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Thyroid Cancer: Rick’s Story

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(On screen text) Rick was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2004

Rick: I felt a lump when I shaved, and I didn’t think anything about it. I thought, maybe I had an infection or something that would just go away. But then I realized it wasn’t going away, in fact, if anything, it was just getting bigger. So finally I called my doctor and immediately he ordered an MRI.

So I went to the hospital on a Saturday and I realized if he was making an appointment for me on a Saturday it might be serious. I remember the date clearly because the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.

Thyroid cancer has lots of surprises. When you tell people you have thyroid cancer it’s typically referred to as the good cancer. I think something like 93% of thyroid cancer patients are cured with surgery and radioactive iodine. But for the seven percent of people it’s a very lethal and aggressive cancer.

(On screen text) After the forth surgery Rick’s prognosis changed…

Rick: After the third surgery they realized that I still had cancer in my body. So they then arranged for a forth surgery. It was during this forth surgery that my surgeon said, “Rick, I might have to sacrifice your vocal cord to get the tumor out.” As I was coming out of anesthesia they said “Rick, your prognosis has changed.”

(On screen text) Rick had external beam radiation and chemotherapy

Rick: Over a six-week period your throat, you neck becomes more sore, more sore, very sore, to the point where you really cant eat. So I pretty much survived on milk shakes and protein shakes.

But I have a son who’s a runner, a track runner, and he has a lot of discipline. He used to talk about how he would suck it up for a race, and at the end of a race he might be visibly or physically sick he would run so hard. So I said to myself if my 15 year old son can suck it up through training for a race, I can suck it up for 6 weeks.

(On screen text) Rick had two further surgeries to remove tumors in his chest. After two and a half years his tumors returned

Rick: That’s when I went to my next treatment, which is a targeted therapy. I was on this targeted therapy for two and a half years, and I’ve never had such good news in my life. After a month, or two, or three of this targeted therapy my tumor shrank to almost nothing.

(On screen text) Unfortunately, after two and a half years, Ricks tumors reappeared…

He then started a phase 1 clinical trial…

Rick: I was on for a couple of months, it made me incredibly sink, and it didn’t work. But, it wasn’t so bad, because we knew there were other therapies I could try.

(On screen text) throughout treatment Rick experienced many side effects…

Rick: The worst side effect, for me, was called hand and foot syndrome. My feet and hands would blister, get red, get sore, to the point where I really could not walk comfortably and I would really hobble into the office.

Other side effects, that do take place that have been difficult, in addition to fatigue, are nausea and diarrhea. And again, if you’re proactive, you can take careful notes on what you’re eating and try and stay away from the things that give you diarrhea and nausea. It doesn’t work 100%, but you don’t have to be a victim all the time.

(On screen text) Rick finds ways to cope with his side effects…

Rick: Well photography is a great interest of mine. I really enjoy going out there, into nature, to different places, and taking shots. I think it’s been of particular interest to me now, having had cancer for nine years, I find getting into nature and getting away from the normal day is really helpful for me. I’ve been doing Tai Chi and very long meditative stretches that also both help me physically, but also dealing with cancer, dealing with the anxiety of what’s coming next.

(On screen text) Rick has an extensive support network

Rick: I’ve really been fortunate to have tremendous support from the beginning of my illness, and I’ll start with my wife. My wife, always with me, at the doctor’s offices, doctors appointments. She comes with me, she always comes, and she takes all the notes.

I also decided to go and see my rabbi, and he used some words that have stayed with me to this day. The best advice he gave me about kids was ‘there is a difference between full disclosure and telling the truth.’ I was able to tell the kids ‘there are a number of treatments available, we hope that they work, and if the first one doesn’t work we have many more that we can try’ and I could leave it at that!

(On screen text) Rick has many hopes for the future

Rick: When you’re first diagnosed you’re looking for the cure, you’re looking for the guarantee that you’re going to be ok. So, as a patient, you do have to get over that guarantee concept to the point where you can be happy to live with hope.


10983 Revised November 2012

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