An Accidental Lifesaver (cont.)

During the surgery, the half of the thyroid where the nodule resides is removed, and a pathologist is on standby to confirm or deny if it is thyroid cancer. If it is, then the other half of the thyroid is removed. If not, the other half of the thyroid is left alone.

Ken opted for surgery. Ken chose the surgeon who had inserted tubes in his son's ears to stop his chronic ear infections 13 years ago. Ken also felt comfortable with the surgeon because when they met, the surgeon showed him information and pictures straight from!

By the time Ken underwent the surgery, the thyroid nodule had grown to roughly the size of a walnut. The pathologist confirmed that it indeed was thyroid cancer, so Ken's entire thyroid was removed.

"The scary thing with having surgery on your thyroid is that they're cutting open right where all your vocal cords are, and they make you sign all this paperwork that X, Y, and Z can happen," Ken said.

After the surgery, Ken was weaned off his medication because it would interfere with the radiation therapy he needed to ensure all the cancer was eradicated. His radiation therapy consisted of one megadose of radioactive iodine followed by 3 days of isolation.

After the radiation treatment, he was able to begin his thyroid hormone replacement with Synthroid again, although it took a few weeks to take effect. Without it in his system, Ken's speech and movement slowed significantly, which made his work as a designer extremely difficult. So, in addition to the Synthroid, Ken was prescribed liothyronine sodium (Cytomel), which was to work quicker and stronger than the Synthroid in getting his hormone levels back to normal. However, Ken was soon taken off the Cytomel because his hands and feet started peeling as a side effect from the drug.

Today, 48-year-old Ken is cancer-free and on Synthroid for life. His hormone levels are right on target and he regularly gets his blood checked for this. Once a year, he has a nuclear scan to make sure he's still cancer-free.

Ken has lost weight and is back to surfing, running, and keeping up with his two teenage kids.

"I think mentally, for me, dropping the extra 35 to 40 pounds was a big boost," Ken said. "The fact that you're able to lose the weight: It helps stimulate everything else; it kind of puts you back on the right track, at least it did for me."

In just a few years, Ken conquered cancer and is back to normal. He said he feels fortunate, especially when so many others with his condition are still struggling with their medication, weight, or both.

"I definitely have a new perspective on life. When you have a scare like that, things like, I want to go here, do that, see this...I'm taking the steps now to do those things. For example, I've always wanted to go to Australia, and so I just recently booked the trip," Ken said. "Traveling for me has always been kind of shelved, but why wait? Why put it off? If it's something you truly want to do, do it. Because you know, 2 years from now, you may not be around!"

Ken Brown,* thyroid cancer patient, Orange County, California.

* The patient's name has been changed to protect his privacy.

Last Editorial Review: 9/4/2012