TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A reporter’s comfort zone is telling the story, not being the story. Investigative reporters, in particular, have a tendency to be coined a “pain in the neck.”
But humor me as I turn the tables for a moment to share my story about my (literal) pain in the neck.
This saga began in June with a cryptic email. No body. Just a subject line.
“Hi. Just saw your news report. What concerned me is the lump on your neck. Please have your thyroid checked. Reminds me of my neck. Mine turned out to be cancer. Take care of yourself.”
She signed her name, but that was all.
I didn’t know whether to panic or totally disregard this email. Was this a medical professional? A troll? An optical illusion from some weird lighting in my live shot?
My lovingly-pushy boyfriend, who is well aware of my predisposition to shrugging things off and pretending I’m invincible, forced a phone into my hand and I called my primary care physician to schedule an appointment.
My PCP agreed something was up with my thyroid. My neck was a bit puffy. The glands were swollen. Her guess was hypothyroidism, considering it runs in my family, so she ordered blood work and an ultrasound.
The good news? Blood work came back okay! Bad news: There was a large and very suspicious-looking nodule growing smack in the center of my thyroid.
COVID-19 created some delays in finally getting in to see the specialists at Tampa General’s thyroid cancer center. But this Tuesday, I finally got my answer: Thyroid cancer, spreading to my lymph nodes.
The doctor asked if I had any questions. Did I have any questions?! I’m a journalist. My head was EXPLODING with questions.
What? When? How? Am I going to die? Will this affect my voice? Will I be forced to forever don a turtleneck in the scorching Florida sun to hide an unsightly scar?
Instead, I asked, “what’s the game plan?” That’s how it happens in a newsroom. Chaos ensues. We take care of it. We move on.
So, here’s our coverage plan: I’ll be off next week to undergo surgery to remove my entire thyroid (pour one out, we spent a great 28 years together!) as well as some lymph nodes. The doctor will also perform a CT scan and biopsy some other lymph nodes to make sure it hasn’t spread anymore.
If all goes well, I’ll be back on WFLA in a week.
The only thing more overwhelming than this diagnosis has been the outpouring of love and support that I never would have anticipated in a million years. Dozens of thyroid cancer patients and survivors have reached out, including some people I know but had no clue they went through this.
So, as a reporter I immediately had to dig in. Just how common is this pesky disease, anyway?
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 52,890 new thyroid cancer cases have been diagnosed in 2020. Of those, the vast majority (roughly 75 percent) were women.
There is no such thing as “good” cancer, but thankfully thyroid cancer is not a lethal cancer. The five-year survival rate is 98 percent and while women are far more likely to develop thyroid cancer, statistically they’re about equally as susceptible to die from it.
As for the woman who emailed me, I’ve yet to connect with her. I sent an empathic thank you email earlier this week but never heard back. Maybe she was a guardian angel? Who knows. If you’re reading this, don’t feel obligated to write back. You’ve already done so much more than you may realize.
At WFLA, we pride ourselves on being “On Your Side.” I’m forever grateful for this viewer who was on MY side.
I’m also thankful to have this job and WFLA as a platform to advocate and educate. I hope you’ll follow along on my journey. I’ll post some updates later next week once the gnarly drains have been removed and the drugs wear off a little.