Easy-Peasy Thyroid Cancer

I had to change blogs in mid-blog stream. Something came up that was too offensive not to blog about. This was a blog that was published by the Huffington Post by Cindy Finch, called The 6 Injustices of Cancer. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cindy-finch-msw-licsw/the-six-injustices-of-can_b_6573648.html) I am reluctant to include the link because it will mean more traffic and better metrics for an article that I don’t think deserves it.

Why six injustices? I have no idea. They are not even the six that I would have chosen if I had written a blog about the six injustices of cancer, but, as a thyroid cancer survivor and veterinary surgical oncologist, you peruse this kind of thing. It starts out with,

  1. When it’s over, it ain’t over
  2. Cancer now, may mean cancer later
  3. Your doctor may dismiss your concerns
  4. Cancer is humiliating

Ok, sure, although I don’t find this list particular groundbreaking or visionary, I can relate and half-smile my way through. Then comes #5:

  1. Some cancer patients get off really easy

Here are some quotes from provocative section #5: I’ve heard it a hundred times, “I’m a cancer survivor, too.” “Oh, really? What type of cancer did you have and what was your treatment?” “Oh, I had thyroid cancer and had to take a radioactive pill for 30 days then I was all better.” Blah blah blah, lots of crap on who has it bad and who has it even more bad, blah, blah blah “High on pain and often low on quality of life afterwards (if they live), these folks represent the worst among us.” (Clearly not talking about easy-peasy thyroid cancer here) “If you’re not one of these folks, perhaps you should be quiet and sit down and let someone else tell their war story.” (Clearly talking about thyroid cancer peeps here).

Let me just say that the thyroid cancer community is not amused. Currently, there are over 100 angry comments on the Huffington Post Site from thyroid cancer survivors pointing out the hypocrisy of this article and it’s making the rounds with the thyroid cancer survivors Facebook pages. I should say that Cindy Finch is sorry. She apologized. She is trying to make it right. She now sees the light and is going to write more poorly-written blogs about things she doesn’t know anything about, like thyroid cancer. I don’t really understand this because she says in her article that she has heard it “one-hundred times” so now that she has heard it two-hundred times, she sees it differently? I accept the apology, but the call for thyroid cancer survivors to share their thyroid cancer experiences with her is a bit too much for me, I don’t want this to be the person who tells my story.

This article unintentionally but accurately sums up the struggle of the thyroid cancer community. Most thyroid cancer survivors have struggled with the perception, both internally and externally, that thyroid cancer is easy cancer. The first thing that most people say when you tell that that you have thyroid cancer is, “That’s good cancer, right?” Yeah it is great cancer. Thyroid cancer does not measure up in the cancer hierarchy because it is not well-publicized or well-funded and what people do know about it is that it is cancer-lite.

The majority of people with thyroid cancer have a curable form of cancer. This is partly because most forms of thyroid cancer are slow moving and also because of science. Science has figured out that you can make iodine radioactive and that, because iodine is only taken up by thyroid cells (cancerous or otherwise), it will selectively kill thyroid cancer cells and spare normal cells. So let me just say that again, this is a form of cancer that has been cured by science. Thanks Science! Instead of celebrating this, thyroid cancer is dismissed for its curability. Also, after you have had your entire thyroid gland surgically removed (which is not actually as fun as it may sound and often more than one surgery is required), you have no thyroid hormone, which is a vital hormone for activities that people enjoy, such as being alive. Our friend, science has also found a way to replace thyroid hormone. That is also great news for thyroid cancer. Having said that, not all forms of thyroid cancer are a walk in the park, not all forms are curable, and not having a thyroid gland is a real challenge sometimes. Some people actually die from thyroid cancer. Surprising, but true. The people that are struggling with recurrence and metastatic disease from thyroid cancer deserve respect and support. Please do not marginalize them.

