of all foods (heavier on the whole foods ), so I rarely say no. If I see them indulging too much of something, like if we are at a party, I will tell them they might want to stop, but if they decide not to I definitely make it a point to ask how they feel afterwards. Usually they feel rotten and do remember that for the next time. At the dinner table we talk a lot about what colourful foods do in the body. Like pink salmon will help you in math, or broccoli will help you run faster – kids love this concept!

As a doctor, mom, and author, how do you stay balanced?

I wake up early and check my emails and get a feel for the day. I then write down a “do able” list of what I would like to accomplish for that day. I feel like this peaceful time grounds me for what will come in the next few hours. When I get some quality time in the morning it really makes me feel positive for the rest of the day – like I have accomplished something which allows me to be a better mom when the kids come home. I actually just blogged about this topic!

Squeezing in some exercise during the day, whether it is a spin class or a run with our dog, is really important! And so is eating as well as I can – lots of whole foods.

What are your future plans for the Dr. Heather’s Healthy Kids Web site?

We have just created a recipe page (cooking-for-kids video with a recipe) where the girls are cooking their favourite snack and meals. I would love to expand this more ~ kids really enjoy cooking and if kids can watch other kids cook they may be inspired to make some of their own home-cooked meals!

My girls would love to see something more interactive – like a video game – that teaches/ reinforces the books to another level. This would be great . . . but maybe down the road a bit.

What do you envision for the Human Body Detectives in the future?

This is easy!

  • Part of all elementary school health/science curriculum
  • Create the stories on DVD (This would complete an educational package for all types of learners.)
  • Go international!

Boys #2 and #3 listed to the audiobook of The Lucky Escape!, and I was actually very impressed at how much it kept their interest. Being boys (and having the attention span of gnats), I wasn’t sure they would sit and listen when they didn’t have a video to watch or book to follow along with. But the quality of the audiobook is very good, and I think this was the key. The narration is full of inflection, and Dr. Heather’s daughters do an incredible job of playing the parts of Merrin and Pearl, creating clear and varied dialogue. And as soon as the story got to the part about Robbie, the girls’ little brother, farting, they were hooked. The look on their faces was priceless as they realized there was actually a scientific reason for farting and it wasn’t just invented for their own entertainment!

The workbook that accompanies the audiobook is chock-full of fun, yet educational, activities for kids to complete to enhance their learning of the digestive system. In the middle of the book are two pages of cool full-color stickers representing the book characters and other aspects of the story. They are totally kid-friendly and a great addition to the book.

The Human Body Detectives series would not only have an excellent place in elementary classrooms to supplement a unit on the human body systems, but it is also set up perfectly for homeschoolers, as well as for kids to read and work on for fun outside of school. Another great idea? Dr. Heather has created a program for groups who would like to use the Human Body Detectives as a fundraiser in or outside of school. I would much rather buy a copy of The Lucky Escape! than an overpriced candle or frozen pizza.

So, do you want to win a copy of The Lucky Escape!? Well, today’s your lucky day! Visit Dr. Heather’s Healthy Kids Web site and then come back here and leave a comment telling me why you’d like to win. It’s that easy! (If you’re reading this on Facebook, just leave a comment there letting me know you’d like to win.) While you’re on her Web site, make sure you watch the book trailer for The Lucky Escape! as well as Merrin and Pearl’s cooking show complete with recipes (The Tower of Power looks yummy!). You can even listen to the Human Body Detectives theme song or learn more about naturopathic medicine and Dr. Heather’s practice.

Want extra entries? Just leave me a comment telling me that you:

  1. Became a fan of the Human Body Detectives on Facebook
  2. Are following Dr. Heather on Twitter

So, that’s a total of THREE ENTRIES for each of you! The contest will end on Thursday 9/24 at midnight! I will then randomly select a winner. Tell your friends to enter as well!

You’ll be hearing more about Dr. Heather later this week, as she is helping sponsor my trip to the Type-A-Mom Conference in North Carolina. (Whoo-hoo!) But it won’t stop there. I am so impressed with Dr. Heather and her series, and I will be doing all that I can to continue spreading the word and getting kids introduced to the Human Body Detectives!

Thriftilicious Thursday—Frugal Tips for Healthy Foods

In this economy, we’re all trying to cut back where we can. One big part of our budget (as you might imagine with three growing boys) is food. As the saying goes, “If I buy it, they just eat it!” Honestly, though, in my house, they literally JUST eat it. I mean, I barely get the grocery bags in the house and they’re being ripped open in a frantic search for cereal or grapes or chips. (And string cheese? We’re not even going to GO there. I swear, those little sticks are gold in my house.)

