When asked, I say that for me, breastfeeding is one of the most rewarding things about having a baby. The reaction Katie and Zuzu had and have when I nurse(d) them was and is the most affirming thing as a mother when a child cannot communicate. This is especially true in these weeks before Zuzu can smile or laugh; to calm them when no one else can makes up for the discomforts of pregnancy and the sleep deprivation of early postpartum days.
I was on borrowed time nursing Katie; I had to quit at nine months for my thyroid cancer follow-up. With Zuzu, nursing is going so much better than it was with Katie that I hope to nurse well past her first birthday. My thyroid cancer treatment just might change that, however.
I was dreading today’s appointment with my endocrinologist after last appointment’s blow up as we discussed the thyroid scan. Today’s was a little bittersweet, as well. Even though I have relented and agreed to have the full scan in January or February, the doctor had some news that worried me a little.
Here’s the deal: thyroid cancer is treated with radioactive iodine, because the thyroid is the only organ in the body that takes up iodine, which is quite essential to brain function. Anyways, certain isotopes of radioactive iodine are used to trace the presence of thyroid cells in the body, as well as the thyroid’s health. These isotopes do not kill the cells, they are just taken up by them and illuminate or glow during a body scan. So, the first time I was treated for cancer, I took this particular isotope, from which they could see where the iodine was lingering, which then indicated the presence, or absence of more thyroid cells. My scan showed nothing suspicious, therefore they gave me the lowest possible dose of another isotope of radioactive iodine which kills, or “sublates,” the cells. This process involves other hormonal manipulations, part of which was hell on earth the first time, but this part is the most relevant to this diary.
Obviously, the radioactivity can be harmful to the girls and will be expressed in my breastmilk. Previously, though, the doctor had said I did not need to quite nursing this time, I just had to stop for a week, during which I can pump to keep my supply up. Today, however, he told me there was a “wrinkle” to it all: the tracer dose of iodine that is typically used, and which I used before, does not leave the system for 83 days. There would be no point in nursing after three months. Another isotope is available, though, that is just as suitable and that will leave my body after one week. This would be fine except it’s more expensive, not used as often, and the radiologist demands that we pay for it upfront in the event that the insurance company won’t reimburse him for it.
I nearly started to cry in the office. I didn’t know what Eric would say about this. Perhaps I was being too stubborn about breastfeeding this time. There’s still the chance that some thyroid cells remain and that I’ll have to take the killer iodine, in which case I’ll have to quite nursing anyways. But then again, there’s the chance that there’s nothing there. Was the price worth it? The doctor will reimburse us whatever the insurance company will pay.
I was all set to write a diary lamenting the impending end to my nursing honeymoon with Zuzu. I honestly didn’t know what Eric’s reaction would be and told the doctor I’d have to talk it over with my husband. This is something I’m willing to pay for, but I wasn’t sure what Eric’s thoughts would be. Luckily, we both come at this from two angles: first, is the emotional benefits of nursing, and then there’s the financial. After all, nursing costs nothing and formula is ridiculously expensive. So, Eric nearly erased any need for this diary when I talked to him about at lunchtime. I told him the situation and the cost. He said what I was thinking, how much formula would cost compared to the price for the iodine. And then, he said what may have been some of the most meaningful words ever: “I want you to keep breastfeeding. Zuzu wants you to keep breastfeeding.”
And with that, it was settled. No more heartache over the matter. But really, it means the world to me to be able to nurse my daughter; it means the world that my husband, my partner in this life, supports it. Now, here’s hoping that some stupid cancer cells don’t hijack it all over again. If so, I just pray I have the grace to deal with it and get on with my life…again.