For the rest of the thyroid cancer survivors who apparently are not allowed to share their experience because it was too easy, they are silently struggling with fatigue and the small possibility of recurrence. When you have no thyroid gland, you look completely normal, but you just feel off or fatigued sometimes. You will again be dismissed if you dare to bring this up and told that this is just aging, or that you need to suck it up when you are tired (just got told this last week when I brought up the difficulties I was having with early mornings, thank you very much). The thyroid cancer survivors are constantly on defense about their cancer and they are also, as a group, really tired. I’m sorry we are not survivor-y enough for you. As a group, I don’t think that we are trying to prove anything or compete for cancer-pity dominance, we are just trying to get our thyroid levels in order, raise awareness, and get people to check their necks.

There are only two types of people that have had cancer. Dead people and alive people. Not all people with cancer live to blog and whine about it. A lot of people with cancer die. The dead people are silenced by death and the cancer-lite people are silenced by not suffering enough. What about the injustice of being dead? This did not even make the list of the six injustices of cancer. If it was possible to blog from the afterlife, I suspect that the grave-bloggers would tell this author that she actually has a lot more in common with the thyroid cancer survivors, considering she is alive and all.

I am a veterinary surgical oncologist at the University of Florida. I think about and work with cancer every day. I am also in the privileged position of learning from my physician colleagues at the human hospital. Because of this, I am very aware of the fact that I am incredibly lucky for everything that I have in my life and for having a cancer that is most often curable. The human experience that I learn from often has some tragic combination of bad genes, bad luck, bad disease, bad financial or social situations, bad or no health insurance, fear, and ignorance, which conspire and in many cases, cause death. But can’t I just feel lucky and happy without feeling guilty or invalidated? Why do we always feel the need to compare our scars? Things that all cancer survivors (and even people who have had cancer scares for that matter) have in common is that we thought about dying and we realized that sooner or later, we are all going to die. Maybe we should just focus on our fragile common ground.

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27 thoughts on “Easy-Peasy Thyroid Cancer

  1. Dr. Boston, I met you years ago when I brought our french mastiff, Emma to be diagnosed. She passed away from osteo-sarcoma. You were very compassionate and made a lasting impression. I, too, am a thyroid cancer survivor and your blog “nailed it”. Thank you for writing this piece. I have shared it on facebook too…..sincerely, dana baines margolis, Toronto, Ontario Canada

  2. 11yr survivor 🙂 I’ve never used that term “survivor” before. My thyca has always been blown off by every doctor I’ve dealt with…til now I have a wonderful Endo..
    I dismissed it, as well, because of public opinion. After joining a support group I’ve learned that I need to be a bit more proactive & informed. Your blog is spot on. Thank you! No longer will I feel the need to dismiss my “No big deal” cancer.

  3. I would like to send you the e-mail I sent to Cindy about her article. As a fellow Thyca survivor, I would like to share.

  4. Thank you.

    When I wrote my comment on Huffington Post I was emotional and angry, and I wanted to say so much more. I was so upset I I didn’t sleep at all after the post. I cried out of frustration. The next morning, I went to the hotel gym. I had a great workout, I had a dance party in my hotel room after (feeling so strong). I realized that Cindy (or anyone) can write all the comments they want about Thyroid Cancer and what they think it means, but I know – WE know. Thank you for saying things I wanted to say and helping be a voice in our constant battle. Much love and respect.

    • Ty from your Thyca Sister:) I also emailed “her” & Huffington Post. One of our Sisters Jamie Frey is writing a piece for HP..she is asking for stories:)

  5. Yes!! Thank you SO MUCH! I know I am lucky, but I also know I am a survivor. Her apology rings hollow to me and NO WAY should she be the one to write about the struggle. This was beautifully done – thank you again!!

  6. thank you for your blog. As a survivor multiple forms of cancer as well as being worked up for thyroid cancer I understand why you wrote the blog. While thyroid cancer seems the most curable, it is indeed “poo pooed” by many including MDs who just won’t listen to their patients. I have multiple lesions on my thyroid and have thus far had negative biopsies. Unfortunately with my past history I am pretty sure that may change. I was at NAVC and heard people talking about your lectures but was unable to attend any. Had I known your specialty at the time I would have made it a point to do so. We survivors of any cancer have a unique understanding of life, changes this brings about, and gives us people like you who continue to break ground in treating us all and our furry children too. Thank you and please keep up your good work!

