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PUBLISHED: 1:38 PM on Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Woman shares story of battle with thyroid cancer
April Hotchkiss had a surprise she didn't really want. After just having her first child, she was at the doctor's office having a check-up when her physician noticed a lump.

The lump itself wasn't a surprise, she noticed it two years prior and was told "don't worry - they are usually benign." Now she was being told that she needed an ultrasound.

Things seemed to speed up after that. She had an ultrasound and the physician told her that she had some concerns and wanted a biopsy done as soon as possible. The biopsy came back as inconclusive and the physician wanted a second opinion.

The family was taking a planned vacation so they added an extra day to their trip and made a stop in Seattle for another biopsy. That is when things really got interesting.

While on vacation in Texas, she was contacted by the physician and told that she needed to come back to Seattle as soon as possible. The physician told her that she had thyroid cancer.

Thyroid cancer is a cancer of the gland in front of the neck that normally produces thyroid hormone which is important to the normal regulation of the metabolism of the body and affects heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, and weight. A healthy thyroid is a little larger than a quarter and usually cannot be felt through the skin.


  The Hotchkiss Family (Eric, Keegan, Cole, April and Tobin).
An estimated 37,340 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2008. About 1,590 of those cases will be fatal.

The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump, or nodule, that can be felt in the neck. The only certain way to tell whether a thyroid lump is cancer is by examining the thyroid tissue, obtained using a needle or surgery to obtain a biopsy.

April says that her first reaction to her diagnosis was denial. While talking with the surgeon about the options and procedure for dealing with her cancer, she remembers being upset that she would have to take a pill for the rest of her life.

It wasn't until physician stopped her and said, "April this is cancer," that she realized how big this really was. He was going to be aggressive in his treatment and take as much of the cancer out as he could. Surgery was scheduled for the next day.

At least she could find some humor in the situation - while awaiting her "turn" in the operating room she was asked on numerous occasions what her name was and if she was having a thyroidectomy. By the third time she answered "What! A thyroidectomy? I thought I was getting my appendix out!" The look on the nurses' face was priceless.


  The only certain way to tell whether a thyroid lump is cancer is by examining the thyroid tissue, obtained using a needle or surgery to obtain a biopsy.
The surgery went well and April ended up with an incision about one inch long between her collar bones. Due to the extent of the surgery and cancer her treatment also included an iodine radiation treatment three months after the initial surgery. This was very difficult for April, as she had to be separated from her infant son and husband while she underwent the radiation treatment and was fearful of having to be isolated for three or four days with no human contact.

"It felt weird to be receiving a treatment that everyone else was being protected from," April said. "The room I was in was covered in paper and plastic, I couldn't touch anything and the people that came into contact with me were in hazmat suites. That was scary."

"Faith is a big part of my life," said April, "and family, they helped me get through this. Those three days by myself were actually very good for me, it allowed me time to reflect."

Now that she is done with her treatment, the only thing she has to do is get a full body scan yearly and take her thyroid pill daily. She has been cancer free for five years.

She says that she still looks back and thinks "why did I have to go through that?" She will probably never know, she just hopes that she can use her experience to encourage others and "if they feel a lump on their throat, get it looked at."

To learn about thyroid cancer, visit www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/thyroid or www.thyca.org/index.htm


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