It’s frustrating, though, to drop $100 at the supermarket and find that the food barely made it three days . . . That’s why I’m really trying to analyze what I buy, both for cost and nutrition.

The good news is that with the gaining popularity of organic and other healthier varieties of foods, the price for many items is dropping a lot. It used to be that anything labeled “organic” was automatically about twice as expensive as its non-organic counterpart. But now the prices appear to be evening out, which is good for my family’s health as well as my weight. (Because dang—Double Stuffed Oreos aren’t getting any cheaper!)

I’m excited to introduce you later today to Dr. Heather Manley, N.D., a physician who is writing and producing a series of CDs and workbooks (and soon-to-be DVDs) featuring the Human Body Detectives, sisters who solve mysteries or embark on adventures involving one of the systems of the body. Dr. Manley’s philosophy is that if children understand how their bodies work, they are more likely to make healthy choices about what they eat. I think this is so true! Dr. Manley got me thinking more about serving more whole foods, as well as colorful foods, to my kids and discussing how specifically the foods they’re putting into their bodies will help them function. A little science lesson at the dinner table never hurt anyone, right?

So back to buying healthy foods the thriftilicious way . . . Here are some tips/resources I’ve found or used. Please leave a comment and share your tips as well!

  1. Pay attention at your local grocery store to sales or specials in the produce aisle. This may sound like a no-brainer, but sometimes I get into such a rush and routine that I just grab a bunch of broccoli from the “non-organic” section without really glancing at the organic section. Sometimes (especially at Hy-Vee and Target I’ve noticed) the organic food specials make them cheaper than the non-organic varieties. And if you’re choosy about which organic produce to spend the extra money on, here’s a list of the Top 12 produce you should buy organic due to pesticide contamination, according to They’ve even created a handy wallet-sized list you can print out and take with you to the store!
    Top 12 Must-Buy Organic Foods

    1. Apples
    2. Cherries
    3. Imported Grapes
    4. Nectarines
    5. Peaches
    6. Pears
    7. Raspberries
    8. Strawberries
    9. Bell Peppers
    10. Celery
    11. Potatoes
    12. Spinach
  2. Plant a garden (or mooch off someone who has one). Husband gets a good laugh telling the story of how I planted a garden. Once. Basically it was a patch of weeds with a few renegade radishes that were hotter than Hades. We don’t have a yard big enough to garden right now, and even if we did, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not a gardener. However, my parents have a huge garden, and we are more than happy to help them unload their plethora of potatoes, onions, lettuce, zucchini, and anything else they send our way. I never imagined growing up that I would someday be so giddy about free produce!
  3. Sign up for coupons or newsletters at Organic brand websites, such as Stonyfield Farm, Organic Valley, and Kashi. I recently was sent an envelope of coupons from Organic Valley, which I will gladly put to use. And this week at Target, if you buy 5 Kashi products, you can get a $5 Target gift card! On Sunday at my Target they were giving away Kashi reusable bags with a coupon inside, which made the deal even sweeter! I’ve been trying to buy more Kashi products as snacks or lunch items for the kids, and they’re obviously okay with this considering they polished off two boxes of crackers and a box of cookies in 24 hours this week. Horizon Organic makes great single-serve-sized milk for kids. Other brands include Cascadian Farm, Earth’s Best, and Dreamfields Pasta. Try Mambo Sprouts for coupons from several different organic brands.
  4. Try whole-grain tortillas as snacks or for lunches for the kids. My boys eat these plain, which is fine with me since they’re packed with fiber. Start out with the whole-grain ones and they’ll never prefer the white flour version. (Ditto for bread. However, this does not necessarily work with husbands, I’ve learned.)
  5. Quit trying to make everything too hard. Growing up in the Midwest, as I did, I sometimes think everything has to be in a casserole. Green beans have to include bacon, cream of mushroom soup, and those little fake onion thingees. But I’ve learned that it’s not only healthier to serve my kids the whole plain foods, they also like it better. They prefer plain broccoli to broccoli and cheese, baby carrots to golden carrot casserole, and Boy #3 eats raw cauliflower like it’s candy. No joke. I’ve stopped feeling guilty about putting a plain bowl of raspberries on the table at dinner and instead feel good about myself for not putting extra calories and processed chemicals into their bodies.

So how do you feed your family better for less?

Image found at stock.xchng

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