  7. I’m never reading another article they post, implying my Cancer isn’t actual Cancer is disgusting. I have battled, every day, for 10 years, my thyroid cancer spread from my thyroid into my nodes. Yeah, belittling an “easy” Cancer breaks my heart. I’ve had people who’ve felt it important to approach me in front of my son, and ask about my scar across my throat, and then say, “you ONLY had thyroid cancer, must be nice.”

    No it’s not nice. I’ve had 15 operations, and have recently been told I’m inoperable. My doctor refuses to go back into the left side of my neck, that’s where the cancer is.

    I still have cancer, 10 years later

  8. Oh we could write blog post after blog post on what we deal with and how we feel since diagnosis. I’ve written several times on my own blog and stopped because I was just too tired to write about anything, period. Although recently have started again. It’s sad really that we have to continually fight for a right to be a cancer survivor/fighter in others eyes. For people to understand that we may not go through the exact symptoms or treatments BUT we do have just as bad a time with it. I’ve had so many comments that had me in tears especially right after I was diagnosed, online and in person. The only thing I do know is we all just need to continue to band together on awareness and try not to use the only energy we have on articles like that ( I was guilty of that this time around!) I am personally going through a possible recurrence in my lymph nodes (and not in my neck!). Mine is one that can metastasize. Definitely not easy-peasy! Quite honestly no cancer (any form) is easy because no matter what, once you are diagnosed… even if they think it is “caught in time”, any time you have something wrong your mind goes straight to that ugly, horrible C word! And as we know, that is just downright scary!

  9. Beautifully written and heartfelt. Thanks from this 18 month survivor! I am one of the fortunate ones, but that doesn’t mean my life hasn’t changed.

  10. I to am a Thyroid cancer survivor, First surgery removed the thyroid, then 2 rounds of RAI, and latest surgery was a right lateral and central neck dissection…. I am lucky, my Mom passed away from Thyroid cancer at the age of 43. Do I feel this is a the good cancer….. No, I am just a lucky.

    • thank you for sharing this..
      compared to some commentators here mine has been easy peasy.. i wish each better results in the future..

      two surgeries and rai.. my first operation was march of last year..
      i have since been learning and living with no thyroid.. my latest battle has been with SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder)… over the years i have been able to balance medication and function reasonably well in the winter.. not this year! i am either under medicated and sleep for 14 hours, or i am over medicated and can`t sleep at all.. lucky for me i live alone and have no major outside commitments to deal with on a daily basis..
      i have now added a vitamin d supplement to see if that will help… i sure hope it does because i don`t want more pills!
      i also sell my cancer short because i use my late brother as a yard stick.. 15 yrs fighting a brain tumour.. i was never able to imagine what he endured all those years with the seizures and various chemos and radiation.. and raising his children… (they turned out awesome)

      we will see what other obstacles will come along with the situation… i will have tests done in april to assess my condition.. i am expecting it is all good.. (i hope)

  11. Wow! I am not alone! I have been fighting thyroid cancer for over two years and I am hoping to receive my 6 month cancer free results this week! To a lot of people my cancer doesn’t count because I didn’t need chemo! Never mind the fact that I endured thyroid removal surgery, radio active iodine, 30 days radiation, and a complete neck dissection! I was lucky enough to get “poorly differentiated” cancer, it has a mind of its own and is very aggressive. People don’t get it! Because I got the all clear 6 months ago I should be fine, I shouldn’t worry, I should feel great! Yeah right! I’m stressed about “what if it comes back”, I’m exhausted, my neck is sore and my neck looks awful!! But I know that I put up a good fight and I survived awful things the general public has no idea about! Well wishes to all the fighters and survivors!

