Surviving Thyroid Cancer: Sofia Vergara's Story
How this actress and mom faced a health scare early in her career.
'Follow the Script'
Nearly 13 years later, Vergara remains cancer-free, but she has a daily reminder in the form of a small lavender pill she takes each morning to make up for the loss of her thyroid.
"I have to take it without any food, and then I sit there counting the minutes for half an hour until I can have my coffee!" she laughs. "I get my blood levels checked every 3 to 6 months to make sure my thyroid levels are good. And of course after cancer, every time I cough or feel something I'm a little paranoid. But I want people to know you can live a normal life with hypothyroidism."
That's why she's currently the face of "Follow the Script," a campaign designed to help people with hypothyroidism work with their doctor to manage their thyroid hormone levels, find the right dose of medication, keep track of symptoms, and lead a healthy lifestyle.
Thyroid Cancer 101
Thyroid cancer is relatively rare -- only about 60,000 U.S. cases are diagnosed each year -- and it's one of the most survivable cancers, with a 5-year survival rate of nearly 100% for cases caught early, like Vergara's. Once a person reaches the 5-year mark, the cancer is more or less cured.
But cancer is not the only reason someone might lose thyroid function. About 1 in every 20 people in the U.S. has hypothyroidism, when the thyroid gland isn't making enough thyroid hormone to meet the body's needs. Because the hormone helps control metabolism, it can affect almost every organ if you don't have enough.
"You start to be very fatigued, and you notice that you're kind of feeling cold when other people are comfortable," says Donald Bodenner, MD, PhD. He is director of the Thyroid Center at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. "You can also have constipation, dry skin, weight gain, muscle pain and weakness, thinning hair, memory problems, and depression."
Of course, many of these are what doctors call "nonspecific" symptoms -- they point to a number of other conditions -- making hypothyroidism tough to diagnose. "I see a lot of patients discover hypothyroidism on a blood test and realize they've probably had it for years but attributed it to other things, like just ordinary aging," says Bodenner.