Thursday, June 13, 2013

Thyroid Cancer is No Match for Determined Grad Student

Twenty-four-year-old Diandra Denier is a busy Towson University student, working on her master’s degree thesis. She was taken by surprise in the summer of 2012, when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This is her story, in her own words.
Diandra Denier at a conference in
October 2012, two months after
surgery to treat her thyroid cancer.

I earned my undergraduate degree in cell and molecular biology, so I’ve been reading about cancer in textbooks for years. I’m familiar with the statistics—the National Cancer Institute estimates that one in three Americans will develop cancer. I certainly didn’t think I had immunity, but didn’t expect this to happen at such a young age. 

Two years ago, I went to my primary care physician due to swollen lymph nodes in the left side of my neck. I tested positive for mononucleosis. Satisfied with that answer, I went on with my life. I was a college student and didn’t have health insurance at the time. The lymph nodes didn’t seem to shrink to normal size, so when I got insurance a couple of years later, I went to see another doctor. Because the lymph nodes were so enlarged and the swelling hadn’t subsided over such a long period of time, my new doctor was concerned that the source of the swelling was something far worse than mono. Within a few days, I was referred to Patrick Ha, MD, FACS, who specializes in head and neck surgery for cancer patients at GBMC.

Dr. Ha performed a neck dissection to remove the lymph nodes in my neck and also removed my thyroid gland. He explained that, although only a portion of my thyroid was affected, the entire gland had to be removed as a preventive measure to avoid a recurrence. I underwent radioactive iodine therapy to destroy any cancer cells that may have been left behind after surgery. Fortunately, my first scan after treatment showed that the therapy had effectively targeted the right areas and the disease had not spread elsewhere in my body.

Diandra (center) on her first day home
following surgery with brother Noah
(left), sister Desiree (right) and
boyfriend Kenneth (back).
Being treated for cancer was terrifying, but I always felt like I was in excellent hands. GBMC’s staff helped me maintain an optimistic outlook through the whole experience, taking exceptional care of me and reassuring me that I could beat this disease. Dr. Ha even called me several times after my surgery to check in. Additionally, the staff at the Greater Baltimore Lymphedema and Rehabilitation Center became like family to me. Due to the location of my lymph nodes in relation to veins and tendons in my neck and shoulders, I needed physical therapy to rebuild the muscles in my left shoulder after surgery. I was often there two times a week, and they were very helpful in showing me specific exercises that I could do at home to ensure a speedy recovery.

Although fighting cancer is a scary experience for anyone, I was fortunate to have a less aggressive form that was caught before it had a chance to spread. Now, I’m vigilant about my follow-up appointments. Keeping up with annual exams for early detection is a task I take very seriously.

I decided on a career in cancer research or biotechnology because I lost an aunt to breast cancer. When I was diagnosed with cancer myself, I was afraid that everything I’d been working toward for the past six-and-a-half years was going to be taken away because of my illness. Thanks to the staff at GBMC, I have the opportunity to use my own cancer experience to help those diagnosed in the future. 

For more information about the Thyroid Center at GBMC, including a video featuring Brian Kaplan, MD, FACS, Surgical Director of the Center, visit or call 443-THYROID (849-7643).

1 comment:

  1. The moral of the story was left out...
    Don't wait a couple of years if something doesn't seem right and always get a second opinion - a doctor visit doesn't cost that much - how much is your life worth?