14 Facts About Thyroid Cancer & My Story

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness month, and if you have been following me at all this year, you know that in January I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer after a routine check up.

Before I was diagnosed, thyroid cancer- in fact all cancer- was not on my radar. I live a super healthy life, and have a fantastic family health history. But I still try to visit my doctor every year for a routine check up because I know I “should.” It just so happens, I had not been to the doctor since 2012 before my appointment in January. Life gets busy, and I don’t get sick… so I put it off… no big deal, right?

My Story

Luckily, this year I listened to the tiny little voice in the back of my head saying that I should go. So when I met my new friend, Endocrinologist Dr. Anu Davis while working on the HoustonFit TV show, I decided to make an appointment.

She felt the nodule on my neck, and then took a closer look with the ultrasound machine she happened to have in her office. We were both convinced that it was nothing, but as a precaution she scheduled a biopsy.

During the week or so after, we met a few times for filming and meetings and casually joked about how uncomfortable the biopsy process is, and that “it’s nothing.” Then 2 days later she had to call me and tell me the the results were in, and I had cancer. She cried, I cried, and luckily I was sitting next to my best friend, for comfort- and we all cried together.

It sucked. Here I was, just getting back into the work groove after the holidays… I had so many plans and I have to stop them all to schedule surgery and radiation. Not to mention the months of lost energy.

Well that was Tuesday, January 20th 2015 and here I sit on Tuesday, September 15th 2015, happy to have it all behind me. February to April, I was cancer free- but was a zombie without any thyroid hormone in my body. I slept 12-16 hours per day, and was in a mental fog. My joints ached, and I was unable to stand much more than 15 minutes at a time. I was exhausted and felt terrible. By May, we were able to get my hormone levels (with replacement pills) back to the normal levels, and in August I had my final ultrasound for the year to confirm that all is well in my neck. 🙂

Looking back at the past year though, it hasn’t all been bad. In fact, I look at this entire experience as a blessing in disguise. This experience brought me back to Florida, closer to my family, and helped me to shift my focus from [work] and [achievement] to [connection] and [appreciation] for all that I have.

14 Interesting Facts About Thyroid Cancer

from the American Cancer Society

(1) 1 in 20 thyroid nodules is cancerous.

(2) Fewer than 1 in 10 adults have thyroid nodules that can be felt by a doctor, others can only be detected by ultrasound.

(3) 8 of 10 diagnoses of thyroid cancer is a papillary carcinoma, which tend to grow slowly and are rarely fatal when treated. This type can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck. (This is what I had).

(4) 1 of 10 thyroid cancers is a follicular carcinoma, which is most common in countries where there is a lack of iodine in the diet. This type tends not to spread to lymph nodes, but rather lungs and bones.

(5) The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 62,450 new cases of thyroid cancer (47,230 in women, and 15,220 in men) and will cause 1,950 deaths (1,080 women and 870 men) in 2015 alone.

(6) Thyroid cancer is commonly diagnosed at a younger age than most other adult cancers. Nearly 2 out of 3 cases are found in people younger than 55 years of age. About 2% of thyroid cancers occur in children and teens.

(7) The chance of being diagnosed with thyroid cancer has risen in recent years and it the most rapidly increasing cancer in the US. Most of this is the result of the increased use of thyroid ultrasound, which can detect small thyroid nodules that might not otherwise have been found in the past. Still, at least part of the increase is from finding more large tumors as well.

(8) Scientists have found a few risk factors that make a person more likely to develop thyroid cancer.

(9) Having had head or neck radiation treatments in childhood is a risk factor for thyroid cancer. Before the 1960s, children were sometimes treated with low doses of radiation for things we wouldn’t use radiation for now, like acne, fungus infections of the scalp (ringworm), or enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Years later, the people who had these treatments were found to have a higher risk of thyroid cancer.

(10) Imaging tests such as x-rays and CT scans also expose children to radiation, but at much lower doses, so it’s not clear how much they might raise the risk of thyroid cancer (or other cancers).

(11) If there is an increased risk it is likely to be small, but to be safe, children should not have these tests unless they are absolutely needed. When they are needed, they should be done using the lowest dose of radiation that still provides a clear picture.

(12) Having a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) with thyroid cancer, even without a known inherited syndrome in the family, increases your risk of thyroid cancer. The genetic basis for these cancers is not totally clear.

(13) Most people with thyroid cancer have no known risk factors, so it is not possible to prevent most cases of this disease.

(14) Many cases of thyroid cancer can be found early. In fact, most thyroid cancers are now found much earlier than in the past and can be treated successfully.

Signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer

Prompt attention to signs and symptoms is the best way to diagnose most thyroid cancers early. Thyroid cancer can cause any of the following signs or symptoms:

-A lump in the neck, sometimes growing quickly
-Swelling in the neck
-Pain in the front of the neck, sometimes going up to the ears
-Hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away
-Trouble swallowing
-Trouble breathing
-A constant cough that is not due to a cold

If you have any of these signs or symptoms, talk to your doctor right away. Many of these symptoms can also be caused by non-cancerous conditions or even other cancers of the neck area. Lumps in the thyroid are common and are usually benign. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

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