Young adult thyroid cancer patient grateful for personalized care

After I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis at age 15, I began having my thyroid monitored regularly. In 2012, during a checkup in Tyler, Texas, an ultrasound showed two abnormal nodules. 

I visited an endocrinologist, who told me not to worry. But in 2017, I started noticing changes in my voice. I had trouble swallowing, major fatigue and flu-like symptoms. I decided to seek a second opinion. That’s how I found out, at age 25, that I had stage I papillary thyroid cancer.

The internet helped me choose MD Anderson

I used the internet to decide where I should go for thyroid cancer treatment.

I wanted to find someone who had the best qualifications and could offer the best treatment for someone my age. I also wanted to learn about my doctors before my first appointment.

On MD Anderson’s website, I got to know Dr. Jeena Varghese and Dr. Elizabeth Grubbs before I ever met them. I appreciated learning about their experience treating thyroid cancer.

Personalized thyroid cancer treatment with my age in mind

My care team always considered my age when weighing my treatment options.

We decided on a total thyroidectomy. It was important to me that my scarring was minimal and that I didn’t lose my voice.

My care team knew that I might have trouble healing after the procedure, and understanding the potential complications of my surgery, Dr. Grubbs consulted plastic surgeon Dr. David Adelman.

He suggested using cow collagen to promote healing and minimize scarring after my thyroidectomy. Dr. Adelman had used cow collagen in reconstructive surgery for many other patients with difficult wounds.

My first thought was, “What am I signing up for?” But I trusted Dr. Adelman. I knew that if my procedure was successful, it would mean better healing and fewer complications for me.

Innovative plastic surgery minimized my surgical scar

On May 10, 2017, Dr. Grubbs removed my thyroid and the lymph nodes around it. Dr. Adelman then closed the incision with cow collagen.

During my recovery, I had a lot of swelling, so I had to be careful when eating and drinking. I couldn’t hold my head up for very long without becoming tired, and my body was adjusting to losing my thyroid, so I had to lie down more often.

But I have no regrets about letting Dr. Adelman use cow collagen to close my incision. It healed well, and you can barely tell I have a scar.

I came back to MD Anderson to have my incision checked, and during one of my follow-up appointments with Dr. Adelman, I pretended that I had symptoms like uncontrollable mooing from the cow collagen.

He took this very seriously, which showed how much he cares about his patients, though we had a good laugh afterwards.

Adolescent and Young Adult Program helped me cope

Having cancer at 25 put me in a weird spot. I wasn’t a pediatric patient, and I wasn’t able to relate to the issues adult patients faced. But MD Anderson’s Adolescent and Young Adult Program helped a lot.

During one appointment, I told my social work counselor that it was awkward when people asked about my prognosis. I felt uncomfortable trying to explain that I wasn’t in treatment anymore but was still getting checkups.

The social work counselor said that I could tell people that I was in active treatment. That took something that I thought was complicated to explain and gave me tools to make it simple.

The life ahead of me

I come back to MD Anderson every six months for ultrasounds, and I take Synthroid daily as a part of my cancer therapy to regulate my hormones and reduce my risk of recurrence. Sweating and other side effects it causes can be uncomfortable, but I manage.

I’m grateful that my MD Anderson team listened to me and thought about my future. As I’ve learned, life can still be beautiful after cancer. Because of MD Anderson, I have a beautiful future ahead.

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