Mary Hemm did a home hormone test on the cusp of her 29th birthday.
She wanted to be proactive about her health.
Because of the test results, she was diagnosed with cancer.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Mary Hemm. It has been edited for length and clarity.
In December 2022, I was preparing for my 29th birthday. As you do around milestones, I was taking an inventory of where I was at that point in my life and where I wanted to be in the future. I thought about my relationships, career, and finances.
I had recently done an MBA, so my career was on track, and I met with a financial advisor to make sure my finances were too. Looking at my relationships, I figured I was at least three to five years away from starting a family. And yet, I felt that I could start preparing for that now.
I decided to take a home hormone test. I figured knowledge was power, and if there was anything concerning, I could deal with it now rather than when I was ready to start trying to conceive. Looking back, I wonder if some gut feeling was guiding me, because the test ended up showing something I never expected.
I noticed that my levels of 2 hormones were low
If you're not actively trying to get pregnant, insurance won't cover fertility testing, so I ordered a Modern Fertility home test, which was a more affordable option. I pricked my finger before work one morning and collected a blood sample on what looked like an index card. I mailed the sample to the lab and got my results about 10 days later.
A few things caught my attention. My levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) were flagged as low. Yet, they were only 0.1 away from the normal range, so I wasn't too concerned. I also noticed my anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) was labeled as normal, but it was at the very lowest end of the normal range. I decided to ask my gynecologist about the results at my annual appointment, which was coming up a few weeks later.
My gynecologist sent me to a thyroid specialist
At my appointment, I explained to the doctor that I wanted to be proactive about my health as I was getting older and starting to think about getting pregnant. When I showed her my results, she took them seriously, which I was very grateful for. She referred me to an endocrinologist.
The specialist wasn't particularly concerned with my lab results since they were so close to the normal range. But when he did a physical exam and felt my thyroid, he noticed a lump on the left side. Thyroid nodules are incredibly common and usually benign. And yet, this one was large. The doctor emphasized that he didn't think it was anything concerning, but he wanted to biopsy the nodule just to be safe. He said he'd call me with the results and see me in six months for a follow-up.
When the office asked me to come in, I was concerned
Two days later I had a call from the office asking me to come in. I knew at that moment something was very wrong. I asked my mom to come with me. When the doctor walked in, he had paperwork in one hand and a thyroid cancer brochure in the other.
I had papillary thyroid carcinoma, a common and highly treatable form of thyroid cancer. Still, I was stunned. I had no symptoms and felt healthy as a horse. The doctor estimated I'd had the cancer for at least five years. If I hadn't been proactive about measuring my hormones, who knows how long it would have been until I noticed symptoms or how far it would have spread.
I had my thyroid removed and will need medication for the rest of my life
About a month later, I had my thyroid removed entirely. The doctor also took the nearby lymph nodes in case the cancer had started to spread. Luckily, it hadn't. Being diagnosed with cancer in my 20s was terrifying, but compared to most people with cancer, my experience was a walk in the park.
Now, I'm on medication that stimulates the hormones that my thyroid would normally produce. I see the endocrinologist every few months, and my doctors carefully monitor me for any signs of cancer. Getting and staying pregnant will be a bit more complicated because of my thyroid medication, but it's entirely possible. I'm so grateful that I followed my intuition and did the test when I did. As I approach 30, I know I'm healthy and ready for a new decade.
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