Treating Papillary Thyroid Cancer with Surgery
- In a new interview, Parasite star and South Korean actress Park So-dam, 31, reflects on the toll her thyroid cancer diagnosis took on her, emotionally and physically. She initially mistook her cancer symptoms for burnout.
- She was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer following a routine check-up, and has had surgery to treat it. Today, she is happier than ever after beating cancer. But it took a toll on her emotions and on her skin.
- Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common form of thyroid cancer, and it is a relatively easy cancer to treat. Experts tell SurvivorNet that it is predominantly seen in younger women.
- Approximately 44,280 cases of thyroid cancer are diagnosed annually in the U.S. This disease affects more women than men, with 12,150 cases diagnosed in men and 32,130 in women.
- For people like So-dam who experience emotional upheaval as a result of a cancer diagnosis, help is available. Seek out a therapist or psychologist to help you navigate this medical challenge with greater ease.
“I think my body was sending me a signal.” – Park So-dam
Due to the emotional stress from her cancer journey on the set of the film, Park So-dam was reluctant to watch the final cut of the feature. She recalls, “While waiting for my biopsy results, I did my dubbing for Phantom. I was in a bad state, to the point where I almost lost my voice, so if I was just a little bit late. I almost would’ve been unable to do the recordings.”
Treating Papillary Thyroid Cancer
So-dam has fully recovered from papillary thyroid cancer. She had surgery to treat it She says, “I’ve recovered my health and I feel thankful these days that I can meet lots of people and greet them with my own voice.”
Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common form of thyroid cancer. Approximately 44,280 cases of thyroid cancer are diagnosed annually in the U.S. This disease affects more women than men, with 12,150 cases diagnosed in men and 32,130 in women. Papillary thyroid cancer is a relatively easy cancer to treat.
Thyroid cancer is a disease that begins in the thyroid gland, which is at the base of the neck. The cancer will often present itself as a large bump (tumor) in the neck. It remains unclear what causes the disease. Some symptoms of thyroid cancer can be mistaken for a common cold.
“If I think about this time last year, I can only think about how happy I am.” – Park So-dam, Parasite actress and thyroid cancer survivor
So-dam says that after her recovery, her health has improved, and that’s also thanks to her efforts to care for her well-being. Things aren’t perfect yet, she says, but there have been improvements. The actress shares, “Although I’ve gotten a lot better, my skin has been a mess due to hormone imbalances. Going to pilates five or six times a week, I’m rediscovering my body’s flow. My stamina has not fully returned to what it used to be. If I think about this time last year, I can only think about how happy I am.”
Dr. Scott Strome, a head and neck cancer surgeon who is currently the dean of the University of Tennessee College of Medicine and previously was chair of head and neck surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine explained thyroid cancer in a previous interview with SurvivorNet.
“We’re now able to detect thyroid disease, thyroid cancers, much earlier than we used to be able to,” he says. “We tend to see it predominantly in younger women, but it can occur in both men and women. In most cases, I tell my patients that, ‘Your thyroid cancer is a barnacle on the ship of life.’” Still, he suggests finding an experienced thyroid expert for treatment.
“Folks who have thyroid cancer, they need to go to a really experienced thyroid setting and have folks who really understand the disease. Those are for the most indolent type of thyroid cancers, called papillary,” he says. “Thyroid cancer is a pretty interesting disease, because papillary is a really indolent cancer. On the other end of the spectrum, you have what’s called anaplastic thyroid cancer, which may be one of (if not the) most aggressive cancers that we see. So it’s a whole spectrum of disease.”
Treatments for thyroid cancer can include surgery, hormone therapy, radioactive iodine, radiation, and chemotherapy. Symptoms of thyroid cancer include the following:
Related: 7 Common Signs of Thyroid Cancer & How to Spot Them
- A lump in the neck, sometimes growing quickly
- Swelling in the neck
- Pain in the front of the neck, sometimes going up to the ears
- Hoarseness or other voice changes that do not go away
- Trouble swallowing
- Trouble breathing
- A constant cough that is not due to a cold
Coping with the Emotional Toll of a Cancer Battle
Park So-dam’s case of her papillary thyroid cancer diagnosis is an excellent example of how a person’s emotions can change during their cancer battle. It’s so important to take care and take control of your mental health.
So-dam recalls tears and sadness during this time, and many people find that they suffer from grief, or even depression after a cancer diagnosis. A small percentage of people diagnosed with cancer (around 15%) experience clinical depression. Taking steps to feel better may include speaking with a therapist or taking anti-depressant medications. The most important thing to know is that: Help is available. Get connected with a mental health professional, like a therapist or psychologist, who can help you navigate this time with support, care, and non-judgment.
In an earlier interview, Dr. Scott Irwin, the Director of Supportive Care Services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, speaks about depression in people battling cancer. He says, “Depression is a really interesting topic, because a lot of people assume that, oh, they have cancer. “They must be depressed. That’s actually not true. 85% of patients do not get what would be considered clinical depression. 15% do.”
Dr. Irwin continues, “For prescribing medications for depression in the context of cancer, I often try to choose medications with the lowest side effect profile.”