Surviving Thyroid Cancer: Rick’s Story [video]

Video author: Streaming Well
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Video Transcript
Rick was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2004...

I felt a lump when I shaved, and I didn't think anything about it. I thought maybe I had an infection or something that would just go away. But then I realized it wasn't going away. In fact, if anything it was getting bigger, so finally I called my doctor. He immediately ordered an MRI. So I went to the hospital on a Saturday, and I realized if he was making an appointment for me on a Saturday, it might be serious.

I remember the day clearly because the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. Thyroid cancer has lots of surprises. When you tell people you have thyroid cancer, it's typically referred to as the good cancer. I think something like 93% of thyroid cancer patients are cured with surgery and radioactive iodine, but for the 7% of people it's a very lethal, aggressive cancer.

After the fourth surgery Rick's prognosis changed...

After the third surgery, they realized that I still had cancer in my body, so we then arranged for a fourth surgery. It was during this fourth surgery that my surgeon said, "Rick, I might have to sacrifice your vocal cord to get the tumor out." As I was coming out of anesthesia, they said to me, "Rick, your prognosis has changed."

Rick had external beam radiation and chemotherapy.

Over the 6-week period, your throat, your neck, becomes very sore to the point that you really can't eat, so I pretty much survived on milkshakes and protein shakes. But I have a son who is a track runner, and he has a lot of discipline, and he used to talk about how he'd suck it up for a race, and at the end of a race he might be physically sick, he would run so hard. So I said to myself if my 15-year-old son can suck it up between training and a race, I can suck it up for 6 weeks.

Rick had two further surgeries to remove tumors in his chest. After two and a half years his tumors returned.

That's when I went to my next treatment, which is a targeted therapy. I was on this targeted therapy for 2-1/2 years, and I've never had such good news in my life. After a month or 2 or 3 of this targeted therapy, my tumors shrank to almost nothing.

After two and a half years Rick's tumors reappeared... He then started a phase 1 clinical trial...

I was on for a couple of months. It made me incredibly sick, and it didn't work. But, it wasn't so bad, because we knew there were other therapies I could try.

Throughout treatment Rick experienced many side effects...

The worst side effect for me was called hand and foot syndrome. My feet and hands would blister, get red, get sore to the point that I really could not walk comfortably, and I would really hobble into the office. Other side effects that do take place that have been difficult in addition to fatigue are nausea and diarrhea. And again, if you're proactive you can take careful notes of what you're eating and try to stay away from the things that give you diarrhea or nausea. It doesn't work 100%, but you don't have to be a victim all the time.

Rick finds ways to cope with his side effects...

Photography is a great interest of mine. I really enjoy going out there into nature to different places and taking shots, and I think it's been of particular interest to me now, having had cancer for 9 years, I find getting in nature and getting away from the normal day is really helpful for me. That and doing Tai Chi and very long meditative stretches that also both help me physically but also dealing with cancer, dealing with the anxiety of what's coming next.

Rick received support from many sources including... ThyCa -, and his friends and family.

I've really been fortunate to have tremendous support from the beginning of my illness, and I'll start with my wife. My wife, always with me. At the doctor's offices, doctor's appointments. She comes with me. She always has come, and she takes all the notes. I also decided to go see my Rabbi, and he used words that have stayed with me to this day. The best advice he gave about kids was there's a difference between full disclosure and telling the truth. I was able to say to the kids, "There are a number of treatments available. We hope that they work. If the first one doesn't work, we've got many more to try," and I could keep it at that.

Rick has hope for the future.

When you're first diagnosed, you're looking for the cure, you're looking for the guarantee that you're going to be okay, so as a patient you do have to get over that guarantee concept to the point where you can be happy to live with hope.

ThyCa - Many thanks to ThyCa for helping us to tell Rick's story.
Eisai - This activity was initiated and supported by Eisai.
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