John Pepe

Everyone’s cancer journey has a different trajectory. Staying hopeful can help you take each day as it comes.

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I was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer eight years ago. I have a tall cell variant of thyroid cancer, which is less common than papillary thyroid cancer. Tall cell is supposed to be very aggressive, and I’m fortunate that I’ve had it for eight years and survived.

I had my first surgery in New Jersey, but the tumor came back four months later. When I went to my next surgery in New York, my surgeon told me the tumor was hitting my vocal cord, so he couldn’t operate on me. He suggested I get radiation, but I was afraid that this would cause me to go on a feeding tube. I’m also diabetic, so it could have been a problem. I took a radioactive iodine pill after my first two surgeries, but with my type of cancer, it didn’t really help to get rid of the cancer. I never went for radiation, but with the tumor hitting the vocal cord, I decided to go to a different surgeon.

He knew what my problem was right away and said we needed to take care of it. He looked at my throat with a scope and said he would take the tumor off so that I could get my voice back. He was able to remove the cancer, but my vocal cord was still paralyzed. The right vocal cord would move like crazy, but the left one was still paralyzed. I went to a voice specialist who put a solution on the paralyzed vocal cord, but it didn’t do anything. My left vocal cord was still paralyzed. 

Have a positive attitude and do not dwell. Don’t worry unless you have to worry.

I was disappointed but I kept going. I was grateful to be alive. Since then, I’ve had three more surgeries, which makes five altogether. After each one, I’m told I will probably need another. My surgeon says if something grows back, I should keep an eye on it. Every two years, I get another surgery, and that’s the way it’s been. Even after all those operations, I can still swallow, which is amazing. I don’t feel defeated. I actually feel quite lucky. My quality of life is fine. I whisper, but you can hear me, and I can do everything else in my life. It’s unbelievable. 

I would tell patients to stay positive and not dwell on their cancer. Keep looking forward and take each day as it comes. Say your prayers. I’ve been a very faithful person ever since I got cancer. Have a positive attitude and do not dwell. Don’t worry unless you have to worry. I want to thank my family, especially my wife and children, and my church friends for helping me through my cancer journey.