30 Stories in 30 Days
September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. For the next 4 weeks, we will post stories written by cancer survivors, caregivers and friends for our 30 Stories in 30 Days campaign. We hope their perspectives and insight will help others along their journey.
While watching an episode of “Beachfront Bargain Hunt,” Dr. Erich Voigt, a New York-based otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon, noticed a small lump on the neck of a woman featured on the program. Motivated by his concern for the young woman, he took to social media to find her.
“I am watching a TV show and notice this woman has a left thyroid mass. She needs a sonogram and fine needle biopsy,” Dr. Voigt wrote on his Facebook page. “I wonder if she knows and hope it’s benign.”
To his surprise, his plan worked. His social network eventually connected him to Nicole McGuinness, 32, from Havelock, North Carolina. After hearing from Dr. Voigt, McGuinness, a brain cancer survivor, went to the doctor for a sonogram and biopsy. The biopsy came back as thyroid cancer.
“It’s just a miracle, in my opinion, that he happened to see this on television,” the grateful woman told ABC News.
McGuinness is now undergoing treatment and Dr. Voigt has high hopes for her health.
We had the opportunity to ask Dr. Erich Voigt a few more questions about this unique experience!
THANC (T): I am sure that as an experienced otolaryngologist, you are trained to notice abnormalities in the head and neck – but you seemed to go above and beyond to make sure that this woman was contacted and seen by a specialist (and thank goodness!). I am wondering why you decided to go out of your way to find Nicole?
ERICH VOIGT (EV): As an Otolaryngologist – Head and Neck Surgeon I have examined thousands of patients since I graduated from medical school in 1994 and completed 6 years of residency training. Additionally, I have always worked in academic medicine, meaning, I teach medical students and train residents as well as take care of patients. One of the focal points of my teaching is how to perform the head and neck physical examination through both lectures as well as small group learning sessions. I have also taught anatomy of the head and neck to the medical students and I perform thyroid surgery. Thus, after more than 20 years of a very busy clinical career, my eye simply noticed that there was something wrong with the woman’s neck. I saw what looked to be a thyroid tumor and wondered if she knew she had this. I was concerned she might have a cancer. Thus after some deliberation, I decided to reach out to help. It is similar to when a person may witness a potentially dangerous situation, and if that person is in a position to intervene to help they likely would. I felt a strong sense of obligation to try to help, and I am very happy I did. As it turns out, the thyroid mass was cancer and she has been treated by her doctors. Diagnosing a cancer early can make a big difference in the extent of treatment and overall suffering and survival. I am surprised about how much attention this story received because I was just doing what physicians and nurses do on a daily basis to help others.
T: As a doctor, do you feel like you have a duty to act even outside the walls of your clinic?
EV: I honestly feel that I was simply acting as a good citizen, I saw something that could have been dangerous to another person and I reached out to help. There are stories every day where people act in similar ways, in various life events, when necessary, to help others. I just used my expertise and experience to help.
T: What advice would give someone who might be concerned about a lump in their neck?
EV: A common presentation of head and neck cancer is a lump in the neck. This includes thyroid cancer, salivary cancer as well as squamous cell cancer (including tongue, tonsil, and throat). If a person feels a lump and it is present for more than 2 weeks, they should see their primary care doctor for an examination. If the lump does not resolve with time or medical treatment in another 2 weeks’ time, they should see an otolaryngologist – head and neck surgeon for a full head and neck examination and further testing as appropriate, this may include a neck sonogram, a CT scan of the neck and a needle biopsy. Early detection and diagnosis is key to a better prognosis.