At age 32, Perry was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer and had a partial thyroidectomy with partial neck dissection because of metastasis to the lymph nodes. His surgery was followed by radioactive iodine treatment (RAI).
We feature Perry's story because it is important and because little emphasis is placed on males who are diagnosed with thyroid cancer. This cancer is more common in women and to some extent it is even misconstrued as a female cancer. The thyroid is a major gland of the endocrine system existing in both males and females. It produces a thyroid hormone called thyroxine. Its function includes regulation of body temperature and metabolism, maintenance of skeletal maturation, and regulation of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. More simply put since both males and females have a thyroid, the occurrence of thyroid cancer can happen in either men or women. However the challenges encountered by male patients are not as well documented, understood or even supported.
Perry comments that there really is no support system in place (for either men or women) other than the one established by TCC. He says, “Thyroid cancer is generally considered to be a female cancer and as such when any research is conducted or support systems are created, they are geared toward women in most cases.” Perry felt that when he was seeking support, in general there was little knowledge available on how to help a man cope with this illness. Perry iterates that his friends were really supportive and he felt lucky to have them. Nonetheless, he admits there are challenges there too as these relationships sometimes change when people find out one has cancer.
Perry took the initiative to learn more about TCC and has been involved ever since. He represents TCC on its external bodies and finds it a rewarding position to meet and interact with other cancer care leaders and advocate around the country. His desire is to raise awareness for cancer of the thyroid which is often dismissed as a disease of little concern. “In my capacity, I make it a point to change the perception in the community that thyroid cancer is the ‘good’ cancer. It’s insulting and hopefully something we can change.”
There is very little goodness associated with being diagnosed with any type of cancer including thyroid cancer. It requires a huge amount of bravery to get through this journey; and it is at this point that we need to bring attention to the unique challenges faced by a man diagnosed with this illness. From a male perspective, Perry strongly suggests that having someone to talk to about your emotions during this life-altering journey can help a great deal. It becomes important for patients to reach out and get support not just during their treatment but beyond because some of the largest struggles are post-surgery. A common misconception held even by medical professionals is that the hardest part is the treatment; however this may be far from the truth if you ask anyone living with thyroid cancer. Perry realizes that having an outlet for talking about these changes is crucial.
In our newsletter section featuring Thyroid Cancer Canada stories we read about female patients adjusting to synthetic medication and some of the challenges they face. Finding the right dose of medication may require months or even years, this is a time where patients often experience a great deal of physical and emotional distress. More so, there are periods where patients fluctuate between being hypo- and hyperthyroid which also stirs havoc in the body. What is this process like for men? In Perry’s case, he feels lucky that he adjusted well to the medication once his endocrinologist found the correct dosage. Although he has not had many of the side-effects commonly experienced by people who are on the synthetic medications, he does admit to struggles with maintaining a consistent body weight. Perry is militant about taking his medications otherwise he does not function well. This is not surprising since the role of the thyroid gland is a vital one. Thus when the thyroid does go missing, substituting with the right amount of medication is crucial to one’s daily functioning.
Since we know thyroid cancer is less common in men, it is important that doctors and other clinicians increase their awareness and become better informed on how thyroid cancer affects a man. Perry wishes that doctors would be more sensitive toward patients upon diagnosis, and realize the radical reality shift they experience. Perry is part of the low-statistical rate for men diagnosed with thyroid cancer and he feels that there is a huge disconnection in the amount of information available that is specific to men. He mentions that one of the worst things to hear from a doctor is ”I don’t know” and says “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that from my medical team only because I am a male.”
Perry’s story is a beginning and should serve as support for men diagnosed with thyroid cancer. We hope to fill this ominous void and help male patients feel that they are not alone during this crucial time in their lives. Perhaps with more men seeking help and sharing their experience we will see an increase in awareness and understanding of how this illness affects men; and hopefully bridge the gap that can leave one man feeling at a loss.