Sharing stories of hope. Spreading awareness.
Cancer is something you don’t think about when you’re young. I was 26 years old when I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in January of 2010. I felt sick at a Thanksgiving party. About two months later, I went to the doctor and was seen by a wonderful nurse practitioner who totally saved my life. She found a lump on the right side of my neck and told me to get an ultrasound as soon as possible. When the ultrasound results were read, I was referred to an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) doctor. This was when I started to feel scared.
The following month, the ENT doctor did a biopsy of the tumor, and told me I had to have surgery for its removal because it was pushing on my trachea. I got even more scared – I had never had surgery before and kept thinking of the worst possible outcomes, like a huge scar on my neck that I would have to hide. My doctor, who was also my surgeon, assured me everything would be fine and that a plastic surgeon would also be working with her to make sure the incision was small and hidden in the crease of my neck.
Thankfully the surgery went well, but the tumor they removed was cancerous. I was officially diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and the left side of my thyroid would also need removal. I was so overwhelmed I started to cry in the doctor’s office. It was very upsetting to hear “you have cancer” and “you have to have this surgery again.” I thought to myself, “am I going to survive this?” I was still young and had so much more I wanted to do and experience in life. I knew I had to be strong for myself and my family.
After my second surgery—a total thyroidectomy—I was referred to a nuclear medicine doctor. I had to follow a low-iodine diet to receive radioactive iodine treatment, which required extended hospital isolation. I had Thyrogen injections and a whole-body scan. I remained scared and overwhelmed, but kept a positive attitude by listening to my favorite music.
Later that year, after 3 weeks on a low-iodine diet, I was admitted to a private hospital room to begin radioactive iodine treatment. I noticed the phone handle, TV remote, toilet, and sink handles were all wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent radiation exposure to other people. I could tell it was going to be an intense treatment. Everything brought into the room had to be thrown away, so I had to bring items I didn’t care much about, like old clothes and books. I changed into a hospital gown, and was given the radioactive iodine-131 pill, which meant I was immediately radiated. Long sheets of measuring paper around my hospital bed and a Geiger counter were used to measure the extent of my radiation. Visitors had to stay on the opposite side of the room. On day three, I finished treatment and was discharged. The driver taking me home had to sit diagonally to me to avoid radiation exposure. Even after arriving home, I had to be in a room away from others for a few more days.
After discussing the results from my treatment, ultrasound, blood tests, and whole-body scan at my follow-up appointment, I was excited to finally eat normal food again. Unfortunately, the radiation had damaged my taste buds, leaving all my favorite foods with no taste, but eventually my sense of taste started to come back. I was happy everything went well and that I was done with treatment. I am proud of myself for getting through this and can now say I’m a thyroid cancer survivor! Now, many years later, I continue to be cancer-free and hope sharing my story can help others.