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Thyroid cancer truths: Challenge shines light on disease

(BPT) – When thyroid cancer survivor Victoria Ballesteros went into surgery to have a benign lump removed from her neck at age 38, she had no idea she would wake up alone with a diagnosis of metastatic papillary thyroid cancer. Before walking out of the room, her surgeon told her not to worry because she had gotten “the best cancer you can get.”

Most people never give their thyroid a thought until something goes wrong. Yet, more than 20 million Americans have some type of thyroid condition. Thyroid cancer in particular is on the rise with tens of thousands of people in the U.S. being diagnosed every year. Because most thyroid cancers can be successfully treated, many are told if you are going to get cancer, thyroid cancer is the one to have. However, whether successfully treated or not, the truth is all cancers can have a significant impact on a person’s life, beginning with the shock and distress of hearing the word “cancer” at diagnosis.

“A cancer diagnosis changes your life no matter what kind of cancer it is,” says Ballesteros, board member of ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc. “My thyroid cancer continues to influence my daily life and it’s important for people to understand that patients continue to be affected long after diagnosis and treatment.”

The long-term physical and emotional impact:

* What many do not know is that, because most thyroid cancers grow slowly and can recur in up to 30 percent of patients even 10 to 20 years after initial treatment, follow-up care is needed to check for cancer recurrence or spread, as well as possible side effects of certain treatments. Because thyroid cancer can recur decades later, this care can continue for a lifetime and can be associated with anxiety.

* Since thyroid cancer often requires surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid, many patients must take daily hormone replacement medication for the rest of their lives.

* Some patients also experience a challenging post-surgery complication called hypoparathyroidism, a lack of parathyroid hormone, which helps regulate calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D levels in the blood and bones. This can lead to muscle cramps and spasms, brittle nails, dry hair and skin, seizures, and cataracts, among other issues.

* Together, treatment-related effects and the emotional impact of the disease can cause some patients to experience ongoing challenges, including lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, weight gain, memory loss, migraines and depression.

* Both long-term and short-term complications can occur as a result of treatment. Some of these include nausea, vomiting, pain, loss of taste, voice weakness, excessive tearing from blocked tear ducts, and blocked salivary ducts, which lead to dry mouth and dental issues, including tooth loss.

“Thyroid cancer patients across the spectrum experience long-term and sometimes debilitating physical and emotional side effects from their disease,” said Marcia Brose, MD, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Rare Cancers and Personalized Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center.* “Patients with all stages of thyroid cancer deserve to have access to information on their specific disease and feel supported by their friends, family and healthcare providers.”

In order to bring awareness to the significant impacts of thyroid cancer, the Light of Life Foundation, ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, Inc., and Eisai Inc. have partnered to launch an interactive, educational campaign, “Myths and Truths About Thyroid Cancer,” designed to raise awareness of the many types of thyroid cancer and illustrate the life-changing realities of this disease. The “Myths and Truths About Thyroid Cancer” campaign emphasizes the need for patients to have support and resources specific to their experience long after their initial diagnosis. People can support patients living with the disease and raise awareness of thyroid cancer by participating in the #TruthAboutTC Challenge.

“My father has been living with thyroid cancer for more than 20 years and has had multiple surgeries and recurrences, so when my surgeon told me I had gotten “the best cancer you can get”, I was devastated. I’m not sure he understood how that sounded. I felt like my experience wasn’t being taken seriously, and that is not reflective of everything I’ve overcome,” says Ballesteros. “A campaign like this is needed to help educate about the many types of thyroid cancer and encourage better understanding of the ongoing struggles of patients with this disease.”

The #TruthAboutTC Challenge:

For each person that uploads a photo on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram holding a sign with #TruthAboutTC and tags friends to participate, Eisai will donate $1 up to a total of $50,000 to the Light of Life Foundation and ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association to help the organizations continue to provide resources and support to those living with thyroid cancer, and help improve conversations between patients and their physicians. Thyroid cancer patients can help further raise awareness by also sharing a “truth” about their thyroid cancer experience in their #TruthAboutTC posts.

People can visit the Light of Life Foundation at www.lightoflifefoundation.org and ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association at www.thyca.org for more information on the different types of thyroid cancer, support and resources.

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