A cup of tea, a curious daughter and an odd lump: How my mother dodged a cancer bullet

What began as a mother-daughter chat over a cup of tea quickly became a family’s fight against cancer, as Rebecca Levingston explains.

May 22, 2024, updated May 22, 2024
Rebecca Levingston with her healthy-again mum. Photo: Supplied

Rebecca Levingston with her healthy-again mum. Photo: Supplied

I was sitting next to my mum at my parent’s kitchen table. Just an ordinary day. We were chatting about the stuff of life. Mother’s day, kids, school, work, my birthday, passionfruit and hungry cockatoos.

Happy, uncomplicated and healthy. Mum turned her head to the right and looked over her shoulder towards the kitchen and that’s when something unusual caught my eye. The left side of her neck looked different.

“Mum your neck looks swollen,” I said.

She turned back to me and looked perfectly normal. Maybe I was imagining things. I put my hand on the base of her neck and got her to turn her head again.

I could see a lump. Briefly appearing at certain angles and more obvious when she swallowed. It was definitely new. It was definitely not normal.

Mum went and looked at herself in the mirror. She joked that if she took more selfies she might have noticed earlier. She was not concerned. I was.

I asked her to make an appointment with her doctor. Funny how that happens as you get older, the carer roles sometimes get flipped. At least get it checked out please, I said as I left.

Two weeks later, mum went to the GP. The first pangs of anxiety were felt.

“Her eyes flew wide open when she saw my neck,” according to mum.

An urgent referral for an ultrasound was issued and a hasty booking was made. Mum’s doctor told her she needed to take it seriously and go immediately for a scan. The ultrasound results came back quickly. The GP called.

“This is potentially serious. You need to get a needle biopsy on your neck as soon as possible.”

The word urgent was used again.

With gratitude for a health system that enabled swift assessment, Mum booked in a for needle biopsy. It was painless. Mum was stoic.

Again the results came back quickly. That was the first time the word cancer was mentioned.

“You need to see a surgeon as quickly as possible.”

“This could be cancer.”

I raced back to mum and dad’s place. This time we sat in my parents’ lounge and shed a few tears. Calmly, over a cup of tea, we agreed not to search online for thyroid cancer.

Treatment, prognosis, or stages. A guaranteed trigger for alarm. We knew we didn’t have enough information. We needed a specialist and we needed pathology results. Dr Google wouldn’t help right now.

Mum booked into see a thyroid surgeon. Turns out the lump in mum’s neck was a follicular neoplasm. A tumour approximately 5cm in diameter. The size of one of those stress balls you squeeze. It wasn’t yet clear whether it was benign or malignant.

Mum was told there was maybe a 50% chance of it being cancer. Micro-calcifications showed up in the biopsy and that was some cause for some alarm.

Surgery was booked.

A week later, mum’s thyroid was removed. A butterfly shaped gland that sits at the front of the neck. Two lobes that lie on either side of your windpipe. In mum’s working life she was a speech pathologist. For forty years she had helped children and adults learn to talk. This felt very close to home.

I went to work that night and sat opposite the Federal Treasurer interviewing him on the radio about up the upcoming budget. I didn’t really feel like I was in the studio with Jim Chalmers. My heart and head were with mum. It’s strange how the world just keeps going even when you want to hit pause.

InQueensland in your inbox. The best local news every workday at lunch time.
By signing up, you agree to our User Agreement andPrivacy Policy & Cookie Statement. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The surgery went perfectly. Mum came home 24 hours later and I found her in the garden admiring some native plants she was nurturing. She looked happy and healthy. Considering she’d been under a general anaesthetic in hospital a day ago, the small section of medical tape at the base of her neck seemed insignificant. A welcome scar.

I think we felt relief, even though we still didn’t know exactly how potentially dangerous the neoplasm could be. Again, we waited.

Mum worried about her vocal cords being damaged. The laryngeal nerve had been pushed out of place by the tumour. Her voice is now deep and weak. She feels self-conscious but we are all reassuring her it’s a small and hopefully temporary price to pay.

Two more weeks went by, her recovery continued as did the wait for pathology to confirm if it was cancer. We all became much more aware of thyroid-related health issues. Testing and treatment for underactive thyroid is increasing in Australia.

Finally, last week, on my birthday, my mum had her first post-surgery appointment with her surgeon. The news was the best present I could have received.

“You have nothing more to worry about.”

“No further treatment required.”

The surgeon’s words prompted a wash of relief for our whole family.

There was a tiny section of cancer so small they described as a spot that came out with the thyroid. The endocrine surgeon was confident that everything went to plan. Amazingly there are no ongoing cancer concerns. Mum will be on thyroxine for rest of her life.

They surgeon got the pathology results back that confirmed Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis caused mum’s thyroid to swell. That was the neoplasm I could see sitting at the kitchen table. The lump.

Mum had no other symptoms. How quickly life can flip. We feel so fortunate. I’m looking forward to more ordinary days. Mum is picking passionfruit. We’ll have more cups of tea. And that will be be wonderful.




Local News Matters
Copyright © 2024 InQueensland.
All rights reserved.
Privacy Policy