Nuclear radiation and me

My body gave birth to a giant thyroid nodule a few years ago.

“How long have you had this?” The doctor asked as he checked my neck at a routine check-up.

“Had WHAT?  I asked, puzzled and immediately concerned.

After explaining to me what he meant and that I certainly did have an abnormally large lump on the right side of my thyroid – “here, feel that” – I did a quick memory inventory check of possible causes. And no, I had no idea how long I had it, but something surfaced as a long-held uneasiness.

“Can exposure to nuclear radiation cause this?” I asked and got his immediate attention with what I am sure was not a typical explanation.

So I went on to relate about this episode in my year as an exchange student in Germany, 1986. In the hitherto unknown town of Chernobyl, in the Soviet Union, a nuclear reactor had a major melt-down. Panic ensued because the jet stream carried radiation-laced clouds over Europe including Hamburg, where I lived.

Children were excused from school attendance. Farmers waited to learn what level of radiation would be acceptable in their crops and in milk before they could take it to market, as food rotted in warehouses. Parents were told not to let their kids play in water or sand. Pregnant women worried. Jokes abounded, “Looking good today, positively RADIANT.”

100 times more radiation escaped at Chernobyl than by the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One of the most plentiful elements released was radioactive iodine, with a half-life of 8 days. The body cannot distinguish between it and normal iodine and it is quickly absorbed by the thyroid to produce  hormones necessary for metabolism. 1/3 of children in the immediate Chernobyl area soon developed thyroid cancer, some of it very aggressive. Tumor specialists predicted a dramatic rise in cancers 20 to 30 years after the incident.

I don’t know if my nodule is in any way related, but it possibly is. Thankfully, thyroid cancer is usually very curable and slow-growing. That’s why I (sort of) call it my “cancer of choice.” Every year I get an ultrasound to see if it has grown and so far, so good.


9 thoughts on “Nuclear radiation and me

    • I have had biopsies, but nothing malignant was found. The dr is encouraging me to get it out, but is ok with it staying as long as it doesn’t grow. I hate surgeries! I am going to try some frankencense to see if it shrinks – can’t hurt.

  1. I recently watched the video on you tube where young woman who lived in Poland in 1986 (she was 3 at that time) developed large thyroid nodule in which cancer have been found after removal. I am not quite sure if that was Chernobyl related, but according to statistics, the increased chance of developing thyroid cancer is applicable to these who were between 3 and 12 in 1986. Historically it is found that exposure to the radiation causes nodular formation, while most nodules induced by radiation are benign.
    Some doctors are using ethanol screoterapy to treat benign nodules.
    Best of luck!

    • Thanks for the info! The dr told me the same thing – that usually they can only find the cancer after they take it out and carefully check it. My host sister, who was 13 at the time got nonhodgkins lymphoma a few years ago, but is fine after chemo. I go for my yearly ultrasound next month. If all is unchanged, I’ll be good fo another year!

      • Most benign nodules are grow at the rate of about 8% of their diameter per year; keeping the TSH slightly suppressed (0.8 …0.4) in some cases can even reduce size of sub-centimeter nodule or slow the growth of larger benign nodule.
        The girl that I mentioned in my comment had 3cm nodule; with nodule of that size the biopsy cannot be reliable, especially if nodule has “neoplastic” pattern.

  2. Neoplastic (“cannot be determined until removed”) term can be appled if biopsy specimen shows MICRO-follicular pattern & scant colloid; abundat colloid favors hyperplastic (benign) colloid nodule.

  3. I had the same experience! The Dr. found a lump and when he asked, I’d had no idea how long it’d been there! I didn’t live anywhere near Chernobyl, but, curiously, two years prior to the diagnosis I’d worked precariously close to Indian Point in NY and there have been stories about radiation leaks there for years.

    I actually did have the TT and when my Thyroid was removed they did officially diagnose the cancer. However, I’ve encountered people like you that are choosing not to do the TT and it makes me wonder if I could’ve done the same. This wasn’t presented to me as a choice and life without a Thyroid gland can be challenging at times. So I think you’re doing the right thing in keeping it for as long as you can.

    Please also visit my blog about Thyroid Cancer

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