Cancer Remembered: The Lymph Nodes

This post is part of a month-long series on my cancer experience of 2013. They originally appeared on my blog at http://www.caringbridge.org.

Lymph Nodes. They are small glands that help your immune system throughout your body. Lymph nodes tend to swell when your body is fighting an infection, and they particularly swell when cancer specifically attacks them.

Cancer of the lymph nodes is referred to as Lymphoma. There are two types of Lymphoma. Hodgkins Lymphoma or Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Dr. Hodgkins was a British doctor who first studied cancer of the lymphatic system, so it’s now named after him.
Lymph nodes in the neck are kind of close to the thyroid, so they can
get swollen and sore in thyroid cancer. And actually, there is a kind of cancer that is called thyroid lymphoma which is a combination of lymphoma and thyroid cancer.  My oncologist thinks that my official diagnosis should be Thyroid Lymphoma.
Don’t go there with the “Why doesn’t he know for sure, Toni?” Remember, the diagnosis can change and get more refined as we know and learn more. And next week, I’ll tell you about the team approach to medicine that is required in cancer situations.
So my lymph nodes are important. And your lymph nodes are important too. Right now, mine are are sore, swollen, and icky. And it’s not just the ones in my neck. There’s more that are weird too. On my PET Scan, some of my lymph nodes were glowing, which means that when I have surgery to take out the tumor, they are also going to inspect the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes could be icky because my immune system is fighting cancer, or they could be icky because they are having their own cancer issue. We won’t know for sure until the lymph nodes are reviewed by a pathologist, after surgery.
The treatment for most lymphomas is typically chemotherapy followed by radiation. If the lymph nodes are swollen because of the thyroid, then the swelling should go away after the thyroid is gone.
In my own strange way, if we are close friends, I’ve probably told you that you should touch my neck. If you then did it, what you probably felt was the swelling in my lymph nodes. If you didn’t get to feel them, but want to, call me….it can probably be arranged. None of this is contagious, so you can touch all you want. And if you think I’m crazy, just go with the flow. One day you may want a friend to touch the glands in your neck. You never know.
So, I think this is it for the medical talk. Thanks for listening to me. Next week, we’ll have more specifics about my next step (I’m hoping it’s surgery)

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