Jessica Burkett is a wife, mother and nurse practitioner. She’s used to taking care of her loved ones and patients. Little did she know the roles would reverse.
"While I was putting on night cream, one night, I noticed that one of my lymph nodes was slightly enlarged." Jessica Burkett said.
At first, she decided to shrug it off.
"About a week later, I was seeing a patient of my own and I told them that we should go ahead and get an ultrasound done just to have reassurance and put this behind us.” Burkett said. “At that point, it kind of dawned on me, I should follow my own advice."
Turns out the lymph node that Burkett felt ended up being nothing. But her ultrasound revealed something else.
Her scans showed a 1.1 centimeter nodule in her thyroid.
"The next morning, I just remember being terrified and scared and sorry -- just very overwhelmed,” Burkett said. “Because I knew I had a 2-year-old daughter who needed her mom."
Burkett said she remembers being angry, upset and confused.
“I go to the doctor regularly. I don't smoke. I don't drink. I exercise regularly, and I try to live a healthy lifestyle,” Burkett said. “So, for this to happen with no family history was just completely overwhelming to think why?”
Dr. Russell Smith, a head and neck surgical oncologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center in Jacksonville, Florida, said thyroid cancer is becoming much more prevalent. He said for many people, it can go undetected, because there are usually no symptoms.
"It could go for years and you not know it's there," Dr. Smith said.
He adds that there is no rhyme or reason why this is happening to young women, but the best thing for them to do is:
- Check their neck regularly.
- Talk to their doctor if they notice problems with their throat
- Having trouble with their voice
- Having trouble swallowing
"If it does go ignored, they can spread to other parts of the body,” Dr. Smith said.
"The nodule I felt, the lymph node was on the side of my neck and that was something that Dr. Smith said, 'That was what saved your life,'” Burkett said. “But, you know, it had nothing to do and still has nothing to do with your thyroid cancer, so it was just pure luck."
More young women are finding themselves in the same situation.
The top three cancers for women in their early 20s to late 30s in both North Carolina and South Carolina are breast cancer, endocrine, which includes thyroid cancer, and melanoma.
For men, the top two are testicular cancer and melanoma. The third most common cancer in North Carolina is colorectal cancer. In South Carolina it's leukemia.
All of these cancers have good survival rates as long as they’re caught early.
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