Putting my thyroid cancer diagnosis in the rearview mirror
Claire Cormier Thielke
When I’m asked about my journey with MD Anderson, I’m immediately taken back to a sunny, windy day on the roads of Cozumel, Mexico. In many ways, this was where my journey as an MD Anderson patient ended and my new life as an advocate began.
For as long as I can remember, it was my dream to compete in an IRONMAN triathlon. The grueling triathlon consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run was right up my alley – I ran for Stanford University and even joined the USA Track & Field professional circuit after I graduated. But in 2012, I was preparing for the London Olympics when a routine performance check revealed a thyroid tumor. I stared at the X-rays, completely perplexed. The thyroid tumor had displaced my windpipe. It seemed to be taking up all the room in my neck.
Finding comfort at MD Anderson
I was confused, bewildered and frightened by my thyroid cancer diagnosis. We had laid my grandmother to rest just three weeks earlier. She’d been a patient at MD Anderson and died of anaplastic thyroid cancer, an incurable form of the disease. While my grandmother was a patient, I developed a true appreciation for the impeccable research programs at MD Anderson. We knew how her story would end, but it gave us a real sense of comfort that she was there because her case could contribute to research to one day find a cure for anaplastic thyroid cancer.
I never thought twice about going to MD Anderson to have my thyroid tumor removed. I am so blessed that Gary Clayman, D.M.D., M.D., was my doctor. He provided care for my grandmother, and his bedside manner blew me away throughout her treatment. An avid runner himself, Dr. Clayman understood I didn’t just want to be better; I wanted to be back racing. Sharing this love of running with him made me feel so lucky.
Taking on my bucket list and giving back
By December 2013, there seemed no better way to celebrate and test myself than taking on an item from my bucket list -- the Cozumel IRONMAN. If I could make it through that race, then I could prove to myself that I was still the same Claire. So there I was -- just me, the water, the roads and the Mexican sunshine. Of all the finish lines I’ve crossed in my running career, this was the most special.
When you get to that finish line, whether it’s at the end of an IRONMAN or the end of your cancer journey, you barely remember all of the stuff you’ve been through. Yet, you know it must have happened because otherwise getting there wouldn’t feel so good. I literally cartwheeled across the tape, keenly aware of just how far I’d come in the past year-and-a-half.
Now, I’m not waiting to check things off my bucket list. And it’s grown significantly. Part of my personal mission as a member of MD Anderson’s Advance Team (a volunteer leadership board of “next generation” community and business leaders) is to raise funds for the institution so that a cure can be a reality for future patients. Currently, I’m co-chairing the grand reopening of the new Saks Fifth Avenue store in Houston. 100% of the ticket sales and 10% of the night’s sales go to MD Anderson. I hope that in this small way, I can help in Making Cancer History®, just as MD Anderson has done for me.
To purchase tickets to the Saks Fifth Avenue reopening benefiting MD Anderson or to learn more about the event, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 866-262-9029 and press 5 to leave a message.