Kathy Melillo is a 50-year-old wife and mother of two beautiful daughters. She was living on a military base in Misawa, Japan at the time she found out about her disease. Symptoms she was experiencing were repeated sinus infections and swelling in the neck. After the doctor checked her neck regularly for a few months, an ultrasound and CT scan was done which revealed that Kathy had suspicious looking nodules with many calcifications.
She went back to the US without her family for further evaluation at Huntsman Cancer Institute where she met a wonderful team of doctors including her surgeon Dr. Brandon G. Bentz.
I was diagnosed with Stage IVA papillary thyroid cancer on January 26, 2011. I had a very aggressive tumor that was wrapped around my vocal cord. I had my total thyroid removed along with a right and left neck dissection, in surgery for over 7 hours with 58 lymph nodes removed and 19 which were positive for cancer.
My surgeon had to leave cancer in my body on my nerve that controls my voice.
In addition to the cancer, it was discovered that Kathy also has Hashimotos disease – an autoimmune disease in which your body attacks your thyroid.
After 5 ½ months, Kathy was able to return back to Japan with her family after the Radioactive Iodine (RAI) Treatment and then transferred back to the Colorado (USA) to ensure she received proper follow-up care. Her surgeon, Dr. Bentz referred her to a wonderful team of doctors at the University of Colorado Hospital where she met another great surgeon Dr. John I. Song.
Months later it was found that Kathy had another cancerous nodule and her body was RAI resistant which added another twist to her story. After careful monitoring over the last 3 years, her doctors came to the conclusion that the best course of action is to go ahead with nothing other than TSH suppression therapy. Amidst all this, Kathy and her family discovered that one of her daughters also has the Hashimotos disease that the doctors are monitoring closely.
Kathy attended the support group meetings at the Denver ThyCa (Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association) support group, which were truly helpful for her. It was 90 minutes from where she lived, but it was worth it.
I can tell you I have learned more about my disease from this group than my doctors, as doctors are so limited in the time that they have for their patients. This group has so many wonderful people that I have been able to develop lasting friendships with.
Inspired by this she has started another local support group in her community – Colorado Springs ThyCa (Thyroid Cancer Survivor’s Association) support group.
Cancer has taken its toll on Kathy physically with the TSH suppression that has had many side effects in order to keep the disease from spreading to other parts of the body such as very severe fatigue and cardiac issues with very high heart rate. Finally after 4 years of trial and error, Kathy’s endocrinologist, Dr. Mark P. Bridenstine has been very instrumental in getting her on the right drug, with the right dosage that works for her body.
Many of us hear that this is the so called “easy or good cancer” and let me tell you it is far from it. Plainly put no cancer is “good.” Sure most of us may not have to go through harsh chemo treatments, but it is a cancer which requires lifetime monitoring. With these experiences I feel that I can embrace my fears and keep moving forward with the confidence that if I can survive cancer NOTHING IS IMPOSSSIBLE!
The advice that I would give anyone reading this is to be aware of your own body. You know your own body best. Don’t ignore any symptom, no matter how minor it may be. It is always best to check with your doctor to be sure. The best advice I would give anyone diagnosed with thyroid cancer is to find a good medical team.
Read Kathy’s full cancer survivor story, visit her cancer blog here.
Thank you Kathy for sharing your brave story.
We wish people learn to go for regular health check-ups and understand the significance of the right doctor’s diagnosis.
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