Tired? Check Your Neck for Thyroid Cancer

I bet you can’t guess what Sofia Vergara, Rod Stewart, Joe Piscopo, Jennifer Grey, Angie Everhart, Roger Ebert, Catherine Bell, and Brooke Burke-Charvet all have in common. You might say that they’re all celebrities or actors but I’m not sure Rod Stewart has acted in anything except his music videos. The answer is is that they have all battled thyroid cancer and with the exception of Roger Ebert, are all alive to tell about it.

Thyroid cancer awareness month is September, which makes sense because it’s the time of the year when you need all the energy you can muster to get your kids up early and back to school. When the feeling of walking with weights through water overcomes you, then it’s time to get a neck check at your doctor’s office. One of the major symptoms of thyroid cancer is being exhausted and depressed and if you are experiencing a tightness in your throat, a change in your voice or swallowing/breathing ability, you need to see your doctor. If they insist that nothing is wrong but you know that something wrong, then go see an ENT ASAP.

I specifically write ear, nose and throat doctor because I went to a general practitioner for three years complaining of the symptoms above, and was told that it was from the stress of the economy. If I had only gone to a person whose speciality is the neck, I would’ve been diagnosed with follicular variant of papillary with poorly differentiated features before it wrapped around my vocal cords and parathyroid glands. Now I have one working vocal cord and no parathyroid glands which resulted in a strained voice and huge daily doses of calcium and prescription vitamin D for the rest of my life. So take my tale as a precautionary warning that early detection is key.

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that regulates your metabolism. When a thyroid becomes cancerous, it can sometimes show up in a blood test or a skilled doctor will be able to feel your thyroid and order additional tests. Be aware of your thyroid area and feel it from time to time. Doctors preach to do self breasts exams but I have never heard of feeling your own neck. Don’t panic if you feel a nodule, that doesn’t mean it’s cancerous, but it should still get looked at. My new doctor sent me for an ultrasound and then a biopsy within a week of him feeling my hard-as-a-rock thyroid. I had never touched my neck and had no idea how big it had grown. Within the month, I had surgery to remove it and then had radiation.

Thyroid cancer affects men, women and children and has the fastest increase in incidence of any cancer in recent years. There are many types and variants and most are treatable with surgery, radiation and hormone replacement therapy. I’ve been told by doctors that if you are going to get cancer, thyroid cancer is a good one to get because it’s treatable with good outcomes. No cancer is a good cancer because even treatable cancers are stressful, hard on the mind and body and changes your life forever. To properly manage my thyroid cancer I will have scans where I have to go off my medications for a month and eat a low iodine diet for two weeks, every year for the rest of my life.

There are other problems your thyroid could be having besides cancer. My mom had hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) so they gave her a radioactive iodine pill to kill her thyroid and then she went on synthroid, a hormone replacement pill. My uncle had part of his thyroid removed because of a goiter (nodule), but it turned out to be benign, so he still has the other half of his thyroid. Hashimoto’s disease causes thyroid swelling and can be hereditary, so look at your family tree for clues to your overall health. If you feel tired, do yourself a favor and feel the area around your Adam’s apple. If you feel something strange, go see a doctor. Thyroid cancer was tough but I’m alive and I feel so much better. I even have enough energy to drive my daughter to school, so it was all worth it.