I never thought that this song by Imagine Dragons that debuted back in 2012 would have a meaningful part in my journey—literally, and in an empowering way.
The music video may seem odd to some people, but to me, it was a perfect visualization of my RAI (radioactive iodine ablation) therapy. This was a treatment I needed as a follow up to my total thyroidectomy, which is supposed to ablate or burn up any remaining thyroid cells, especially the cancerous ones.
Source: YouTube Channel – ImagineDragonsVEVO
If you’ve seen the video, you’ll understand what I’m about to say. I pictured the laser-beaming badass pink teddy bear as the radioactive pill I took. Then, the evil monster stuffed toy, ring leader and other bad guys represented the cancerous thyroid cells that the pill was supposed to eradicate (Sorry, Lou Diamond Phillips. It’s just your character, not you, my “kababayan”.) For me, the video’s message was about freedom from oppression and moving forward—very empowering. It personally meant moving on with life after a successful radiation treatment.
When I researched about the writer’s inspiration behind the song, apparently this is what Dan Reynolds, Imagine Dragons’ frontman, said in an interview with MTV News:
“‘Radioactive,’ to me, it’s very masculine, powerful-sounding song, and the lyrics behind it, there’s a lot of personal story behind it, but generally speaking, it’s a song about having an awakening; kind of waking up one day and deciding to do something new, and see life in a fresh way… A lot of people hear it in a dark way, but, I think, without saying the word too many times, it’s empowering, and so we wanted to display that in a way that the listener wouldn’t see normally.”
Just to emphasize, I saw the music video first before I found out about this interview. I really found it cool that what the video meant to me was exactly the message Dan Reynolds originally intended.
In preparation for this treatment, my TSH level had to be at least 30. The RAI was done a month after my surgery and my TSH was already at 75 then but it was because I asked my doctor to have it scheduled after my husband’s birthday. I didn’t want to be “radioactive” during his special day, of course. I was already experiencing the effects of high TSH and hypothyroidism i.e. headaches, constant tiredness, sluggishness, feeling blah, etc. but endured it anyway. (My endocrinologist recommended that I only start taking Levothyroxine after the full body scan post RAI.)
I was also required to take a pregnancy test to make sure I wasn’t pregnant before taking the radioactive pill.
The most important preparation I did was to observe a low-iodine diet four days prior. Since thyroid cells absorb iodine, they had to be ‘starved’ so that when I take the pill, the cells would fully take up the radioactive iodine and then be ablated. My doctor’s instruction was basically to avoid anything with salt and soy sauce because these are usually iodized here in the Philippines, and that includes anything canned and processed. However, I wanted to take it up a notch and made sure to really avoid any food that may contain traces of iodine. I found this article by the British Thyroid Foundation as a very helpful guide on what to eat. Thyca.org is also another great resource; they even have a free downloadable low-iodine cookbook.
Sample of my low-iodine diet
I was admitted to my hospital room an hour before the scheduled treatment. I had my last meal, a light breakfast, three hours before taking the pill which was administered by my doctor. The light meal and 3-hour fast was necessary to prevent me from vomiting the pill just in case I felt nauseous after taking it. It was a very expensive pill pre-ordered overseas so I had to make sure I kept it in to do its work. Thankfully, I didn’t feel nauseous at all.
Now, this was the more challenging part of the treatment and the one for which I got very specific instructions from my nuclear med doctor that I followed carefully. I was confined in the hospital for two and a half days in an isolated room while I was highly radioactive. I had been pre-warned that I would be emitting a high level of radiation that would be unsafe for other people especially pregnant women and children. So, I was alone in my room during my entire hospital stay. I only had “visitors” twice a day—when the medical technician measured my radiation level in the morning and when the doctor checked up on me. I would get calls from the nurses from time to time to find out how I was doing.
How soon I would be cleared to go home depended on my compliance to follow 3 simple rules to excrete the excess radiation through body fluids: 1) Drink a lot of liquids and urinate a lot, 2) Eat gum, sour candies or any sour food to stimulate my salivary glands to produce as much saliva and prevent them from swelling , and 3) Take two to three showers a day. I made sure to follow those to the letter because I wanted to go home as soon as possible.
Now, my doctor also told me that I could bring anything that would keep me happy, entertained and occupied because I was going to be alone for several days. Unfortunately, the cable TV in the room only started working on the second night of my confinement. I was so thankful I had a smartphone with mobile data, and my laptop with me! They were my lifesavers! Thank God for technology because I was able to virtually stay connected with my friends and family even if I was physically away from them. They virtually kept me company. It was also a great opportunity to have some quality “me” time, which I don’t often get to do.
Here are some things you could do to stay sane, happy and occupied during a hospital isolation (and yes, I did all of these):
- Catch up with work
- Listen to your favorite Spotify playlist and sing your heart out
- Read a good book
- Have a hair and facial treatment
- Watch a movie or TV series marathon
- Write a blog post
- Pray, reflect and meditate
- Get loads of that much needed sleep and rest
So, after spending two nights in the hospital, I was cleared for discharge on the third day! Cleared meaning my radiation level was at a government-mandated safe level for hospital discharge, but not yet safe enough to be out in public especially around pregnant women and children. So, I still observed home isolation for a week until my radiation level was down to zero. That meant continuing to follow the three rules plus use disposable utensils, flush the toilet twice, and the hardest part—no physical contact with my husband, not even a hug. We slept in the same bed but a few feet apart and no more than 8 hours of being in the same room together. Couples would understand how hard that is but I wanted to keep him safe and not be unnecessarily exposed to radiation so we strictly obeyed the doctor’s orders.
Post RAI Full Body Scan
Before I was sent home from the hospital on July 27, they did a full body scan to find out how effective the treatment was—if the remaining thyroid cells did take up the iodine. I’ve read cases of some patients who had iodine-resistant cells and I was a bit concerned of this, hoping and praying it wouldn’t be the case for me. While the scan was ongoing, I kept on thinking that the iodine is doing its work—killing off every single “bad” cell left in me, just like what the radioactive teddy bear did in the video, blasting off all the bad guys.
I saw my nuclear med doctor on August 3, a week after I was discharged from the hospital. Before I saw her, the technician measured my radiation level and—it was down to ZERO! I was no longer radioactive! Then, my doctor discussed the results of the scan. It was only good news that day—the RAI therapy was successful!
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