Nurse: 'Having thyroid cancer made me a better caregiver'
Karen Mae Perdon
As an MD Anderson research nurse whose mother and sister have both received cancer treatment, I understand what my patients – and especially their families – are going through. But my connection to cancer became even more personal when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2014. My mother had completed her breast cancer treatment here a year earlier, and she and my sister had always had good results. I thought we were in the clear.
Because my mom and sister both had breast cancer, I scheduled my mammogram at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. I also was due for a thyroid ultrasound. After my husband noticed a nodule on my thyroid a few years back, it had been monitored regularly by my primary care physician. I went ahead and scheduled my thyroid ultrasound at MD Anderson for the same day as my mammogram.
That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My breast exams came out clear, but my thyroid ultrasound did not.
Becoming a thyroid cancer patient
The radiologist said the ultrasound results showed characteristics suspicious for carcinoma. Right then and there we agreed to do a biopsy, which ended up showing atypical cells. I experienced so many emotions in such a short amount of time – disbelief, anxiety, fear and dismay. Things became a bit blurry after that, but I do remember thinking that despite the new finding, I was certain that God had put me in the right place at the right time.
It was a relief to see that everything was set into motion quickly after that. I was promptly scheduled to see surgeon Elizabeth Grubbs, M.D., who specializes in endocrine surgeries. As soon as she walked through the door, she eased my fears about the procedure I needed -- a left thyroid lobectomy with isthmusectomy. She reassured me that things would be OK, and she was right.
Dr. Grubbs successfully removed the nodule with clear margins. The pathology report confirmed that the nodule was positive for papillary thyroid carcinoma, but fortunately, I did not need any further treatment.
A better caregiver
It has been over a year since my initial thyroid cancer diagnosis, and thankfully nothing has returned.
Looking back, I realize that everything worked out for the best, and I realize just how blessed I was to be diagnosed and treated here at MD Anderson. My ultrasound was done and read accurately by MD Anderson radiologists. My tissue was diagnosed by expert pathologists. My surgery was performed by a skilled surgeon specializing in thyroid procedures. I was cared for by compassionate and helpful nurses and technicians, and I continue to receive excellent follow-up from my endocrinologist, Naifa Busaidy, M.D., and Lonzetta Newman, M.D., from the Cancer Prevention Center.
Besides getting the best treatment I could hope for, I also have experienced being a cancer patient -- and now a cancer survivor. This whole experience has given me deeper insight to what my patients go through. It’s made me a better caregiver and nurse. I now have confidence to hold my patients’ hands and say, “I’ve been there and conquered it. You can, too.”