It was June when my primary care doctor noticed a small lump on the right side of my neck.
He thought it might have been an enlarged thyroid gland, which is common among women. I got an order for an ultrasound to get a better look, and to rule out anything more serious.
But the images on the ultrasound showed suspicious nodules on both sides of the thyroid.
After a biopsy was later taken, I then received the bad news: it was thyroid cancer.
Dr. David Arnold, head and neck surgeon with the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and Chief of Surgery at Lennar Foundation Medical Center, said the diagnosis was papillary thyroid cancer.
“You had a papillary thyroid cancer. And it is a relatively common cancer,” Dr. Arnold said. “Across the population, women are three times as likely as men to have this cancer.”
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that controls acts like a control panel for many functions in the body, like metabolism and development. In my case, it had to be removed.
“When we diagnosed your cancer, we were aware that it was on both sides of your thyroid. That let us know pretty early on that we needed to take the entire gland out,” Dr. Arnold said.
Not only was the lump in my neck spotted by my physician during an annual check-up, but it was also noticed by two Local 10 viewers in the following weeks.
Victoria Price, an investigative reporter with WFLA in Tampa, credits an eagle-eyed viewer for noticing her neck several weeks ago as well. In the midst of reporting on unemployment in Florida during the COVID-19 crisis, she said she never paid attention to her own appearance.
“I keep joking that I was so distracted with a global health crisis that I was completely ignorant to my own health crisis,” Price said.
Other on-air personalities say viewers have been their angels, as well.
HGTV’s Tarek El Moussa is seven years recovered from his thyroid cancer diagnosis and surgery, thanks to a fan.
“I just didn’t feel right for a really long time. Like, I’m talking over a year,” he told me. “And the second I got that email, I just knew something was wrong.”
Dr. Andrew Forster, my primary care physician at Baptist Health, said that physical exams remain the best way for doctors to help patients.
“Certainly, there are things you can’t do on telemedicine, and one of those things is actually laying hands on a patient and examining them,” Dr. Forster said.
He emphasized that South Florida medical facilities are doing everything to keep patients safe from COVID-19. I’m grateful that his exam was so thorough; I never noticed my own neck.
Surgery was in the beginning of August, and it was successful.
Dr. Arnold said my cancer was aggressive, and spread into several lymph nodes, but remains highly treatable.
As a breast cancer survivor, I’m acutely aware of my own health and mortality. But I got a huge assist from my doctors, our Local 10 viewers, and other survivors who are helping me along the way.
Doctors, right now, do not believe my two cancers are linked.
I’ll have to be monitored closely and undergo radioactive iodine therapy, which is a common treatment for papillary thyroid cancer.
“Patients in general, with appropriate diagnosis and treatment, tend to do very well,” Dr. Arnold said. “I would encourage people, if they’re worried, to talk to their doctors. This is a disease in which we have great success curing.”