“My journey through thyroid cancer has been difficult, but it has brought me closer to God and the things that matter to me,” shares Grace Diez, a 38-year-old assistant managing editor of a public relations firm, and thyroid cancer survivor. Here she relays her inspiring story.
How did you find out that you had thyroid cancer?
Back in 2008, I experienced vertigo. I was just 26 years old then and working at an advertising agency, a stressful environment. I’m not sure if the vertigo was related to thyroid but before I went to the doctor to have my it checked, my cousin noticed a lump in my throat.
We were then referred to an endocrinologist at St. Luke’s Hospital. It turned out that I had not just one but two nodules and another smaller one based on the ultrasound. The endocrinologist advised me to undergo Fine Needle Aspiration biopsy. It was a very quick, painless procedure to find out if the nodule was malignant or benign.
Less than a week after the biopsy, I was urgently called in by the doctor and told me it was malignant. The doctor assured me that Papillary Carcinoma is the so-called “friendliest cancer” to have because it spreads ever so slowly. The prognosis was good. Despite the assurances, mentally and emotionally, I was a wreck.
What are the signs and symptoms you felt during your battle with the condition?
I experienced vertigo but it’s not a known associated symptom. Apart from the visible lump in my throat, there was none. In fact, the doctor told me I must have had that lump/nodules for a long time already.
How were you diagnosed?
They confirmed my condition with an ultrasound and the Fine Needle Aspiration biopsy. They measured my TSH levels, but my thyroid was normal and functioning well. It just happened to have nodules.
What treatments were recommended?
I was advised to undergo total thyroidectomy and radioactive iodine treatment. Both procedures were done at UST Hospital. Surgeons, an endocrinologist, and nuclear medicine doctor were involved. I am very thankful to them. I still remember the lead surgeon Dr. Michael Alay-Ay, my endocrinologist Dr. Steffie Lim-Uy and my nuclear-med doctor Dr. Joe Ryan Agga.
How did your life change when you were diagnosed with thyroid cancer?
I’ve learned that blessings aren’t just about monetary blessings or something tangible. Blessings come in people you meet. I am especially thankful to the late Dr. Florentino Doble and to the whole UST medical team who took care of me throughout the experience. I learned to be more grateful and appreciative of family, friends, and loved ones, as well as of the seemingly mundane moments. The experience also brought me closer to God and to my spiritual family (church friends at Victory).
How did you and your family manage your condition?
It was emotionally difficult because my Papa was overseas and working and my mother passed away 4 years prior to the thyroid cancer diagnosis. I am also the eldest of five siblings so I would like to give credit to my older cousin from my mother side, Ate Pay-Ang (Rafaela Basa), for taking on the role of my mother and took care of me along with her other sister Ate Inang (Gina Flores).
Financially, the family on my father’s side helped a lot as well. After the radioactive iodine therapy, I made the decision to isolate myself further to protect my family from radiation so I spent about a month in isolation in my grandmother’s house in Zambales, assisted by a family friend—practically family already – Ate Ondit Cariño.
I went back to our family home after a month but I was restless and filled with anxiety so Ate Pay-Ang took me under her wing and spent another month in their beachfront home so I could recover further. I was having difficulty walking so I practiced walking a lot there.
Are there any therapies you have done to help you recover?
None. After radioactive iodine treatment and the surgery, my body felt heavy so I practiced walking a lot so I could regain my energy.
What do you think people must watch out for to prevent thyroid cancer from progressing?
Being vigilant and early intervention. You could lead a healthy life but sometimes it’s just in the genes. Regularly checking yourself for any lump would help. Another thing is not fearing the doctors. If you feel something unusual, consult your doctor. Doctors are God’s gift talaga. They’re your best partner in the journey, so don’t be scared of consulting them.
How did you transition to a healthier lifestyle battling thyroid cancer?
I did not (haha). The doctor told me wala namang bawal. I’m a bad example, actually. I took the opposite route and enjoyed food, enjoyed life. I still do.
After the surgery, my parathyroid glands were affected. It’s responsible for calcium metabolism. Because of that, I take calcium supplements, drink milk, and consume dairy products as well. I’ve also been taking medication regularly as a replacement for my thyroid gland’s functions. The experience also made me conscious of the benefits of bananas so I eat a lot of it. It helps increase my potassium levels.
I developed an even greater love for seafood because they provide iodine for my body. Potassium-Calcium-Iodine-friendly meals help a lot.
How did you strengthen your physical and mental state in overcoming this condition?
I hate exercise, but I love dancing and walking. To trick myself into exercising, I dance and enjoy the activity. I also love taking long walks (except during this pandemic though).
I try to avoid stress and surround myself with positive, uplifting people. I walk away from negativity as much as I can. I read the Bible and pray because stripped of work, money, health, ambition, God is all you’re ever going to have. So nurturing my spirituality has helped a lot in my recovery.
(Grace mentioned that she enjoyed joining fun runs and Zumba after surviving cancer. She also added that she loves riding bikes.)
Words of encouragement for people who are currently battling thyroid cancer.
Speaking from my journey through thyroid cancer, t is valid to feel fears and to feel down about the diagnosis. It is important to trust God and to trust your doctors as you go through treatments and surgery. There is a reason why doctors are licensed in the practice and Google is not. There will be an endless temptation to google your condition in an attempt to gain some control over your situation. But let God and the health experts take over.
Surround yourself with positive people who love you and care for you. You will realize that out of the hundreds and thousands of your Facebook friends list, they are the ones who truly matter in this journey. You can’t go through this alone so allow yourself to be vulnerable in the presence of your loved ones. It is okay to get and receive help.
Remember: You are going through the motions of doctor visits, surgery, and radioactive iodine therapy, so you can go back to leading a normal life. It is okay to feel down about it, but the point is you are already taking important steps towards recovery and healing, so don’t be too hard on yourself. God is going to be with you every step of the way.
I’m sharing this Bible verse that helped me as a thyroid cancer survivor:
“So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Note: The experience of every patient varies. It’s still best to consult a doctor for the best treatment and preventive measures for your medical condition.
Learn more about Cancer here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.