September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month

Yeah, thyroid cancer exists

And I’ve got a scar to prove it. And yeah, September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Now you know; welcome to the small club of people who know about it. I can just see you tipping your head to the side, like, “Really?’ Yeah. Like, really.

It’s actually the fifth most common cancer in women.

You’re probably wondering if this is anything you should actually be worrying about, and the answer is, most likely… not, but thyroid dysfunction is very common and it is always good to keep an eye on it. In my case, hypothyroidism runs in my family, but I’m the only one to get cancer (lucky me). I was as shocked as you probably are right now! Actually, I was mortified.

My story

I was 28 years old. I had just completed my first FULL marathon in February (The Austin Marathon). After logging dozens of miles a week and eating a (mostly) healthy diet, I noticed I was not really losing any weight. I didn’t train for a marathon to lose weight; that would be excessive! No, I just wanted to accomplish something amazing, but I just didn’t really see any difference in my body shape running all of those extra miles. I also felt cold all the time, and my hair and my eyebrows felt really thin. I knew hypothyroidism ran in my family, so I got it checked out by my Primary Care Physician (remember those?) and sure enough! An endocrinologist confirmed it: Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.*

That wasn’t cancer… yet.

That diagnosis came a year later after two fine needle biopsies in my neck confirmed papillary carcinoma. Then they took the entire thyroid out, and I had one round of radiation and a lifetime of taking a pill to stay alive. Oh, I also almost died due to low calcium/magnesium after the surgeon clipped my parathyroid and my body went into Tetany, so I also have to take calcium/magnesium supplements for life. I’m pretty sure I’d be one of the first to die if a zombie apocalypse broke out.

After it all happened, I wrote a five-entry blog about my experience; remember when blogspot started getting cool in 2010? 

If you read it, you will get a lot of information about my experience…maybe too much, but, it is not one of those fear-mongering blogs. Like, oooohh I got thyroid cancer, now everyone is at risk! Well, anything can happen, but rest assured, thyroid cancer is not that common, and according to my endocrinologist, it is the “best type of cancer.” Can you believe she actually said that to me? Sheesh!

So, what now?

So, if it’s not that common, you’re probably wondering, why am I reading this, then? Maybe you’re a hypochondriac. Maybe, you enjoy stories of overcoming trials and tribulations. Maybe you’re bored and you already read this far, so…might as well finish. Maybe it is reassuring to you to read about a form of cancer you probably DON’T have to worry about. Maybe you’re just weird.

Or, maybe, reading this will save your life.

It is super easy to check for thyroid cancer. Your thyroid is in the nape of your neck. It is a butterfly shaped gland that controls all your hormones, basically, and sometimes it can grow into what’s called a goiter. Are you feeling your neck now? Good. There’s no way you can tell on your own; go to your doctor and have them check your neck and do a blood test for TSH or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. If it’s too high, you’re hypo, if it’s too low, you’re hyperthyroid (also known as Graves Disease), which has a whole slew of other symptoms I didn’t have.

So, there you have it. Thyroid Cancer doesn’t have a 5K, or a cool colored ribbon, or a whole lot of funding behind it, most likely because it can be detected and corrected so “easily” (If what I went through was easy, I can’t even imagine what a more fatal disease would be like). But, it is cancer and people do die from it. I consider myself extremely blessed to be a survivor and able to help others who are going through what I experienced.

If anything, I hope this inspires a dialogue with your doctor in which you ask him or her to CHECK YOUR NECK! And for those of you who have survived it just like me, or are battling it now, you’re not alone!


*I am aware of the new books about how nutrition may reverse thyroid disease. At the time I was diagnosed, no such book or information existed to my knowledge. Even if it did, I don’t know that I would postpone cancer treatment to change my diet long enough to see results.

Erin Ellis
Erin owns Events by Erin, a custom event planning business and co-owns Ellis Designs LLC, a custom woodworking business with her husband, John Ellis. Together, their greatest design is their wonderful daughter, Elizabeth. Erin is an Austin native and graduated from the University of Texas in Austin with a degree in English. She lives in Round Rock, enjoys running, going to the movies and the beach, and of course, writing for Austin Moms Blog!


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