Michael Schenck

After months of noticing a lump on the right side of my neck and countless google searches of what the cause of these lumps were, that kept putting myself at ease as “95% of neck lumps are benign masses,” I decided to get a physical and ask my primary care physician to check it out.

At that point, I was still at ease as the mass was soft to the touch, but it was still recommended that I go get an ultrasound. That’s when things started to change. After getting an ultrasound for what felt like an hour and a half, the ultrasound technician left without saying a word. She came back with my physician and that’s when I was told that I had large amounts of calcification in my neck and that there’s a possibility of cancer. He referred me immediately to go see an ENT. That’s when my stomach dropped. I was speechless, my mind was racing, and for the next couple of weeks could not finish a single train of thought.

I was officially diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. As one could imagine, those words hurt and I was searching for what to say and do

When I got to my ENT, I got another ultrasound and a laryngoscopy. She told me that if she were a betting woman she would say that I have papillary thyroid cancer but, I still needed a CT scan and a biopsy to have a better look and be 100% sure. Obviously after hearing those words I was a mess and didn’t know what to do and was concerned about my quality of life moving forward. On top of that, going to the doctor so many times in a short time was draining after never having to go to the doctor. After all my scans and biopsy, she was right, I was officially diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. As one could imagine, those words hurt and I was searching for what to say and do.

After having time to take it in, my would-be surgeon put me at ease that if you are to choose cancer “this is the one you want.” On top of that, I did my research and am thankful for the research there is and it is amazing to see where it has come. While I still overthought my diagnosis on a daily basis and asked myself “why me,” reading the stories of others helped me.

I had surgery on February 19th. While getting ready for surgery at the crack of dawn, my surgeon came in to brief me on the surgery and how it would take 3 to 4 hours max, that it should go smoothly and I’ll be up by noon. Surgery ended up being 11 and a half hours. I had a total thyroidectomy, a parathyroid removed, and of 49 lymph nodes checked 32 were removed as they tested positive for thyroid cancer. Given that the surgery was more complex than expected, my parathyroids were temporarily damaged and I ended up staying at the hospital for 8 days when I thought I would only be there overnight and maybe 2 due to very low calcium levels.

…despite all of this, I am extremely lucky. I have an amazing support system… I couldn’t have done it without all of them and I am forever grateful

My story is far from over, I had my radioactive iodine ablation therapy in May and I’m hoping that any cancer that was left will be destroyed in the coming months. It’s also hard to think that I went from going to the doctor once every few years to multiple times a year. It is also an adjustment to take multiple pills daily. But, despite all of this, I am extremely lucky. I have an amazing support system. An amazing partner that was there the whole journey and didn’t think twice when I needed her. I can’t imagine what it was like for her. I also have awesome parents and family that came into town for my surgery and stayed throughout my recovery. A talented and supportive surgeon also put me at ease to the extent that she could and operated on me for over 11 hours. I couldn’t have done it without all of them and I am forever grateful.

30 Stories in 30 Days

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. For the next 4 weeks, we will post stories written by thyroid 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.