  12. Thank you so much for your article. A little recognition and education goes a LONG way. I was infuriated reading Cindy Finch’s article. Us Thyroid Cancer patients are treated as though we have no Cancer at all. Because our Cancer isn’t treatable with chemotherapy and instead surgery and radioactive iodine we are dismissed by doctors, the general public, the cancer community and some of us by family and friends. We experience all of the same emotional struggles and a slew of physical struggles that we feel we aren’t “allowed” to feel because our disease has been labeled “good” or “easy”. I was diagnosed 1 1/2 years ago on my 40th birthday. I only had 1 nodule on my thyroid but metastasis to 26 lymph nodes and have had 1 recurrence at my one year check up. I do not consider myself “cured”. Thyroid Cancer being deemed “the good Cancer” and therefore being dismissed has left me feeling like I’m not worthy enough to call myself a Cancer patient, fighter or survivor and that’s just sad, isn’t it?

  13. Thank You for standing up for us and doing it well. I Am a 2 yr Cancer Survivor and to this day the fight continues. I find it really sad that the would has gotten to such a low place that one Cancer is better than another. I know many have died from Thyroid Cancer so to just dismiss it as oh you have the good Cancer the Easy Cancer. There is nothing good in any Cancer.

  14. Dr Boston,

    Thank you for your response to that unbelievably terrible article that Ms Finch wrote! It is people like her that cause doctors and others to acquire the stigmatism that thyca patients have it easy, when in reality, we fight the disease/cancer every single day for the rest of our lives. I hope that the Huffington Post links your blog to their site to let “viewers” read the truth!

    Thank you again,
    Kristi

  15. Dr Boston, What a pleasant surprise to see your blog. My friend ( a thyroid cancer survivor) posted it. You treated my two Briards, Eva and Lily (osteosarcoma and Mast Cell) when you were in Guelph, and all I ever knew was that you developed cancer yourself and knew nothing more except that you weren’t there any more. I am so happy to see that you are alive and well somewhere, even if it isn’t Guelph. Florida’s lucky to have you and I am lucky to have doctor’s you trained.
    All the best and thank you for what you did for my four legged “kids”.
    Ruth (Dixon)

