Overcoming Fear and Defeating Thyroid Cancer
When Sherry Eckard Cotney first felt the lump in her neck, she didn't pay much attention to it. She didn't want to ruin the upcoming holiday season.
There was no pain. "I felt a lump and let it ride for a bit," she recalls. "I didn't think anything of it."
But Cotney had no idea how life-changing this lump would be.
A Journey Begins
In January 2016, 3 months after she first noticed the lump, Cotney mentioned it to Christopher Sullivan, MD, an otolaryngologist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where Cotney works as a registered medical assistant. He felt the lump and immediately recommended she have it looked at more closely.
That's when Cotney went to see Brittany Bohinc Henderson, MD, in the integrated thyroid clinic at Wake Forest Baptist's Comprehensive Cancer Center. At an integrated clinic, patients only need to make one stop to complete all of their tests - a convenient process for what can be a stressful time.
"Cancer can be very anxiety-provoking," says Henderson. "Sometimes we can give the patient an idea right away so they're not sitting at home waiting for days."
Henderson ordered a series of tests for Cotney, and a biopsy confirmed the thyroid cancer diagnosis.
Dealing with the Diagnosis
At first, Cotney didn't want to tell her family - her parents and 24-year-old son. She was afraid of the pain the news would cause them.
After seeking support from Richard McQuellon, PhD, a psychologist at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, Cotney was able to break the news to her family.
Because of the level of care Cotney had already received during this process, her family handled it better than she thought they would. "They knew I'd be taken care of," she said.
Three weeks after the diagnosis, Sullivan performed surgery on Cotney. "It wasn't very painful at all," she recalls. "I felt some fatigue afterwards, but I went back to work just a week-and-a-half after surgery."
On a Mission to Help Others
"(Cotney)'s been able to work with me and help other thyroid cancer patients talk about their disease and what it's like to be a patient. She has a real passion for helping thyroid cancer patients, so we're doing that as a team now," says Henderson.
Thyroid cancer is very common - and one of the fastest-growing cancers in women. Henderson's advice? Feel your neck every year. If you find any nodules, lumps or bumps, notify your primary care doctor.
Should you need additional care, Henderson stresses the importance of finding the right team of experts at an integrated clinic.
Cotney experienced the benefits first-hand. She found that everyone across all departments was connected, making her experience seamless.
"If you don’t get it right the first time, you risk multiple surgeries, and your chance for recurring cancer goes up," Henderson says. "If you don't have a surgeon who is experienced, you run the risk of surgical complications. Those can be life-changing."
Cotney sums up her experience, "I've never felt alone in this journey. And that's what it is. A journey that I'm still on."