A Patient's Journey Through Thyroid Cancer


"If you feel like something isn't right, trust that feeling and talk with a medical professional. Trust your instincts."

New cases of thyroid cancer in the U.S. are expected to be higher than 56,000 in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society. Thyroid cancers affect the thyroid gland, located in the neck, which produces hormones to help regulate metabolism and influence the way the body uses calcium. Thyroid cancer has one of the lowest mortality rates for adult cancers because it is often diagnosed earlier than other cancers, but making sure you talk with your care provider is key.

For Kellie it took a while to go to her doctor. “I felt like something was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it,” Kellie tells us. “I was working nights and I had a big load and was busy at work, and I used that as an excuse for how I was feeling.” When Kellie finally saw her doctor in March, she wasn’t feeling any better and her doctor took note of her symptoms and her family history. During her exam, the doctor felt a nodule on Kellie’s thyroid.

Kellie’s mother had thyroid cancer in 2008, so learning that she had a nodule worried Kellie. After an ultrasound and a biopsy, the nodule on Kellie’s thyroid was diagnosed as cancer, and due to its size, full thyroid removal was recommended. “When I first heard the diagnosis I was worried about what it meant and how it would change my life,” says Kellie. After her surgery to remove her thyroid, a second biopsy found that the cancer had spread to Kellie’s lymph nodes, so she underwent radiation treatment. “In a lot of ways, my life was on hold during my treatment,” stresses Kellie. “But, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to be frustrated. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do during treatment, focus on your needs and getting better.”

Kellie is now cancer free and reveling in her newfound energy and desire to be active. She no longer feels so tired that a nap preoccupies her mind. Removal of the cancer has made a night and day difference for Kellie. She’s grateful for life and her future and happy to spend time with her family and her renewed outlook on what’s important in her life.

Kellie offers this bit of advice to anyone suffering from the symptoms of thyroid cancer: “If you feel like something isn’t right, trust that feeling and talk with a medical professional. Trust your instincts.”

The symptoms of thyroid cancer include: 
- A lump or swelling in the neck 
- Pain in the front of the neck sometimes radiating up to the ears 
- Hoarseness or other voice disturbances that do not resolve 
- Trouble swallowing 
- Trouble breathing 
- A constant cough not due to a cold or allergies

Kellie with her family

It’s often easy to ignore symptoms like fatigue and simply chalk them up to our modern, harried lifestyles. But, it’s important to take stock in what your body is telling you and discuss symptoms with your primary care doctor when those vague feelings of something being “not quite right” come up. That’s exactly what Kellie Rieben, a crisis worker, experienced prior to being diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma.