Survivor Marks 15 Years Since Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis

Lesly Gregory - Stories of Hope

Lesly Gregory hasn’t always made a big deal out of being a cancer survivor. But this year she is throwing a party and inviting family and friends to help her celebrate 15 years since having thyroid cancer. “On the first anniversary of my diagnosis I had an emotional relapse. Reflecting on that year made me realize what I had gone through – that I’d had a very serious disease,” said Gregory. “After that one-year mark I started to make a big deal out of each anniversary and celebrate every year.”

Gregory was 20 years old and a junior at Boston University, far away from home in California, when she first realized the lump in her throat might be a problem. She’d known the lump was there – she just didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to be there.

That summer – in 2000 – Gregory had had a bad case of tonsillitis and was having surgery to get her tonsils removed. At her pre-surgery appointment, the doctor noticed the lump and said it had to be checked out. After the tonsillectomy, Gregory underwent a fine needle biopsy on the lump.

A week later, she found out it was thyroid cancer. Compared to some other cancer types, thyroid cancer has a very high survival rate. Most thyroid cancers can be cured, especially if they haven’t spread. At first, Gregory was not too upset about the diagnosis. “You say the word cancer and everybody freaks out,” she said. “I used to tell people it was the common cold of cancer and easy to cure. I was fine – I was not going to die.”

Gregory’s cancer had not spread, but she would need surgery and radioactive iodine therapy. She and her mother decided she should go back to California for the treatment. Gregory began to realize the fun college summer she’d planned – staying in Boston, working, hanging out with friends – was not going to happen.

Gregory had not had a lot of experience in hospitals, and she says anticipating the surgery and overnight hospital stay were for her the scariest and worst part of the whole experience. But when she looks back now, she realizes the surgery and recovery took a relatively short time, and 2 weeks later she was back in Boston getting ready for classes.

Living in a dorm as a cancer survivor posed a few challenges, especially at first. Getting radioactive iodine therapy meant Gregory had to take certain precautions. Her body was still giving off radiation for the first week or two. In order to protect other people, she had to stay away from large crowds, and in particular, pregnant women. She could not sit next to anyone or hug anyone. And she had to eat with disposable plastic utensils and do extra laundry. But soon, she was back to being “fully normal.”

Today, Gregory feels grateful to be healthy and wants to educate others about thyroid cancer. “I feel very lucky that this is something I went through a long time ago. I talk to my daughter about it because she sees the scar on my neck and she knows I was sick. I try to talk about my thyroid cancer whenever it’s relevant. It’s important to know about.”

"I feel very lucky that this is something I went through a long time ago. I talk to my daughter about it because she sees the scar on my neck and she knows I was sick. I try to talk about my thyroid cancer whenever it's relevant. It's important to know about."

Lesly Gregory

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Have you or someone you love been touched by cancer? Help us give hope to people across the country and around the world by sharing your story. It's stories like yours that provide comfort and courage to others whose lives have been touched by cancer.

Share your story.

 


American Cancer Society news stories are copyrighted material and are not intended to be used as press releases. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.