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Jeff: Thyroid Cancer Survivor

Dedicated to tomorrow's hike

Jeffrey Katz has thyroid cancer. He has other family members who have also been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. They were all born in the same hospital and were all treated with radiation when they were newborns.

“From what I understand from some internet research,” noted Jeffrey, “it was believed, by some physicians at the time, that a dose of radiation could help prevent infants from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).” This theory was soon debunked, but exposure to high doses of radiation remains a risk factor for the development of cancer.

About five years ago, after a second family member was diagnosed and treated, Jeffrey decided to have his thyroid tested. His primary doctor sent him to an endocrinologist and an oncologist at Stamford Hospital, who found stage 4 thyroid cancer. Not only was his thyroid affected but there were also tumors on the sides of his neck. He had surgery to remove his thyroid on a Thursday, went home the next day, and was back at his insurance company actuarial job on Monday morning. Jeffrey had additional radiation treatment, followed by routine monitoring. It was decided that they would revisit treatment for the other tumors in his neck later.

Earlier this year, Jeffrey’s endocrinologist, who has been monitoring him on a scheduled basis, retired. His new doctor advised it was time for him to take care of the remaining tumors. She recommended Dr. Tobias Carling, Associate Professor of Surgery (Endocrine Surgery) and Section Chief of Endocrine Surgery at Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Carling agreed that surgery was needed.

“I had the surgery this May,” recalled Jeffrey. “This time the operation was much more extensive and my recovery has been much slower. It’s taken me more than 10 weeks to recuperate, whereas last time I recovered over a weekend. The toll on me physically has been much more difficult. I’ve had to cut back on my work travel, on my work hours, and on my physical activities. I’ve had to have physical therapy to strengthen my muscles. On the other hand, the good news is that I’m almost finished with my treatment -- I have only one more dose of Radioactive Iodine therapy to go. And my follow-up scan shows no additional disease.

“Thank goodness for my wife. She has provided a ton of support for me. I don’t know how I would have done it without her. I just can’t overstate that. I also have had the support of my sons, and my mother and father.”

Jeffrey feels that his cancer diagnosis has created a burden for his parents. “My father feels that a parent should never have to bury a child. He feels responsible for my situation. My mom blames herself for allowing the doctors to give the radiation treatment to me as an infant. But I feel differently. I had difficulty breathing when I was first born, according to what my mom told me. So without the radiation treatment, I may not have survived my first month of life. I’m just happy to be here.”

“Now I’m thinking about the future. I’ve reached the age of 62, and we are considering what we will do in the years ahead. Nothing in haste, but we have had conversations about how we might enjoy these years. My wife and I love hiking vacations … we’ve just hiked up to Machu Picchu. We also like the adventure of urban hiking, where you make roundabout loops in neighborhoods to see new things. And we are back playing golf regularly, after not being able to play for the first six weeks after my last surgery.”

“I’ve learned a lot about myself during these experiences. I am kind of a private person. I have fears reaching out to people. But when you are in the hospital, even though the staff does all it can to protect your privacy, you need to let people help you. You need to open up and let go. Allow other people to administer their healing for you.”

“I have had very good care in all the hospitals I’ve been in with my cancer. But I can’t say enough good things about Smilow Cancer Hospital. All the staff is so good. I have been able to talk about my cancer, having great confidence in my medical counterparts. They interact like you are an intelligent person. Well prepared to discuss your treatment and answer your questions. They are not condescending, they are so good at what they do. They have helped me not only physically but also to boost my confidence level.

“Every person that I encountered, regardless of his or her role, every single person has been upbeat and positive. All staff members have smiles on their faces and in their voices. All the other hospitals have been great. But they just don’t have the same feeling as when you are at Smilow Cancer Hospital. It’s a very special place.”

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