  16. Dr. Boston, Thank you for this! This is what I sent to the author of the absurd article…
    January 31, 2015
    I must say that I stewed most the day and am now calm enough to respond to the article attached below and treat it as a learning experience. Yes – there are too many injustices from cancer to list, much less stopping at 6. But, when I got to number 5 – Boy was I feeling disrespected, misunderstood, mediocre and downright hurt. There is a huge misconception that Thyroid Cancer is a “Good Cancer” to have if you were to get cancer in the first place. I will admit that even I was a bit guilty of that at first. When I was first married, I beat the early stages of cervical cancer. When I got diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer 15 years later – I didn’t want to be a pain or worry to any of my family members and as a young, active Mom of twin girls, I figured – let’s just cut this out and get on with my life. Little did I know almost 4 years ago: what a roller coaster ride I would have. My first surgeon opened me up and was surprised at the mess that resided in my neck. The cancer was everywhere and had obviously escaped the encapsulation. This quick and easy surgery was almost triple the time, turned into a neck dissection and I was sewn back up with a damaged vocal cord and cancer still inside and wrapped around my left vocal cord. I was told that a thoracic surgeon would have to open my back and try and get the rest of it. I would be looking at a 3 month recovery and my damaged vocal cord might not come back as it was severely damaged. My local hospital and the Drs had never seen a case like mine. My hero of a husband refused to listen to my stubborn personality about keeping things local and gathered up my records and got me into Sloan Kettering Memorial in the city. I knew I needed another surgery (one that I was told, would save my life) but they would not even touch me until I had an ultrasound, MRI, CT Scan and another biopsy. My team of skilled professionals, surgeons and Oncologist, did all they could to save my remaining vocal cord. After an 8+ hour total neck dissection, I awoke to a tracheostomy, 2 drains and a feeding tube. My surgeon had no choice but to remove the remaining vocal cord, which was surrounded with the cancer. I was in the hospital for 11 days. I had to learn to manage my trach, suction and panic over blockages in my trach that made me feel my number was up. I had to learn to swallow and eat again. I had my first solid meal about 9 days later. Even through this all this, my team was amazed of my sense of humor and positive outlook. When I heard I could not swim or even shower normally again – my heart broke. My voice was gone, my stamina was gone, my confidence was starting to dwindle. Long story short, I am now trach free (after having it for 15 months) but live with bilateral cord paralysis, and severe obstructive breathing condition, which means my days of doing the things I loved are gone. Just a walk up the stairs is difficult. I no longer participate in many social gatherings, because of my inability to talk and breath like I used to. Damn I was loud, loved to laugh and talked SO much! I have gone through several surgeries to try and give me a better airway, but to no avail as of yet. I now have to get dental cleanings every 3 months due to a dry mouth and salivary damage due to the high dosage of Radioactive Iodine I had at my first run which put me in isolation for 5 days. I lost a lot of time away from my beautiful daughters and loved ones due to this “Easy Cancer”. I have separated myself so much and lost people that i “thought” were my friends due to such anger, anxiety and depression I had, forcing me to become so distant and hard to be around. The ones that were meant to be stayed and the rest – Good riddance! One time in the waiting room after a scan, to see my Oncologist, I met a woman who actually said she had and beat Breast Cancer and was now struggling with Thyroid Cancer and it was worse than when she had Breast Cancer. Go figure! My cancer is still with me. I have one of the more aggressive and rare types. I will be monitored for life! I was told flat out, that I will never be cancer free! It has spread to my clavicle region and my chest. Surgery is not an option and it is chemo resistant. Once I’m lucky enough for it to grow, I can get external beam radiation with no guarantees. The left side of my neck and head are numb due to nerve damage. Imagine feeling like a rubber band is constantly being snapped on your face and neck and things are crawling in your ears all day long. Imagine stomach issues sometimes so bad, that you are afraid of leaving the house? Imagine having GERD so bad, that you must sleep in a sitting position for days at a time – if you are lucky enough TO sleep. Imagine sores in your nose and mouth due to extreme dryness that it hurts to sniff or swallow. Just some of the perks from being lucky enough to just “swallow a pill”. I won’t even mention the other list of symptoms or medications I am on just to get through the day. I face this with strength and hope! My loved ones rarely see me lose it. I probably am a bit to blame in making it look easy, but it is anything BUT. Please understand that in the future, when you want to downplay someone’s journey – do your research first. You appear quite ignorant to me. I no longer feel anger at you. I feel like you will learn from your mistake in printing such an absurd piece. I’ve lost a lot because of this cancer, but never my will to fight, educate, advocate and adding a splash of humor. I AM a warrior and WILL be a survivor once again!

    The 6 Injustices of Cancer
    Remission does not mean recovery. The medical community pronounces patients “done” once their final treatments of chemo, radiation or surgery are over. However, for most people with cancer this is where the real challenges begin….
    http://WWW.HUFFINGTONPOST.COM
    Like · · Share
    Sherry Walz-Eisenhardt

  17. Thank you for your well thought out response to the offensive blog. I’m a 10 year survivor and am still dealing with thyroid cancer. There is so much more that needs to be done to raise awareness and I’m thankful for people like you who use their platform for education.

  18. Thank you for writing this post. I did not read the original article but have followed the reaction it gathered on the ThyCa support Facebook page. I read your book when it first came out, and I am glad that we have you as a voice to describe what we have been through and raise awareness of thyroid cancer. It certainly is not always, if ever, easy. We all have our own experiences, and I know that it was not at all easy for me, at 29 years old, with a toddler to care for, a new job, a wonderful husband but not much of a social network to help us navigating the surgery, the side effects and complications as well as RAI and its aftermath. Now, 7 years later, I just came back from my annual ultrasound today, a process which is always nerve wrecking, and learned that there are a couple of spots that we need to keep an eye on, just in case. Not fun, not easy. Happy to be alive though and thankful for science.

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