Thyroid Cancer: Conversation with a Survivor

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Guest: Dr. Terry A. Day - Head and Neck Surgeon

Guest: Pax Darlington - Cancer survivor

Host: Dr. Linda Austin - Psychiatrist

Dr. Linda Austin: I am Dr. Linda Austin. Today, I am talking with Dr. Terry Day who is a Head and Neck Surgeon at the Medical University of South Carolina and also in the studio in the studio we have a cancer survivor Mr. Pax Darlington, who has had thyroid cancer and he is going to be talking with us about his experiences. Mr. Darlington what was the first sign or symptom you had of cancer.

Pax Darlington: I actually had no symptoms. The lump on my thyroid was discovered in a routine physical by my family physician. Dr. Day is that common for a thyroid tumor to show for the first time as a result of a physical or is it more common for people to actually have a symptom.

Dr. Terry A. Day: Yes, I think it speaks very highly to Pax’s physician for identifying this when it was probably not even felt by Pax, but only by the physician. So, he identified it very studley and it just means he did an excellent physical examination. It is interesting, now in 2007 that people with thyroid nodules are picked up incidentally when they are getting a CAT scan or an MRI or ultrasound for other reasons. So many people that have thyroid cancer are picked up much sooner now and that’s very fortunate in many cases.

Dr. Linda Austin: Well, it really speaks to how important it is to have that annual physical examination. So, you then, I am sure had diagnostic workup. Which consisted of what, what tests were run?

Pax Darlington: MRIs, CAT scans, and ultimately a needle biopsy. People shouldn’t be scared by that, it was relatively painless.

Dr. Linda Austin: And how did you end up coming to Hollings Cancer Center. How did you make that decision?

Pax Darlington: A family member had a strong presence here. I had watched as the hospital and particularly Hollings, it grown over the years and felt like it was the best place for me after doing some research.

Dr. Linda Austin: One of the things that a Cancer Center can offer is a group of people around you, a real team approach. What was that like for you, who were the people you interacted with?

Pax Darlington: Oh! Gosh. I think at one time my wife and I counted up eleven doctors. Radiation, oncology, endocrinologists, obviously, Terry the surgeon, and speech therapists, and nutritionists and at this point, now that I am going through the aftercare the team approach really makes me feel comfortable because somebody is looking at me every three months and I feel pretty good about that.

Dr. Linda Austin: What kinds of treatment did you have?

Pax Darlington: The first time I had the radioactive ablation, which consists of a radioactive pill and that was the extent of it. I did have a reoccurrence that ended up in the lymph nodes and the lymph nodes in left side of my neck were removed and we then did another nuclear ablation with the pill as well as with radioactive x-ray treatment to the neck.

Dr. Linda Austin: And when did this start? How long ago did you have your first treatment?

Pax Darlington: First time was I believe 2001.

Dr. Linda Austin: So, it’s really been six years. It’s quiet a long time.

Pax Darlington: It is.

Dr. Linda Austin: And your reoccurrence was when?

Pax Darlington: 2003.

Dr. Linda Austin: So, you have been in remission then for quite a long time as well. That’s wonderful. Did you have to take off time from work to get treated?

Pax Darlington: I did, but primarily you know, the team approach when you are first diagnosed, for about three weeks I was seeing somebody at MUSC just about everyday and following the surgery, the one set back that I did have was to go off of my voice to come back, but it seems to be doing okay now.

Dr. Linda Austin: Dr. Day, I am interested in the story from your point view. Is this is a pretty typical path for someone with thyroid cancer to take?

Dr. Terry Day: Well, sometimes the thyroid cancer are treated differently and Pax had received some treatment for a few years before we saw him and when the tumor did come back and it was around some very dangerous structures, his voice box, his windpipe, his esophagus and wrapped around the nerve that goes to his vocal cords. So, it was very complicated and extensive surgery and this does happen occasionally and it seems like its happening more frequently across the United States. That, this is affecting young people and many times aggressive surgery can control the disease when the iodine treatments and the other radiation don’t work.

Dr. Linda Austin: Well, you look fantastic. You look like the picture of health and it’s a great story that cancer said when I was in training many years ago would have been, you know very scary and I am sure this still was scary, but here you are six years later doing well and thriving. Dr. Day, did you have any other comments you want to make about this?

Dr. Terry Day: Oh! I just think that it’s very important for the family physicians to keep a close eye on their patients and not hesitate to do the full examination and if something is found, go ahead and refer to somebody that have more thorough evaluation, biopsy or diagnostic test so that people can be treated earlier.

Dr. Linda Austin: Is there anybody at particular risk for examples someone with family history of thyroid cancer?

Dr. Terry Day: Family history is significant also. People that have ever worked around any x-rays or radiation, anybody that’s work around the nuclear power plant have been exposed to radiation beams also have a higher risk.

Dr. Linda Austin: Thank you so much Pax Darlington and Dr. Terry Day.

Pax Darlington: Thank you.

Dr. Terry Day: Thank you.

Announcer: If you have any questions about the services or programs offered at the Medical University of South Carolina or if you would like to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians, please call MUSC Health Connection at 1-843-792-1414.


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