What to Expect When Getting RAI

The idea of swallowing a toxic radiation pill was not something that I was excited about. After complete thyroidectomy, it revealed the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.

I visited three different surgeons and endocrinologists, attempting to negotiate a good reason to avoid RAI treatment.   Contrary to what I was hoping to hear, each medical professional indicated that someone with my pathology report, should not skip the radiation treatment.   The danger, my cancer was labeled aggressive and could metastasize to other areas.

Below, are the various feelings, physical and emotional, related to my RAI experience:

  1. My surgery was August 2013, and my RAI was March 2014.  I the months in between, getting second, third, fourth opinions.  All resulted in the same advice, to proceed with RAI.
  2. I spent the time after surgery, talking to others who had done RAI.  One gentleman was recently diagnosed with lymphoma, which the doctors suspect resulted from his RAI treatment.  This forced me to face the tradeoff of skipping RAI and risking metastasis, or proceeding with the knowledge that it is no guarantee to avoiding future surgeries, and could result in a blood related cancer down the road.
  3. I spoke to my thyroid cancer support group and other people who had RAI treatment, seeking advice regarding diet and whether to stay in the hospital isolation afterwards or return home.
  4. I chose to receive ‘the pill’ at UCLA.
  5. When the day arrived, my apartment was stocked with iodine-free food.  The non-iodine diet was no problem for me, as I typically eat a diet that is non-processed and dairy free.
  6. I arrived at the UCLA hospital and was led into a basement room, and told to pop the pill.  Immediately, the treating nurse, whisked me out the door and told me to ‘get out’.
    1. This began my three days of isolation, which resulted in watching a lot of Netflix and long walks on the beach.  And missing my dog, Papi.  The doctor said I could go out to coffee, but to avoid pregnant women.
    2. After five days, I returned to UCLA and the scan revealed that the treatment was a success and that my radiation levels had dropped to a safe level, and I could return to being around people and my dog.

    Since doing RAI, my thoughts have shifted slightly.  I have read that fasting for two days leading up to treatment can make it further successful.  Also, I have met patients who have required a second and third treatment, if I was advised to do the same I am not sure if I would do it a second time.

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