Living through thyroid cancer
At 21, Jordan Ramsay got the news that would change her life forever. The mysterious lump that she’d noticed behind her ear a few years earlier was thyroid cancer.
“Before my diagnosis, I didn’t know anyone my age who had cancer and I didn’t even know what a thyroid was,” Jordan tells This Is MedTech. The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that sits just in front of your windpipe. It produces hormones that affect your heart rate and body temperature, among other important jobs.
She was prone to sore throats and had glandular fever when she was 17, so doctors thought the lump that appeared several months later was a swollen lymph node, which is not uncommon when your body is fighting infection. She often felt fatigued but put that down to an iron deficiency.
When stomach problems sent Jordan to the doctor a few years later, she mentioned the lump again and her doctor referred her for comprehensive diagnostic tests. These included blood samples, a chest x-ray, a neck ultrasound and an aspiration biopsy that would ultimately save her life. “My thyroid seemed to look fine on the ultrasound, but the biopsy confirmed that I had thyroid cancer,” she says. For the biopsy a thin, hollow needle was inserted into the lump to extract samples of the cells, which were then stained and examined under a microscope.
While Jordan wishes it had been a different diagnosis, she’s grateful for the medical technology that finally gave her some answers and a clear path to getting the correct treatment. “The medical technology device that I found most mind-blowing was the PET-CT scan, which allowed my surgeon to see internal images of my neck and showed him exactly how to approach my surgery. From the outside, it looked like the right side of my neck was the affected area, but the scan showed that the centre of my neck also needed to be targeted,” she explains. “Without a scan, the doctors wouldn’t have known that, or whether the cancer had spread to other parts of my body.”
The scans showed that the cancer was contained in her neck but had spread to some of the surrounding lymph nodes. She therefore had her thyroid and 73 lymph nodes removed during surgery. Afterwards, Jordan underwent radiotherapy using radioactive iodine. She had to isolate in a special, lead-lined room in hospital for a week and then at home in her room for another month, until she was no longer radioactive. “It was a very daunting experience,” she notes, but adds that ironically, the pandemic lockdown prepared her well.
A year later, Jordan is back at work at a busy nursery but will need to take hormone medication that her thyroid would have produced. She’s awaiting the results of her one-year follow-up scans.
Jordan is extremely thankful for the support she got from Teenage Cancer Trust and feels that sharing her story to educate and support others is an important part of her life now. For other young people who have had a similar diagnosis, her advice is simple: “Take it day by day, and if you can’t do that, take it hour by hour or minute by minute.”