I had anaplastic thyroid cancer – an aggressive and highly fatal form of thyroid cancer. The basic life expectancy of a person diagnosed with this form of thyroid cancer is almost always less than six months. My diagnosis and treatment was twelve years ago.
My journey began at 69 years of age when, for several weeks, my voice was hoarse. My wife, who so fortunately happens to be a speech therapist, became concerned, and insisted I see a doctor. I wasn’t concerned myself because it was during the summer, and I usually suffer from allergies. I felt fine. Finally, to keep peace in the house, I agreed to see an ENT doctor.
I remember that day so well. The doctor examined my throat and said “I’d like another doctor to look at you also.” A second doctor examined my throat and both doctors agreed that one of my vocal cords was paralyzed.
I asked: “what could cause that?” and was told: “well, it could be a virus – or it could be cancer.” It wasn’t a virus. Thyroid cancer had damaged a nerve that controlled the paralyzed vocal cord. After the initial shock, my family was determined to find the best doctor possible to treat my cancer.
I have three children – one of whom is in a business associated with healthcare. He asked several of his doctor acquaintances who they would want to treat their own family. That is how we learned of the physician team at the THANC Foundation.
I made an appointment shortly thereafter. My expert surgeon advised that the cancer be operated on as soon as possible. He was scheduled to take a vacation, but he delayed it so he could perform the surgery. On August 22nd, 2005, at 6 PM, I underwent a procedure to remove my thyroid and suspicious lymph node. I was discharged from the hospital the next day.
The recovery from the operation entailed heavy steroids to keep my throat from swelling. I slept sitting up in a chair and would get up at 5 AM to drink cold milk and numb my throat. I used oxycodone and a fentanyl patch as pain killers.
Before radiation therapy, my dentist made plastic molds of my teeth, which were used as trays to hold fluoride gel to strengthen my teeth and protect against damage from radiation.
Unlike more common forms of thyroid cancer, anaplastic thyroid cancer required me to undergo surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. The chemotherapy and radiation started in September. Spread out over the next six weeks were five chemotherapy treatments, and 36 radiation sessions. My radiation treatments were three days per week, two times per day (once in the morning and once in the afternoon) with each session lasting about 30 minutes.
My radiation oncologist was one of the nicest, warmest people I have ever met. He explained that the first few weeks of treatment are referred to as the “honeymoon” because the sores that typically accompany radiation treatment didn’t begin immediately. I was lucky in that the honeymoon never ended. The doctor would always ask my wife, “Is Bob the same? Is his personality the same?” He was concerned because heavy steroids can sometimes cause aggressive behavior. This was not a problem.
Let me mention that during my treatment, everybody was as careful, kind and considerate as possible, every single day. From the people who took my blood, to the radiation technicians, and chemo nurses, everyone went out of their way to make me as comfortable as possible. This is not a small thing when you are going through the physical and mental strain of cancer treatment. My team of physicians – including my surgeon, radiation oncologist, and medical oncologist – always had time to answer my questions or address any concerns we had. I brought some of my favorite classical CDs to listen to during radiation treatments. The techs played them for me while I was being irradiated.
I don’t want to give the impression that it was all fun and games, though. There was a hospital stay for pneumonia, and later a head-to-toe rash when I went off steroids. Chemo left me very weak, and I lost about 70 pounds altogether – but I could afford it.
It has been twelve years since my thyroid cancer surgery. I still see my surgeon to check my trachea and see that all is well with my throat, but I no longer need to take periodic PET scans to check for recurrences.
I owe much to my family, who were always wonderful and optimistic – and never let me get depressed. In that twelve years I have met two new grandchildren – now five altogether. My wife and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and several more.
Against all odds, I am cancer free. My family and I are all so grateful to the wonderful doctors who participated in my treatment. They truly did give us the greatest gift. Thank you to all who support the THANC Foundation and make it possible to help and heal others.
Will You Share Your Story?
September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. As part of that theme, we post stories written by thyroid cancer survivors, caregivers and medical professionals for our 30 Stories in 30 Days™ campaign. The insights they share can help others along their journey.