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Life Redefined: Seventy Thousand

Post Published: 05 April 2011
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Category: Column, Life Redefined, Thyroid Cancer in Young Adults Column
This post currently has 8 responses. Leave a comment

Cancer awareness is kind of an interesting concept for me. We are ALL aware of cancer, right? I mean, we all know that exists, we all know the physical effects it can have on a body, and we all know that we want a cure. But I don’t think that everyone really understands that cancer does not discriminate. It doesn’t care about your gender, or the color of your skin, or what country you live in, or who you voted for in the last election. And it doesn’t care how old you are. Cancer does not discriminate.

This week is National Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week. This isn’t about cancer survivors under the age of 18 and it’s not about those diagnosed over the age of 40. This week is about raising awareness on behalf of every young adult between the ages of 18 and 39 who has received a diagnosis of cancer. This week is for the 70,000+ young adults who will receive a cancer diagnosis this year. SEVENTY THOUSAND.

There’s a reason why we need to raise awareness for this age bracket. Actually, there are multiple reasons. Cancer is the number one cause of death due to disease among young adults. Did you know that in the past thirty years, while survival rates for pediatric cancers and mature adult (is that the PC term these days?) cancers have improved, the survival rates for young adult cancers HAVE NOT CHANGED? In the past thirty years, the survival rates for young adult cancers have not improved. Why??

Young adults are too often dismissed. We are not always taken seriously in the medical community. Here’s what I mean: In March 2008, I went to the health center on the campus of the university I was attending. For several weeks I had been experiencing pain in my neck. I wanted an explanation for the pain and I wanted a solution. So, I went to the health center. On my first visit, I only saw a nurse. Her recommendation? Tylenol. That’s right, Tylenol. I knew that was a crock, so I immediately went and made an appointment with a doctor for later in afternoon. Unfortunately that appointment didn’t go much better. He suggested cold/allergy meds. I didn’t really know why, because I didn’t have a cold or allergies. No sneezing. No runny nose. No itchy eyes. Nada. I told him all of this (again) so he gave me an antibiotic. Because that was the logical next step? I don’t remember if he checked for swollen lymph nodes in my neck, but I can guarantee you that he did not check my thyroid. Fast forward six months and I’m diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer that has spread to my lymph nodes.

I am not alone here—too many young adults are not taken seriously when they approach the doctor with symptoms. Too many young adults are handed an antibiotic, or cough syrup, or some other medicine and sent packin’ with no plans to follow-up.

Young adults DO get cancer and YOU can help make a difference.

For my thoughts on young adult survivorship, read my posts here, here, here, and here.

Check out this site to see how you can get involved: http://thegrouproom.tv/young-adults.php

Watch this video for more astonishing young adult cancer facts and testimonials from young adult survivors. (Pay attention to the stats at the end of this video. Do you see how often “thyroid cancer” appears?!): Voices of the Young Adult Cancer Advocate Movement

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8 Responses to “Life Redefined: Seventy Thousand”

  1. Michelene says:

    Joanna,
    wonderful, wonderful, post. I am speechless. I always wondered why my whole thyroid had papillary carcinoma nodules, the largest being 1.4 cm and the only symptom I had was shortness of breath. Earlier that year in 2008 before I was diagnosed, I had the wellness check at work and it checked my thyroid blood levels. Everything was normal! With cancer! How can a thyroid blood test/s show normal levels when you have stage 3 papillary thyca? When it spread to my laryngeal nerve and lymph nodes, I kept thinking “what the heck! How long did I have cancer for?”

    So, I asked my new doctor and the answer was “could have been years….” What? It doesn’t make sense. Cancer doesn’t make sense!

    • Michelene says:

      Oh, and my last job interview that I went on and I have been waiting somewhat patient for, the lady, was wearing a turtleneck sweater. She kept playing with it as she talked to me. I mean interviewed me. This was the first time I decided not to wear a turtleneck or shirt to hide my scar that I thought, didn’t look too bad anymore…go figure;) hope it didn’t make her think!!!

      • Thanks for sharing this, Michelene. I have looked back at pictures taken 5+ years before being diagnosed with thyca and I can see my thyroid bulging out of my neck. How did I not notice it? How did DOCTORS not notice it?

        You’re right–it doesn’t make sense. We can’t spend the rest of our lives looking backward, though. We have to figure out a way to move past the “what-ifs” so we can really live.

  2. michellegutie says:

    Joanna I can relate to you! Before I went to my doctor I did my research about the lump in my neck. Simply based on the location of my nodule I was sure I had thyroid issues. She disregarded me because I was trying to self diagnose. UGH!

    I have posted the link on my facebook. Thanks for the heads up!

    Congrats your young adult survivorship 😀

  3. Melissa Travis says:

    POWERFUL. REAL. Yes Yes yes!!

    This is such a moving and brilliant piece.

    If I had a dollar for every time I have been dismissed from one of my complains I’d be out from under my mountain of medical debt. Truly. I’m still dealing with it even, EVEN NOW- now that I’ve got my DIAGNOSES – I still find that I am dismissed because *many* doctors do not wish to consider MORE issues on top of what is happening.

    Meanwhile – I have also been lucky- both in my health at times and in finding good doctors.

    INSIGHTFUL. POWERFUL. AWARE.
    LOVE THIS.
    xo
    Melissa

    • I, too, feel fortunate to have GOOD doctors in my life. But it is still hard sometimes to make medical professionals HEAR me. More often than not, I dress up to go to the doctor. I find that if I look more professional, I’m taken more seriously.

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