Thyroid cancer survivor finds ways to cope during radioiodine therapy quarantine

Veronika Fitzgerald is still amazed by the events that led up to her
papillary thyroid cancer diagnosis.

In the fall of 2015, she began experiencing complications from a
2006 gastric band surgery. When she went to her surgeon to discuss her
options, he performed a routine physical exam and noticed her thyroid
felt a little swollen.

“He said, ‘It’s not a big deal; a lot of women have it. I’m sure
it’s nothing, but I would go and have it checked,’” she recalls.

An ultrasound ordered by her family doctor led to a biopsy, and the
results caught both of them by surprise.

“My doctor took me in the room, put his hand on my knee and said,
‘It doesn’t look good. You have cancer,’” she says. “I started crying.
I was just devastated.”

But after both her mother and wife broke down in tears that day, she
never cried about her diagnosis again.

“I felt that I really had to be strong and handle it because they
were so sad,” she says.

Thyroid cancer treatment at MD Anderson

Veronika called to schedule an appointment at MD Anderson in Sugar
, which was close to her southwest Houston home. There, she
met Steven Weitzman, M.D., and surgeon Mark Zafereo, M.D., for the first time.

“Dr. Weitzman and Dr. Zafereo were so comforting,” she says. “They
made me feel like everything was going to be OK.”

Veronika had her surgery on Jan. 28, 2016. The initial plan was to
remove only half of her thyroid, but during the procedure, Dr. Zafereo
noticed that the cancer had spread to some nearby lymph nodes.

“They ended up having to remove my entire thyroid and 38 of my lymph
nodes,” Veronika says.

Though she recovered quickly from the procedure, she developed lymphedema, or swelling that often results due to
surgery or radiation, on her neck.

“The first time I had lymphedema, I went to a nearby ER. They didn’t
know what it was, so they gave me an IV with a dye to check what it
was,” she says.

Dealing with isolation during adjuvant radioiodine therapy

Because of the dye she ingested during her ER visit, Veronika had to
wait 90 days to begin her radioiodine therapy. She took one small dose
followed by another that was so high she had to quarantine herself for
a week.

“My family couldn’t use the same bathroom as me, nobody could lie in
the bed with me. It was weird,” she says. “The best way they explained
it to me is that you’re walking around like an X-ray machine that’s
emitting radiation.”

To pass the time, Veronika watched TV and took walks at a nearby
park whenever it was empty. She also managed to escape the house a few times.

“When I felt like it was too much, I just went to my car and drove
around,” she says. “I drove through downtown, I drove and looked at
mansions in nice neighborhoods, just little stuff to keep myself entertained.”

Learning to live with lymphedema

After her quarantine ended, Veronika got a full body scan at MD Anderson in
. It showed no evidence of cancer in her body.

While she’s thankful that she doesn’t have any life-altering side
effects aside from mild lymphedema, cancer has left a big mark on her life.

“Cancer really makes you realize that your life is not guaranteed
forever. I always thought I was invincible, and now I know that I’m
not,” she says. “I’ve always been happy-go-lucky, but this makes you
appreciate life and the people in your life more.”

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.