Members of our Annie James thyroid cancer community open up and share stories of their diagnosis, treatments and so much more...
I really didn’t know much about the thyroid gland until the Fall of 2016 when my primary care doctor felt a small lump in my neck and encouraged me to have it more closely looked at. A unique butterfly - shaped organ, the thyroid contributes to so much of your body’s normal functioning - from regulating hormones, controlling weight gain and weight loss to body temperature and sleep patterns. After a series of tests and a biopsy, that small lump turned out to be a cancerous nodule that needed to be removed. Cancer? What?! I was a young, healthy 23-year old who played lacrosse in college and was constantly active and taking care of myself. How could this be? I ended up having close to a five hour surgery otherwise known as a “thyroidectomy” where I had my entire thyroid removed as well as 15 lymph nodes in the neck area - 4 of which had cancer cells in them. I learned pretty quickly what the thyroid does for the body, not having one anymore, and soon became inspired to share my story and meet others who had also experienced Thyroid Cancer or other issues involving the thyroid gland. I was fortunate to be able to connect with Anne through Instagram soon after my surgery and learn more about her history and her mission to spread information about the disease. Anne is a dear friend and I am proud to support her and her quest to raise awareness about the thyroid and Thyroid Cancer - especially in September which marks Thyroid Cancer Awareness month.
I love Annie James because not only are the products beautiful but the mission is powerful. The proceeds from the necklaces directly support thyroid cancer patients. According to the American Cancer Society, “women are three times more likely to develop Thyroid Cancer then men.” As a survivor myself, it’s important to me to help people, especially young women, understand the importance of the thyroid gland and to regularly check their necks to make sure that everything is in order. I wear my necklace with pride and am constantly asked about it which allows me to open up about my experience and help raise awareness for others.
Thank you, Anne and Annie James for all you have done to spread recognition about the importance of “getting a neck check” and the impact that Thyroid Cancer has on people across the world. I am honored to wear your jewelry and share my story about my Thyroid Cancer journey with others and I look forward to seeing the company continue to grow and more and more people become aware about the value of the thyroid to the functioning of their bodies.
- Holly F.
I was diagnosed with both follicular and papillary thyroid cancer 6 years ago at age 58. I would not have known I had any thyroid issues or cancer except for a pain in my shoulder that I thought might be a pulled muscle. I went in for an MRI for my shoulder and they saw nodules on my thyroid that looked suspicious. It turned out I had 5 cancerous nodules. (Meanwhile my shoulder was fine!)
I had a complete thyroidectomy followed by radioactive iodine treatment. The recovery process for both were difficult. The Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association (ThyCa, Inc.) was a great support organization during this time, and I still attend conferences and support group programs. I was also diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) at about the same time. The balancing act between RA and Thyroid issues has been a learning experience, and I am still learning what things work, what meds help, and how keeping positive and strong helps!
Last year, I was looking for something special to celebrate and mark my 5 year cancer survival, when I saw Annie James jewelry on my Instagram feed. I read about her jewelry designs, and about her cancer, and how she donates a portion of her proceeds to CancerCare, helping thyroid cancer patients’ mange the cost of long term treatment. I was so moved by that. I purchased one of her necklaces as a special treat to myself and as a donation for CancerCare. I wear the necklace all the time. It is beautiful and I love the butterfly clasp (shape of thyroid gland). It helps me remember all I went through and also keeps me grounded in knowing how well I am doing now. I feel blessed and am doing well at 6 years out!
I encourage everyone to get a neck check. Follow up with your endocrinologist, blood tests, etc. Join a support group. Thyroid cancer is on the rise and is often caught by “accident”.
Thank you to Annie James for all her work in bringing light to this and also to the ThyCa, Inc., and CancerCare.
- Jann S.
Even though my scar is slowly fading away, it still reminds me of that terrifying cold February morning. That morning has changed my life forever, but it was for the better. Who knew that a small butterfly shaped organ hiding away in the neck could be so important. I didn't. I always knew I was different, but never knew why or how.
As a child I loved the outdoors. I loved going out playing in the dirt, grass and the rain. But my favorite thing to do was to capture the beauty of the delicate two winged insects called butterflies. Their elegance and poise made me wish I could sometimes fly with them. My favorite was the orange monarch butterfly. It always has and always will be.
When I turned sixteen, I expected to be getting my learners permit, then my license, never anything else. I was at my dentist appointment for a basic teeth cleaning, when the dental assistant came over to do a neck check. She said it was a new procedure to help find abnormalities that are not supposed to be there. She was feeling around and felt around the right side and paused. She called Dr. Crowley into the room to have a second opinion. After feeling my neck for what felt like forever she got up, left the room and called my mom. She told her that I need to have my neck checked out by a specialist because one side was not normal. A few weeks later I visited a few doctors and they took some tests. They all said the same thing. The mass that was in the right side of my neck was just called a goiter and there was nothing to worry about. I was kept on watch, until December of 2012 when things changed.
