Having issues with your thyroid gland is extremely common with one in 20 people in the UK experiencing symptoms of dysfunction.
A lump in her neck and a questionable biopsy result meant The Press and Journal obituaries writer Lindsay Bruce didn’t think twice about having half of her thyroid removed.
Just the possibility of cancer was enough to warrant the surgery, despite her fear that interference with the tiny neck gland could result in weight gain.
Here, Lindsay shares five things – practical and mental health tips – she’s found to help her live well with no thyroid.
“I’m quite embarrassed to say my biggest worry at the time was more to do with body image than it was about long term health,” says mum-of-two Lindsay.
“It’s one of those things people joke about when they put on weight isn’t it? ‘Oh it’ll be my thyroid.'”
Those thoughts had to be put to one side though, when surgeons confirmed that Lindsay’s neck was full of black lymph nodes indicating cancer.
Brutal on body and mind
Within days of the first hemithyroidectomy a diagnosis of papillary thyroid cancer was confirmed and another operation was scheduled to remove the rest of the gland.
“I have to be honest, I wasn’t really prepared for how challenging it would be to adjust to life without having a thyroid,” Lindsay continues.
“Although I take medicine every day the effects have been brutal on my body and my mind.
“I’m 42 so you’d think I would have body image issues nailed by now – but I’ve gained more than two stone. There’s been a lot of tears.
“I’ve also kept working, even on days when my levels have been desperately low and the brain fog (a symptom of thyroid disease) is real.
Life with no thyroid – 5 things help me
“However, I have found some things that genuinely make a massive difference,” Lindsay says.
1 – Avoid caffeine around medicine time
“If you have to take thyroid medicine it’s best to take it half an hour before any other food and drink but specifically avoiding caffeine helps.
“Absorbing the medicine is crucial and caffeine impedes that. I now have a new routine of drinking a glass of water with my meds, having a shower then my morning coffee.”
2 – Keep a check on soy
“Soy is an incredible food. Known to have a potential effect on estrogen levels – it means menopausal and peri-menopausal women should carefully consider it.
There’s also limited research suggesting it could impact thyroid levels and absorption.
“I try not to eat meat and dairy which means I often consume soy milks and foods.
“My thyroid levels have been very low recently so I’m eliminating anything known to hinder my medicine being effective. I’ve seen a difference by cutting back on my favourite soy milk,” says Lindsay.
“However, even the placebo effect means I feel more in control of something I can’t really do much about.”
3 – Walk away stress
Fluctuating thyroid levels can make your metabolism slow down. As well as the resulting low mood, it means you have to work harder to maintain a healthy weight.
“The best thing we did was get a dog because it’s forced us to go out walking every day. I can’t always manage on a long work day but when I can it’s a game changer.
“Map My Walk has helped bring me focus on distance covered. And walking by water has a calming influence,” Lindsay explains.
4 – Laugh often
Known to boost and release endorphins, laughter is also credited with strengthening the immune system and even help burn calories.
“I’m lucky because I’ve been married 20 years this year and one every day mainstay in our relationship has been belly laughing every day.
“We always switch on something funny if we are stressed, we’re proactively tease one another in a light-hearted way and we try to see the bright side when we can.”
5 – Look outside yourself
Counting your blessings is known to help regain a sense of wellbeing. And Lindsay also looked at how she could help others.
“Ill health and even personal tragedy has been very much a part of my story,” she says. “But refusing unhappiness has kept us going.
“After my cancer surgery I was very weak but was able to scroll on my phone.
“Friends and I joined Take Them A Meal. It’s a website that allows you to create a rota for making home cooked meals – or even sending takeaways – to people who need it.
“From my bed I sent food to friends who’d just had babies, or isolating. And others sent meals to me for my family. It made me feel so valuable in my community.”
For more information on causes and treatments visit thyroiduk.org