In high school I was diagnosed with a goiter (enlarged thyroid). That didn’t mean much to me medically, other than I felt a little self-conscious about my neck thickness and there were certain collared shirts that didn’t look good on me. My father had a history of thyroid cancer requiring surgery so my doctors were always vigilant about my frequent check-ups with serial ultrasounds and fine needle aspirations (a long long needle poked in my neck every few years always resulting in no evidence of cancer).
Well, on a routine follow-up, the radiologist found an enlarged lymph node (where white cells live that fight infection or cancer cells can live) right next to the goiter. So they recommended I have further work-up performed. Although I’m an oncologist and know the prevalence of cancer, I was in denial and told myself, “It’ll just be a big lymph node because I just got over a cold last week.” But an over eager, very nerdy radiology resident, with poor bedside manner who was scheduled to perform the fine needle aspiration said, “It’s going to be cancer…I mean with your family history and this new lymph node, I just know it!” I was optimistic but also wanted to punch that resident dead in his face! How dare he pronounce that I had cancer?! How could I, the loving cancer doctor for kids,have cancer too? How could I have just supported my mother through breast cancer and now be awaiting my own test results? He was right after all and I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer; which required a total thyroid removal, radioactive iodine therapy and close follow-up with my medical team.
After crying with my husband, mother, sisters, and friends, I said, “I got this! Nothing is going to stand in the way of me getting over this chapter in my life; continuing to be successful in my career, being a great wife and mother and inspiring others!” Now 4 years from surgery, radioactive iodine therapy and physical therapy, I’m cancer free and have a very discreet neck scar with a very slender neck to show for it all (no longer with restrictions on fashion trends). I am so grateful to have a supportive group of family, friends and co-workers who helped me during my journey. It was through these experiences that I’m able to relate that much more to my own patients; especially on the feelings of receiving a cancer diagnosis and then absence of cancer after completion of therapy.
GRYT is being a 34 year old oncologist who was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer.
GRYT is being able to empathize with my patients and families when they receive good and bad news about their cancer diagnosis/treatment.
GRYT is telling myself that these events are temporary and that this too shall pass.
GRYT is knowing that cancer doesn’t define me and this is only making me a more compassionate human being.