Understanding Thyroid Cancer
- British soap opera star Abi Phillips, 28, announced her thyroid cancer diagnosis earlier this month, and now, she’s opening up about the anger and frustration she felt when her symptoms were dismissed by doctors.
- Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the thyroid gland, which creates hormones that help regulate your metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.
- In recent years, an increasing number of head and neck cancers have been linked to HPV. While it’s unclear what caused Abi’s cancer, the connection between this sexually transmitted infection and cancer should be noted.
Abi, best known for her previous role as Liberty Savage on the British soap opera Hollyoaks, said she felt a “tug” on her neck as she was getting into the car recently.Read More
“I went into panic stations and immediately rang the doctors and they put me in for an emergency appointment,” she added.
Abi went to a National Health Services hospital in the United Kingdom, which was free. There, she was told the lump was likely “just a cold.”
“I got to the appointment and the woman basically said, ‘I’m sure it’s nothing, your body’s probably just getting over something, you’ve probably got a cold,’” Abi recalled. “She said that she had a lot of people coming in with tonsillitis and that I’m young and to give it a few months and if it’s still there, then come back.”
But Abi wasn’t satisfied with his answer, so she sought private medical treatment, rather than public-access health care offered in the U.K.
“Bear in mind I’m a musician,” Abi said. “For the last two years I haven’t really been able to work, so it’s not like I’ve got pots of money lying around. I couldn’t afford to go private. But I did it for my peace of mind, for my mental health. I couldn’t just sit around knowing I had a lump in my neck.”
Once she sought private care, Abi was told the lump was “concerning,” and the doctor wanted her to have an ultrasound-guided fine needle biopsy, as well as a CT scan. The tests pointed to thyroid cancer, but the doctor wasn’t totally sure. Abi was referred back to the NHS hospital, where she was told she definitely had cancer.
“At this point, I’m going out of my mind,” she said. “They basically sent me down to have a lot of blood tests; I think they took about 10 bottles of blood from me. They were pretty certain it was thyroid cancer.”
“I wasn’t sobbing but my eyes were just leaking everywhere,” she added. “It just was just really bizarre. I couldn’t really think, I was just devastated. I couldn’t actually believe it.”
Abi’s treatment regimen includes surgery, which she underwent last week. During the operation, her lymph nodes were removed. When she woke up after surgery, she described the pain as “excruciating.”
“I could move but I had to lift my head up with my good arm, I had no muscle energy to be able to actually lift my head off the pillow and to lift my head up,” she said. “They gave me morphine but it kept making me sick so I’ve been on paracetamol and ibuprofen, which hasn’t been the best.”
Now that her surgery is over, she’ll likely have to consume a “radioactive drink,” according to The Sun, in order to kill off the rest of the cancer cells.
“I’ve got to stay in a room on my own and eat from polystyrene,” Abi said. “I can’t get near anybody for like a week because I’ll be radioactive for about a week.”
While the young actress seems to be in the clear for now, she said it’s a possibility that more cancer cells will be found later on.
“I mean, there is a chance,” she said. “It does scare me quite a bit, but I feel like it’s more affected me mentally with other things as well.”
“I initially went to the doctors with the lumps in the neck and I’ve kind of lost my trust, because I went in to see a medical professional, and they turned me away,” she added.
“If I had taken their word and gone away for a few months, would I have even bothered to go back or thought it might just be like a lump of fatty tissue or something?”
Advocating for Yourself
As previously stated, Abi wasn’t satisfied with her first doctor’s answer that her symptom was likely “just a cold.”
It’s important to stand up for yourself if you feel that you’re being dismissed or mistreated by a doctor. Getting a second opinion is crucial if something doesn’t feel right. Luckily, Abi received the help she needed.
Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet that sometimes, patients need to be pushy.
“From a doctor’s perspective, every problem should have a diagnosis, a treatment, a plan for follow-up, and a plan for what happens next if the treatment doesn’t work,” Dr. Murrell said.
And as a patient, “if you don’t feel like each of these four things has been accomplished, just ask! Even if it requires multiple visits or seeing additional providers for a second opinion, always be your own advocate.”
Understanding Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the thyroid gland, which creates hormones that help regulate your metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.
Spotting thyroid cancer can often be difficult. According to the American Cancer Society, symptoms may include a lump, swelling or pain in the neck (like in Abi’s case), voice changes, trouble swallowing or breathing or even a constant cough.
“Most people have no discrete symptoms; the majority of cases now are found incidentally,” Dr. Allen Ho, a head and neck surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, previously told SurvivorNet. “However, a sizable number of people may first discover their cancer when they feel a bump on their neck.”
“Other possible late symptoms include problems swallowing, the sensation of something in their throat, neck compression when laying flat or voice changes,” Dr. Ho added.
It’s important to know as well that thyroid cancer is a type of head and neck cancer, and in recent years, an increasing number of head and neck cancers have been linked to the human papillomavirus, or HPV. While it’s unclear what caused Abi’s cancer, the connection between this sexually transmitted infection and cancer should be noted.
The good news is that many of these possible symptoms, including lumps in the thyroid, are both common and commonly benign, but it never hurts to ask your doctor.
Chances of cancer recovery increase significantly with early detection, so it’s important to address any warning signs of thyroid cancer (or any cancer, really) with a medical expert as soon as possible.