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Battling Thyroid Cancer

One man fights cancer and rediscovers his passions.
By Dave Katterheinrich
WebMD Magazine - Feature

One Monday four years ago, I discovered a lump as I was rubbing my neck at work, an old habit of mine. By the next Monday, I was at my primary care doctor’s office; by Wednesday I had seen a surgeon. I was 51 years old.

Within two weeks, I had the lump removed and learned I had cancer. A few weeks later, I learned what kind it was: medullary thyroid cancer. And it had spread to my lymph nodes.

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The news made me break out in the kind of cold sweat that only someone who has been given a cancer diagnosis understands. But what made my diagnosis even more frightening is that this type of cancer is relatively rare and has no clear prognosis. Some people live for 20 years with it and some live for three years. There’s just no way of knowing what will happen.

Treating Thyroid Cancer

Since that first surgery in 2004, I've gone through four rounds of radiation and four more surgeries to deal with cancerous areas that have developed on my spine, ribs, right femur, and skull.

Now I’m enrolled in a clinical trial of a new drug. I get MRI and CAT scans every two months. So far, I haven’t developed any new tumors.

I’m incredibly grateful to my doctors and other caregivers for pushing me to get into this trial. And I feel full of hope, because someone will be the first to be cured because of this research. It might not be me, but it will be someone.

Living With Thyroid Cancer

A cancer diagnosis is pretty scary, but I think it’s interesting, too. I was a biology nut in school. By the time I got to high school, I’d already read all the biology books in the library. So I find the facts of my disease intriguing. That helps me work well with the doctors. It also really helps me support other people with cancer.

I know some people see a cancer diagnosis as a death sentence. I actually see it as a life sentence, because it’s making me do things I would otherwise have put off until retirement. I was a high school track and field star, and I used to race motorcycles. I can’t do those activities anymore. But I can do lots of other things, like hunting, fishing, and archery. I just love to be outdoors. I’m also restoring a ’62 Corvette.

I’m your classic type A personality, but I’m basically giving myself playtime. In a way I feel lucky.

I don’t consider myself a cancer “survivor” -- those are the people who are cancer-free. I’m a cancer fighter. I am fighting cancer, not just for family and myself, but for the doctors and caregivers who have helped me as well.

Reviewed on August 08, 2008

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