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Survivor Stories

Thyroid Cancer Survivor is an Amazing Photographer


Irene thyroid cancer survivor

Favourite quote:

“Isaiah 43:2 Irene is what I stood on and what carries me.

For example:

Irene, do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

Irene, when you pass through the waters,

    I will be with you;

And when you pass through the rivers,

    They will not sweep over you.

Irene, when you walk through the fire,

    You will not be burned;

    The flames will not set you ablaze.”

Irene Durante was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in March 2017. She has successfully defeated her disease. She is a photographer and a mother of 3 lovely kids.

The Diagnosis

“My dentist, that also happens to be a very good friend, found a lump in the left side of my neck after a routine cleaning in November of 2016, I actually blew it off because I had just been sick so I figured what she felt was just a swollen lymph node. I had to go back to the dentist in January (2017) for a filling and I asked her if it was still there, she said it was. 

After getting home to Colorado, I was on the hunt for a family doctor that was accepting new patients. I finally found one in the next town over but the doctor was out of town so I got in with the PA in February. When I was seen I was pretty much blown off and told “that’s why we don’t treat family” and “you have bigger lymph nodes on the right side” but only because my insurance covered ultrasounds she agreed to order one.

Well, that came back showing “calcification” in the concerned node and I had a fine needle biopsy following that. I wasn’t diagnosed until March 2, 2017 (a month after finding out I was pregnant) after the biopsy came back positive for papillary thyroid cancer in my lymph node.”

The Journey

Irene thyroid cancer journey

“After I was diagnosed in March I was sent to Denver to see a surgeon (the small town that I live in doesn’t do neck dissections), we decided on surgery during my second trimester and it would be a total thyroidectomy and a left lateral neck dissection. I had surgery on May 5, 2017, I was under for 6.5 hours, they took out my thyroid and 52 lymph nodes and miraculously, my baby came out of it fine too.

The best thing after surgery was hearing her little heartbeat in the PACU. She’s such a champ! After surgery, I ended up with hypocalcaemia (my face and hands were tingling) because one of my parathyroids came out with my thyroid and also a chylous leak (lymph fluid) so I stayed in the hospital an extra 2 days. One of the biggest blessings I came home to (from surgery) was a master bedroom makeover from a group of friends.

They wanted me to have a beautiful sanctuary to recover in! It was hard coming home and not be able to do all of my normal things like pick up my kids, wash my own hair, sleep laying down or even stand for very long. I would get winded just talking to people and I had almost no range of motion with my left arm. I went through 6 weeks of physical therapy on my neck and shoulder because I couldn’t lift my left arm up by my ear after surgery, I can now and I can even do CrossFit!

Driving was and sometimes still is hard with the range of motion in my neck but it’s always getting better. It took me about 2 months to feel “back to normal” and then still so many doctor visits until my baby was born, for me and for her. They monitored us both very closely because of my cancer. I had a bunch of amazing doctors throughout this process and I got rid of the ones that weren’t going to fight with me (because I didn’t need to be fighting cancer and my doctor).

I had so many people, family and friends, come around me through this and I could not have done it without them. I had a little scare in March of this year where they found a cluster of suspicious-looking lymph nodes, I went back to Denver in April for the biopsy and thankfully those came back fine!

I had a super healthy baby girl on October 11, 2017, and because I wanted to nurse her and my endocrinologist was OK with it for about a year with just close monitoring of my numbers, we put off the Radioactive Iodine.  It was just last week (8/22/18) that, because of my baby and my desire to breastfeed they have 15 months of data on me where my numbers stayed good, I don’t have to do the RAI! So that’s where my journey is now, annual check-ups and I can say survivor!”

Motivation to fight cancer

“My family. I’m married and have 2 other kids (5 and 3 years) and I want to show them that you can battle something really horrible and be strong but also need so much grace for the hard days. Regardless of how it would’ve turned out I wanted them to remember that I did this “cancer thing” well.”

Biggest hindrance

“If I’m honest, there were days I could let my mind take me to the darkest places and all the worst case scenarios but because of my faith and the amazing group of people I had surrounding me throughout this entire process, I never stayed there.”

Message to other cancer patients

Irene thyroid cancer survivor message to other cancer patients

“Be your best advocate and take everything one day at a time, or if that’s too much still, hour by hour or 5 minutes by 5 minutes. Find the good through all the muck. Finding things to still be thankful for invites JOY in.”

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