Erica Stiles, a student in the physician assistant program at Touro University Nevada in Henderson, agreed to play a patient as part of a classroom ultrasound demonstration last year.
That decision may have saved her life.
During the demonstration, her professor noted that she appeared to have nodules on her thyroid and urged her to get them checked.
The three nodules were biopsied on Valentine’s Day. Three days later, the then-25-year-old was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
On Tuesday, Stiles spoke about her experience at the opening of a new ultrasound training facility at Touro, which, with 1,500 students, is Nevada’s largest medical school.
She told the students, faculty and university officials that she knew firsthand the importance of a proper ultrasound training program to educate highly skilled medical providers, as the early diagnosis of her cancer may have saved her life.
The training facility — a room equipped with a series of patient tables, each with its own piece of ultrasound equipment — was constructed and equipped through a $150,000 contribution from health services company OptumCare, a university spokeswoman said.
In an interview, Stiles, now 26, said she had no symptoms and no idea that she had cancer.
Her thyroid was removed in April, and she returned to school a week later. The cancer was caught relatively early, she said, and it hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes in her neck.
“I don’t really believe in coincidences,” the native Nevadan said. “I believe that I was in this program at this time for this specific reason,” allowing the cancer to be caught.
She said she is grateful to have learned “what patients go through when they get this kind of diagnosis.”
Stiles, who is scheduled to graduate from the 27-month program in November, said of her cancer experience, “I believe this will help me to be a better provider.”