Before Becky Johnson developed thyroid cancer, she said she didn’t even know where her thyroid was. Doctors told her that her symptoms were the result of menopause after tests showed her thyroid hormone levels fell into the very broad “normal range.” But in 2009, 10 years after she first complained of symptoms, she finally persuaded a doctor to take her concerns seriously – a biopsy came back positive and fear took hold.
“I realized the worst part is the fear of what you don’t know,” says Johnson, a lifelong Oregon resident who grew up attending Temple Beth Sholom in Salem.
She did a lot of research online, but ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, which listed support groups around the country, didn’t list a single group in Oregon. “You need to talk to people who have survived,” she says. “I never wanted anyone else to feel as alone and uniformed as I had.”
Johnson and her husband, Michael, have lived in Portland for the past 30 years and have four children and six grandchildren, all of whom live in Oregon. So in 2010, Johnson started the Portland ThyCa support group. Open to thyroid cancer patients and their families, the group meets the last Monday of every month from 7 to 8:30 pm. Johnson also provides one-on-one telephone support.
“I get calls literally every week,” she says, noting people find her through ThyCa’s website. “They are blindsided.”
Support group membership is growing, perhaps in part because thyroid cancer is the fastest increasing cancer in both men and women.
This year support group members have committed to individually spread the word that September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. The worldwide observance, sponsored and initiated by ThyCa, promotes thyroid cancer awareness for early detection, as well as care based on expert standards, and increased research to achieve cures for all thyroid cancer.
At the Portland group’s September meeting, members plan a special potluck. Johnson says that by Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month next September, local members want to organize a larger event with workshops and lectures.
For now, Johnson wants people to know the importance of checking their neck for any enlargements.
For support group information, call Becky Johnson at 503-260-1180; for more information on thyroid cancer visit www.thyca.org.
About 56,460 people, including 43,210 women and 13,250 men, will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2012 in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
About 1,000 women and 780 men will die of thyroid cancer in 2012.
Signs to discuss with your physician
• You feel a lump in your neck, or your doctor may notice a nodule in your neck during a routine checkup. Most of these thyroid nodules are benign (noncancerous).
• Some people first notice lymph node swellings, fullness in the neck, voice changes, or difficulty breathing or swallowing.