I’m a dental hygienist and have always thought of myself as a healthy person. I like to walk, swim and spend time with friends. I am also very close with my family. Over the years, I’ve taken up scrapbooking – it’s become a great way to help extend my travels with those I love by looking at pictures and documenting all of our memories. One of the most recent and memorable trips, that holds an especially dear place in my heart, was our vacation to Italy, last year. Sure, it was actually my second time there, but this time was different. See, beyond the fact that it was an adventure with family to the Amalfi Coast with amazing seafood and wine, it was extra special for me this time. Why, you ask? Over the past several years, I’ve been faced with a surprising diagnosis. And, there was a time when I was not really sure if my travels would continue.

In 2007, at the age of 36, I went in for a regular check-up with my doctor. I did not anticipate anything beyond a routine appointment, given I had no symptoms or complaints. However, when my doctor felt my neck, she noticed something different. My thyroid was enlarged and I was immediately sent for an ultrasound. Following an ultrasound-guided biopsy – as a ‘healthy 30-something’ with no family history of thyroid problems – I began a new chapter of my life that I never would have anticipated: I had thyroid cancer. I was in shock, but didn’t cry. I wasn’t afraid – I immediately moved into action and knew I needed to take care of myself. Now what?

Time to schedule treatment

Thankfully, with the help of my surgeon, Dr. David Goldenberg, his nurse Betty and their amazing Penn State Health team, my initial surgery following diagnosis happened fairly quickly. I was diagnosed in October and in December he performed my thyroidectomy. At the time of my surgery (which included a total neck dissection), 30 of the 60 lymph nodes they removed were cancerous. After my initial procedure, I was monitored with blood tests and neck ultrasounds. Over the course of the next few years, I had a few recurrences, which indicated that I had a more aggressive case of thyroid cancer.

After four years, four surgical procedures, two radioactive iodine treatments, and finally one negative biopsy, I was finally ‘cancer-free’ in November of 2011 – that’s when I cried. When the doctor told me it was a negative biopsy, I felt such a wave of relief and a mix of emotions – I could finally let go. I had been fighting for four years and now my long and difficult journey was finally over.

What made the difference for me?

Throughout my journey, I had an amazing support system of friends and family and of course, my doctors. On top of that, there were people whom I hadn’t talked with for a long time, but when they heard what I was going through, they reached out and asked how they could help, too. I had people I could talk to and cry with. They let me ‘be’—I could share any emotions with them and it was okay. This was the one time in my life where I felt like I wasn’t in charge, which was difficult. But the strength I gained from sharing this experience with the people around me made the difference. I soon realized the importance and significance of a solid support system.

Dr. Goldenberg and his nurse Betty are just the tops – they always made me feel at ease when I walked into the office. Dr. Goldenberg was open and honest during my treatment. It might not have been what I wanted to hear, but his compassion and honesty were greatly appreciated!

My revelation

After I found out that there was no evidence of disease, it was my turn to give back! I wanted to give back to the community; a community that was so good to me and so kind throughout my own journey. I wanted and needed to ‘be there’ for others.

Right out of the gate, I volunteered for the American Cancer Society. But, it wasn’t long before Dr. Goldenberg approached me to initiate and lead a local chapter of the national thyroid cancer support group, known as ThyCa. I jumped at the chance!

Throughout my whole ordeal, I learned so much about trust, the power of relationships and the strength that comes with support from others. What better way for me to ‘give back,’ than to ‘pay it forward.’ If even one little piece of my experience can make their journey easier or shine a light of hope for other cancer patients and survivors, that’s all I need to know.

I know that everyone’s story is different, but it’s so important to stay positive. Hopefully this support group will give others the opportunity to share their story, voice their concerns, or just talk – anything to help them feel better and know that they aren’t alone.

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