Seeking Multiple Opinions
- FOX anchor Lindy Thackston was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in May 2020.
- After seeking multiple opinions, Thackston now has a blood test and a PET scan every three months to track her cancer and determine whether or not she’ll need more chemotherapy treatments.
- Colorectal cancer screenings have made a big difference in colorectal cancer prevention. But with colorectal cancer cases in younger people such as Thackston on the rise, the recommended age for beginning screening has been moved from 50 to 45.
- One of the greatest cancer researchers of our time tells SurvivorNet that people should get “multiple” opinions following a cancer diagnosis.
The Indiana-based FOX59 News reporter, 41, was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in May 2020. She began her cancer treatment with four surgeries and 15 rounds of chemo pills and radiation. She then had 10 rounds of “clean-up chemo,” as she calls it, in spring 2021. Then, in September, Lindy Thackston shared that her cancer had spread to her left lung forcing her to have surgery to remove part of her lung.Read More
But come to find out after various tests, Lindy Thackston was technically stage four since her cancer diagnosis. And now she’s faced with more of a watching and waiting game as she undergoes PET scans and Signatera blood tests every three months to decide if she needs chemotherapy again. In the latest episode of her podcast, Life with Lindy, Thackston shares more details about how she decided not to do chemotherapy after one of her oncologists suggested it.
“My dad had come down for the surgery and really helped a lot and we talked a lot about getting some second opinions, something that Chris [her husband] and I had been talking about for a long time,” Lindy Thackston said in her podcast. “Doing chemo is a big deal, and also it’s my life we’re talking about, but I felt awful because I love [my chemotherapy oncologist].”
And in what seemed to her like a sign for seeking more opinions on her cancer journey, Lindy Thackston received a letter from the Indiana Colts complex. She thought it was from breast cancer survivor and VP of Colts marketing Stephanie Pemberton, who she had recently interviewed, but she was wrong.
“It’s a handwritten letter of encouragement from Jim Irsay, who if you don’t live around here or know he’s the owner of the Colts,” she said. “And he also suggested I talked to [Indiana University Health] so I was getting all these signs left and right to get second opinions.”
From there, Thackston went to both IU Health and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, to see what other doctors had to say. Both suggested that she take the Signatera blood test which looks for circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in the blood. They both said if it comes up positive Lindy should undergo chemo and if it comes back negative she should not.
“[My original chemo oncologist] was more than supportive about it,” she said. “He said he would go ahead and give me the Signatera test himself.”
She was told that if the test comes back positive, she had a 97 percent chance of getting cancer again. If it came back negative, she had a 43 percent chance that it wouldn’t return – so nearly a 60 percent chance of still getting it.
Then, on Jan 3, 2022, she got the best news she’s received in a while.
“I got off the phone and just started crying,” she said. “I mean it’s literally it was very unexpected. I thought it was going to be positive. It’s the best news I’ve had in two years.”
So, after consulting with her doctor, she decided on her current treatment plan. Initially, her chemo oncologist wanted her to do chemotherapy pills, but he was more than happy to accommodate for what Thackston wanted per the other doctors’ opinions.
“I took [a Signatera test] last week and should get the results within a couple of weeks,” she said. “It would obviously be a huge bummer if it comes back positive. If it’s negative, I’ll do a Signatera and PET scan in April. So, that’s where I’m at right now.”
Understanding Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. Like any cancer, colorectal cancer presents its own unique challenges for patients on the road to recovery. But Dr. Heather Yeo, a surgical oncologist and colorectal surgeon at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, wants to remind people how far the treatment of this disease has come.
“One of the most exciting things about my job is that we’ve made a lot of progress on treatment options,” Dr. Yeo said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “However, patients are still — while they’re living longer, they are still living with colon cancer, and so I think it’s really important that we talk about how some of the things in your life affect you.”
Dr. Yeo also wants people to know how important colorectal screenings can be. In fact, she says most colorectal cancers can be prevented early with screening.
“In the United States, on a national level, colorectal cancer has been decreasing for the last 20 years,” Dr. Yeo explains. “And much of that is thought to be directly due to screening for colon cancer.”
Even still, colorectal cancer cases are rising among younger people like Thackston. Because of this increase, the United States Preventive Services Task Force has recently updated its colorectal cancer screening recommendations to begin at age 45 as opposed to 50.
The Importance of Getting a Second Opinion
After receiving a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to remember that you can, and should, talk to other cancer specialists about your disease.
“If I had any advice for you following a cancer diagnosis, it would be, first, to seek out multiple opinions as to the best care,” National Cancer Institute Chief of Surgery Steven Rosenberg told us in a previous interview. “Because finding a doctor who is up to the latest of information is important.”
As we highlight in several areas of SurvivorNet, highly respected doctors sometimes disagree on the right course of treatment, and advances in genetics and immunotherapy are creating new options. Also, in some instances the specific course of treatment is not clear cut. That’s even more reason why understanding the potential approaches to your disease is crucial.
At the National Cancer Institute, there is a patient referral service that will “guide patients to the right group depending on their disease state so that they can gain access to these new experimental treatments,” Rosenberg says.
Furthermore, getting another opinion may also help you avoid doctor biases. For example, some surgeons own radiation treatment centers. “So there may be a conflict of interest if you present to a surgeon that is recommending radiation because there is some ownership of that type of facility,” Dr. Jim Hu, director of robotic surgery at Weill Cornell Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet.
Other reasons to get a second opinion include:
- To see a doctor who has more experience treating your type of cancer
- You have a rare type of cancer
- There are several ways to treat your cancer
- You feel like your doctor isn’t listening to you, or isn’t giving you good advice
- You have trouble understanding your doctor
- You don’t like the treatment your doctor is recommending, or you’re worried about its possible side effects
- Your insurance company wants you to get another medical opinion
- Your cancer isn’t improving on your current treatment
Bottom line, being proactive about your health could be a matter of life or death. Learn as much as you can from as many experts as you can, so that you know that you did your best to take control of your health.
Contributing: Marisa Sullivan