It’s often the unsung heroes in our lives that make our very existence possible. For millennials, this could not be truer. Although often unrecognized, it’s the efforts of millions of millennials every day providing essential services during the pandemic that has kept our country running.
Much like millennials, while often unnoticed, the thyroid gland is an essential worker in our bodies. This small, but powerful gland, stimulates your bone growth, memory, ability to move, controls how fast your heart beats and your metabolism.
And just like when people start to notice the importance of workers as our grocery store shelves become empty, it’s not until our thyroid gland no longer has the ability to provide its critical functions that we learn how much it really does.
According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have a form of thyroid disease, and 60% of people living with thyroid disease are unaware that they have the condition.
In recognition of Thyroid Awareness Month, I talked with thyroid cancer survivor, television journalist, and fellow millennial, 30-year-old Victoria Price, about her diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and what millennials should know about their thyroid health.
YMyHealth: Throughout your life, where has health in general been on your list of priorities? It’s difficult task for all of us, but how have you incorporated or not incorporated these healthy eating and exercise into your busy schedule?
Victoria Price: I always considered myself a very active, healthy person, which is probably what led me to having a false sense of invincibility. I grew up playing physical sports and was fortunate to never struggle with chronic health issues. In retrospect, I probably took my health for granted.
As a young woman in television, I was very self-conscious of how I looked on air. So, while I prioritized exercising and healthy eating to project the image of being healthy, I also was really entrenched in “grind” culture, working odd hours and long days and depriving my body of the sleep and rest it ultimately needed.
Prior to my diagnosis, I measured my health far more in terms of how I looked. Now, I measure far more in terms of how I feel, and give my body the occasional grace it needs and deserves.
YMyHealth: What did you know about the thyroid gland before you were diagnosed with thyroid cancer?
Victoria Price: I knew it was something in your neck, and if it didn’t work well, you might gain weight. That was the extent of my knowledge. My father has hypothyroidism but never really discussed or complained about any impact of it on his daily life or health.
YMyHealth: Over the years when you went to the doctor for physical exams, what did he or she used to say to you about your thyroid health, if anything at all?
Victoria Price: Whenever I had my thyroid hormone levels tested, I was always told my levels were normal. Since my father was diagnosed with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) later in life, it prompted me to get bloodwork done a few times in adolescence and my early 20s.
YMyHealth: Before learning that you had thyroid cancer, did you notice anything different about how you felt on a daily basis or anything new that you noticed about your body?
Victoria Price: It wasn’t noticeable in the moment but looking back, my body had started to undergo slow change in the 6-8 months prior to my diagnosis. I was slowly putting on weight, my hair was thinning, and I felt more tired and less capable than usual. During that same time frame, I had been put on a new birth control and my job was growing increasingly more stressful. When I eventually started to notice these changes, I was told my symptoms were likely due to one or both of those factors.
YMyHealth: How did you first find out that you had thyroid cancer and how old were you at the time?
Victoria Price: In June 2020, I received an email from a viewer back when I worked for a TV station in Tampa, Florida. It was a very brief email. “Hi, just saw your news report. What concerned me is the lump on your neck. Please have your thyroid checked. Reminds me of my neck. Mine turned out to be cancer. Take care of yourself.”
I was both stunned and incredulous, considering that I had never noticed anything off about my neck in the mirror or while on television. Neither had my boyfriend, who then also pressured me to go get it checked. We were still very much in the throes of the pandemic’s onset, and getting to a doctor at the time was difficult. I was fortunate that a good friend’s mother was a family practice doctor and agreed to see me after-hours after I showed her the email. That led to bloodwork, an ultrasound, a referral to a thyroid-cancer specialist, and ultimately a diagnosis. I was diagnosed about a month before my 29th birthday, in July 2020.
YMyHealth: Tell us about your experience with having surgery and then living life after surgery with Synthroid (aka. Levothyroxine, which replaces thyroxine a hormone that your normally functioning thyroid gland produces and that your body needs to live).
Victoria Price: My fortune continued in that one of the best thyroid cancer surgeons in the country was at Tampa General Hospital, quite literally around the corner from where I lived. I underwent surgery less than a week after my diagnosis to remove my entire thyroid and nearly two dozen lymph nodes.
Like most thyroidectomy patients, it took several months of trial and error to land on a medication dose that agreed with my body. That was a rough period, as my body was in turmoil, and I was still working full time in television news in the midst of a constant pandemic news cycle. I eventually stepped away from news for a few months to allow myself to heal. More than a year out, I finally feel like I’m nearly getting back to normal but I still require more sleep than I ever used to.
YMyHealth: What’s a misconception that you think the general public has about thyroid cancer?
Victoria Price: I think some physicians can be inappropriately dismissive about thyroid cancer because it’s considered less lethal than some other cancers. But I can’t underscore enough that just because something isn’t life-threatening, doesn’t mean it’s not life-changing. Once the cancer is gone, you’re still left with a chronic condition.
I’ll spend the rest of my life adjusting medications, monitoring hormone levels and other bloodwork, and trying to dodge autoimmune flare-ups that could land me in bed all weekend. I’m still battling hypothyroidism symptoms. The long-term dependency on Synthroid/levothyroxine also puts patients at greater risk of developing osteoporosis and heart issues later in life. I actively work toward getting healthier each and every day, but many days I doubt if I’ll ever physically feel like the woman I was two years ago.
Also, not necessarily a misconception, but I do find it’s not a cancer that’s often talked about despite its frequency, especially in women.
YMyHealth: As a thyroid cancer survivor, what you do you think millennials should know about their thyroid health?
Victoria Price: Just because you’re still relatively young, don’t mistakenly believe you’re invincible. Many routine cancer screenings aren’t recommended until most people are middle aged, so millennials aren’t necessarily thinking or talking about cancer the way our parents are.
Know the signs of thyroid cancer and disease (because let’s be real, hypothyroidism/hyperthyroidism and other thyroid diseases aren’t fun either!) and if you sense you have any, be your own advocate and make sure your doctor checks.
YMyHealth: Since your diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, tell us about some of the things that you’ve been doing to promote thyroid cancer awareness, especially for millennials
I remain an outspoken advocate and try to spread knowledge on social media with my #checkyourneck and #thyroidthursday hashtags.
Discussing my experience has created awareness and conversations that ultimately helped strangers discover and diagnosis their own cancers, which is incredibly humbling. I’ve also worked in the past with organizations like the American Cancer Society.
I hope we can keep growing this dialogue so that one day, the idea of #checkyourneck is as routine as checking your breasts for lumps, or moles for irregularities.