You may not yet have heard of Colombian actress Sofia Vergara, but with star turns in ABC's legal drama Dirty Sexy Money and in the upcoming flick Meet the Browns, co-starring Tyler Perry -- following her breakout roles in the movies Chasing Papi (2003) and Four Brothers (2005) -- she will be on your radar screen soon.
The model-turned-actor has a message for young women. In 2001, while at an L.A. endocrinologist's appointment for her son, the doctor noticed that her thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck, was enlarged.
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He ran a few tests and his suspicions proved correct: Vergara had thyroid cancer. Other symptoms, which she did not have, include enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, hoarseness, trouble swallowing or breathing, and a cough unrelated to a cold. About 33,550 new U.S. cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed in 2007 -- nearly two-thirds in people between the ages of 20 and 55, and mostly in women.
Vergara had her thyroid gland removed and underwent radioactive iodine therapy, which destroys any thyroid tissue not taken out during surgery. She also takes medication to replace the hormones normally produced by the gland.
"I feel great and I am really on top of it," says Vergara. "Young women should be informed about thyroid cancer because you can have it without symptoms, but an endocrinologist can check your thyroid easily."
Her cancer also opened her eyes to others battling the disease. In late 2001, she helped create and fund Peace and Hope for Children of Colombia, which opened a new pediatric cancer pavilion at Hospital Nino Jesus in 2003. The center provides free chemotherapy to children and gives parents a place to stay during treatments. "When you get cancer, you get an extra awareness of what is going on around you, and you want to help where you can," says Vergara.