Thyroid Cancer Survivor Shares Her Motivational Journey


thyroid cancer survivor

Favourite quote

“Trust in yourself and know that time in any form is a gift. It allows you to heal and to create memories! Sadly not everyone wins, but what we learn and appreciate through the struggle of others is a contributing fact to how we heal others! Their sacrifice is a win and I am grateful for them all!”

(Without others, my doctor wouldn’t have known that studies showed I didn’t need to go through radiation! which do to the possible harmful side effects, I am so thankful for)”

Tami Sturzebecker was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Fall of 2013. She has successfully defeated her disease. She loves spending times with her kids.

The Diagnosis

“I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer in Fall of 2013, after finding a marble size lump in my throat.”

The Journey

thyroid cancer survivor's journey

“In 2013, I was just about to turn 32 and had a daughter entering 7th grade, and was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Cancer. Recently divorced, and losing my father not even a year before, the C word hit me really hard. I called out of the work the next 2 days because I was crying at home, my eyes were swollen shut. Everyone told me it was completely curable with surgery and radiation. But I also knew this meant I would be dependent on pills and on a constant roller coaster of balancing medicine the rest of my life. I never had thyroid problems before then, just the lump. Not to mention all of the side effects I heard about from radiation, just sounded horrible. Then there was the dreaded time frame I would have to be deprived of medicine to make me more susceptible to the radiation working. It was all so much, and I was just starting to feel like my life was starting to move up, and here I was again.

After I talked to family and accepted this is what it was. I wanted it gone immediately, and had surgery two weeks later, total thyroidectomy.

I felt horrible going through the withdrawals of thyroid hormone in the weeks and months to follow. It got so bad my heart started to have palpitations. I gained 20 lbs in two months, I was exhausted, couldn’t concentrate, battled emotional roller coasters, it just got to be too much. I had to be on FMLA at work because some days, I could barely stand longer than a few hours and would have to leave. My finances suffered, I ended up going to UNC Chapel Hill NC to see a Endocrinologist specialist, which was one of the best things I did. He reviewed my labs and surgical history, did some labs, an exam and determined I didn’t need radiation! Thank God! I started medicine shortly after and slowly started to feel better. After close monitoring over a year, I was given the OK that I WAS CANCER FREE!!!!

5 Years later, I still get an ultrasound every year and regular blood tests, but still looking good. I had a scare 2 years ago when they found some thyroid tissue on an ultrasound in a lower part of my neck and they were worried I had cancer back that may had spread. I had to have radioactive Iodine and a CT scan, which came back great and still showed me cancer free. But, I had to move out of my house for 3 days to do the test because the radioactive iodine I had to take could potentially harm my children’s thyroid. Apparently it came out in my saliva, sweat, urine, everything. Then there was the waiting… which always stinks.

Even though it’s been 5 years, I still worry every ultrasound, never sleep the night before. The ups and downs with balancing my medicine aren’t as bad anymore, and I recognize when things are off much sooner now.

I know it’s not the same as having some more severe cancers. The worst part was someone telling me “oh you didn’t have a REAL cancer”! I couldn’t believe this, my whole life has changed, and my body and mind will never be the same!

I know I’m lucky, and I am so grateful. I work in surgery as a surgical technologist and most of the surgery I participate in is for cancer. I’ve cried with patients and family members, and shared in their joys. I don’t pretend I don’t know how lucky I am. But everyone is different, every battle is different, and every success is a win! ”

Motivation to fight cancer

“I was motivated by being there for my child and my inner desire not to quit! Even though I knew my life would never be the same, I was lucky enough to have a curable disease, I would still live!! No matter what, I WOULD LIVE!!!

My grandmother passed after a battle with ovarian cancer. My aunt is still fighting and winning her battle with breast cancer. I was lucky compared to them, and I wasn’t going to take advantage of that news! “

Biggest hindrance

“My normal ENT doctor was recently selected for the state house of representatives for our district and wasn’t able to see me. So I was seeing another ENT for this lump in my throat. He refused to do an ultrasound. He insisted I had a swollen lymph node probably residual from some sinus infection. So he treated me with antibiotics. The swelling went down, but came back to form an almost perfectly round marble in my throat. After a second course of antibiotics I asked him again to do an ultrasound, in his office where he had a machine. (I already worked in surgery and had some medical knowledge, but also knew anytime something doesn’t heal, it’s a problem) He still refused. His exact words were “what do you want me to do, and ultrasound to prove its a lymph node?” I was just disgusted and had already been through enough with my father and divorce, I just didn’t want to argue. This happened over about a year. I walked around for a year with cancer in my throat, wondering why I was so tired all the time, because I had a doctor who refused to do an exam!

One day, I was working and ran into my previous ENT doctor who came in to do an emergency case. After finding out he was doing surgery and seeing patients more again, I asked him if I could come see him. He made adjustments at his office and saw me that week! He said in no way was it a swollen lymph node and we needed to check it. He ordered an ultrasound guided biopsy, which I had done on my lunch at work in the cancer center. I was potentially a cancer patient, this was when I first started to get scared. And he called my cell the next day and told me to come in that afternoon. Gave me the word it was cancer, and snuck me out of the back of his office so I wouldn’t have to walk in front of people the emotional basket case I was. I am so thankful to him for believing me. He did the surgery and referred me to Chapel Hill when I asked to see a specialist.

Message to other cancer patients

message for cancer patients

“You know you better than anyone else, trust in that! When you feel like something is wrong, check it! There is no age limit or minimum. I was healthy otherwise, just more tired than normal, which can be symptom of 100 other things. Cancer is always a fight, no matter what kind, it affects you forever, but that’s ok! I am more positive then I was before, appreciate more than I did before, and know I am stronger then I was before! I love life an every moment is journey. Years later, I still cry sometimes thinking about this journey. I probably always will, and that’s ok.”


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