Life with Ladybug: Not digging Graves’ Disease

By Shannon Magsam

I have a friend who may have thyroid cancer and I’m more than freaked out about it, but praying that she gets the help she needs, has surgery and gets the all-clear SOON.

Lots of women wonder if they have thyroid issues (and many of them actually do) because they think it might explain their weight gain or inability to lose weight. When I developed thyroid disease, it never entered my mind.

Of course, I was a 20-something, working 60-hour weeks at my first newspaper job.

And I was losing weight.

tiggerI resembled Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, bouncing around the Thousand Acre Wood in a state of never rest. Except I was bouncing off the four walls of a tiny newspaper office.

I didn’t realize it, but my body was burning up from the inside. My organs were working overtime and when I drank more caffeine to stay awake and make newspaper deadlines (or put the paper to bed every week) I was adding fuel to an already crackling fire.

I had the opposite of the thyroid condition can make people gain weight.

I was the proud owner of a HYPER-thyroid. My thyroid (a gland which is described as butterfly-shaped, how pretty) became so large I could finally see it in the mirror. It looked like I had swallowed a small egg and it was sitting right below my Adam’s apple. (I’m so glad I dodged one of the other common symptoms: bulging eyes.)

I found out the big knot had an ugly name: goiter. And the name of my disease was also ugly: Graves’ Disease.

Grave, dead, coffin, buried. I immediately thought of those words. My specialty doctor laughed at my concerns. He had seen this many times and wasn’t impressed.

He recommended that I take radioactive iodine to obliterate my overactive thyroid, so overnight I became someone who was HYPO-thyroid.

And I started taking little pills to compensate for my lack of a thyroid. (The Good Doctor really laughed when I said, in all seriousness: “What would happen to me if there was an apocalyptic event and I ran out of Synthroid?” I have since learned that my body starts to slowwww down if I miss a few pills. I don’t want to think about dying a slow, organs-shutting-down-slowly death. I try hard to keep a 90-day supply of Synthroid on hand.)

Many years after my thyroid was done in, I read a book by Christiane Northrup called Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. I was in bed with my husband, propped up on two fluffy pillows, happily reading this book, when I got to The Part. The Part where she specifically mentioned Graves disease, which I somehow hadn’t realized was an autoimmune disease.

Don’t quote me (it was years ago) but Dr. Northrup wrote that sometimes our bodies manifest physical symptoms that correspond with problems we might be having in our lives. For example, if you don’t SAY what you need to say to the people around you, if you keep quiet when you should speak up, maybe you’ll get a cough. Or maybe you’ll get a big knot on your throat.

I thought back to that time of my Graves’ affliction: I was young, trying to prove myself as a new reporter, my personal life was a shambles and I shut up and put up. A people pleaser since birth (one can only assume), I avoided conflict and often failed to say what I really needed to say.

When I recalled that time in my life, I started to boohoo in bed, startling my husband. It made me emotional, I suppose, to remember the stress and the shambles. But I also felt empowered.

maxed out bookI realized I had changed for the better. I was better at speaking up and not taking on so much that my body might literally start to raise a ruckus by becoming sick. You know, just to get my attention.

I was reminded of that night in bed this week while reading a book by Katrina Alcorn called Maxed Out.

It struck me that I still haven’t completely given up the habit of not taking care of myself as much as I should (by exercising, sleeping and saying no enough). It reminded me that I vowed not to shut up and put up. I can still be kind, but I’m nobody’s doormat.

I’m sure I still keep too much bottled up, but I don’t feel like I might blow anymore. I pray, talk to friends and take care that I’m not holding onto resentments.

Please know that I’m not saying if you have cancer or some other illness, it’s your fault. But I do know there can be a correlation between physical ailments and inner turmoil.

And as GI Joe says: Knowing is half the battle.

Shannon headshot, peach USE THISShannon Magsam is co-founder of,, and the proud mama of a 13-year-old lady(bug). She’s married to John, a fellow writer and entrepreneur.