By BJ Reyes
Starving the body of iodine is fairly unpleasant -- well, probably more accurate to say tasteless and bland -- but at least it's temporary!
This past week was spent in the throes of preparation to receive Radioactive Iodine, or RAI, the primary post-surgical treatment for Stage I papillary thyroid cancer. It's essentially just swallowing a couple of pills then being on self-quarantine at home for at least four days (more on that later this week). No side effects like nausea and hair loss (already had that in the first go-round with cancer).
Preparation includes lessening iodine in the body, which the thyroid needs to function properly, and stopping the artificial hormones being taken to replace the natural ones missing since the thyroid was removed. The combination leads to feeling very tired at times and experiencing lower blood pressures, which sometimes can lead to dizziness.
Iodine being an additive in table salt* and naturally plentiful in seafood and dairy products, the diet is essentially no salt (except kosher), no seafood (in Hawaii!!?!) and nothing with any milk in it.
For the first few days it was plenty of salad, veggie sticks, fruit, oatmeal, jasmine rice and lots of Mrs. Dash seasoning on the limited amounts of fresh meat allowed on the diet. (Not to mention an increase in the number of trips to Whole Foods.) And with table salt being a staple in most restaurant menu preparations, it basically meant no dining or take out either.
Luckily, the folks at ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivor's Association have published an online cookbook, with plenty of recipes that would have lessened the unpleasant-ness of this ordeal greatly, had it been discovered sooner. D'oh!? There's plenty of quick, easy recipes for all varieties of meat, salads, dressings, even desserts. Quite tasty, too! (Although I doubt there's any hope for enhancing the no-salt almond butter or unsalted matzohs.)
Some patients say this is the worst part of the whole experience -- and prevalence of thyroid cancer in Hawaii is fairly high among women and Asia-Pacific Islanders. I'd have to say I'm inclined to agree. Chances are you probably know someone who has had to endure it at some point.
All this said: If a two-week low-iodine diet is the worst part of this cancer diagnosis†, chances are the whole thing will be forgotten once the five-year remission mark hits.
* Around World War I, large incidences of enlarged thyroid were discovered in regions of the Upper Midwest, spurning the nickname "The Goiter Belt." The culprit was traced to a lack of iodine in the soil, which led to a diet of crops and foods also lacking the mineral. Thus, the introduction of iodized salt.
† It should be said, in no way is any of this meant to trivialize a cancer diagnosis. Obviously, in some cases the cancer will have advanced or metastasized to surrounding organs and tissue, requiring more aggressive treatment. Please follow the advice of a doctor.