My primary doctor noticed that my goiter had grown larger and it was now a concern. I was referred to Dr. Goller, an endocrine specialist. She took a few ultrasounds of my thyroid and noticed that it had calcifications inside. Dr. Goller requested that I have a biopsy done on it to determine if my "goiter" was anything worse. On January 6, 2013, I had my biopsy and on January 10, 2013 at 10:32 in the morning I received a call from Dr. Goller. My greatest fear was becoming my reality. The results of my biopsy had come back and it was not good news.
I had Stage 2 Papillary Carcinoma Thyroid Cancer.
I was so convinced that there was nothing wrong with me; I thought I was perfectly healthy. I spent the rest of the day locked in my room. I could hear my mom and dad sobbing outside of my door, wondering how this could happen to their little girl. Later on, that day, we went to Dr. Goller's office. We talked for a bit. She eventually connected us to the best endocrine surgeon in New England, Dr. Phytayakorn.
After the meeting with Dr. Phytayakorn, I felt the first moment of security since being diagnosed. He made me feel calm, gave me confidence, and treated me like I was family. I went back to Becker College where I spoke to the dean of students explaining to her why I have to withdraw. She told me I had twenty-four hours to remove everything from my room, turn in my housing keys, and my electronic fob. I had twenty-four hours to remove a part of my life, to leave my friends, and say goodbye to my current life. While cleaning out my room I completely lost it. I screamed until I had no air in my lungs, "Why me!? Why me!? I am so young!?" I was so angry, but that's all I could say. I was petrified for my life. After leaving Becker, I went into a deep place. I didn't want to do anything. I lost all touch with my friends from school; no one but my parents and my brothers knew about my cancer. I couldn't and didn't want to tell people. I didn't want sympathy, I just wanted to be cancer free.
The day before my surgery I decided that I was not going to sit around my house and be scared. So, I went out. I ate all the food I loved, and had fun but the last twenty-four hours went by too fast. On February 20, I woke up at 6:30am before anyone was awake. I questioned if I really wanted to continue with this. If I ran away, how long I could stay hidden? It eventually came to me that I have to be brave and I would be fine.
Going into Boston, I spent the entire drive staring at the sky watching the airplanes, wishing I was on one flying away from my reality. We arrived at Mass General Hospital around 7:00am and by 8:00am I was dressed and saying ‘see you later’ to my big brothers. I told them that they are the best older brothers a little sister could ask for and that I loved them. At 8:10am the nurse came in to bring me to the operating room. My mom and dad walked down the frigid and lonely halls with me. Before entering the operating room, I hugged and kissed my parents, I told them that I love them more than anything in the world, I will be ok and I will see them soon.
I woke up eight hours later in the recovery room. The nurses explained the doctor had to also remove twenty-nine lymph nodes. I couldn’t talk louder that a soft whisper. The nurses said that it was normal because they had to use a tube and my voice should return within a few days; it didn't. When I was finally allowed to have guests, my parents came in first and the smile on their face still brings tears to my eyes. Soon after my two brothers came into my room and for the first time in my life I saw my big brothers crying – happy tears.
I spent one terrible night in the hospital and I was released the next day. I felt useless, powerless and unneeded. I couldn't even take a sip of water without aspirating on it. About a week after my surgery I went to my doctor’s office to remove the dressing. It looked great but I had a problem, I still was voiceless. I was frightened that it would never come back. I use to be able to hit higher than the highest note on the piano. My voice was my sanity, I would sing whenever I was happy, sad, angry or bored, but my voice was just gone. My voice eventually came back, but it wasn't the same as it was before, and I couldn't sing like I used to.
In May of 2013, I found out that I needed to go through a procedure called Radioactive Iodine (RAI) because there was a cancerous lymph node that was left behind. I was put on a special diet where I couldn't eat any soy, salt, processed foods, and dairy. After I was done, I was never so happy to drink a glass of ice cold two percent low fat hood milk. Life seemed to be getting back to normal. I was in Boston every month for check-ups, blood tests, and additional scans all to make sure that the RAI was successful. It had become a tradition of mine with my mother to visit the North End after each doctor visit. This made the drive and all the needles almost worth it. Unfortunately, the RAI was unsuccessful. The lymph node did not change in size and was still deemed a potential threat. This meant another round of RAI, another strict diet, and another moment in my life I just wanted to be over with. After my second round of RAI was over in July of 2014, the doctors noticed that the lymph node had begun to shrink! Finally, the good news I had been hoping for. I was finally in remission!
Now 6 years later, I am cancer free. It was the scariest years of my life, but without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t have met my amazing fiancée, met my amazing best friend, and I wouldn’t be a mom to the little boy who is sleeping in the next room. Because of cancer, I gained more than I lost. All I have left to remind me of my cancer is a scar, the memories, and custom made necklace with a little butterfly hanging on the back. Who knew that a small butterfly shaped gland hiding away in the neck could be so important. I do, now.
- Celina B.