My Story

UCLA Health article

This story was submitted by an anonymous patient.

MY STORY: I’m a 51 year old mother, business owner and speaker. During a check up for something unrelated, my primary doctor found a thyroid nodule. I had a scan, a needle biopsy and then got the call that brings you to your knees. I had thyroid cancer (papillary). Cancer is a big scary, awful word and certainly upsets the apple cart.

FINDING THE BEST: My family and friends rallied around me; they did the research to find the best doctor. Everyone came up with the same name, Dr. Michael Yeh at UCLA. He is the guy.

Every doctor I’ve met along the way confirmed it including a second opinion doctor at a well known cancer center. They all said the same, “Ahhhh, Michael Yeh, you are in really good hands. He’s the best.”

THE CONSULTATION: During our initial consultation, Dr. Yeh pulled my husband into the conversation knowing that he was scared too. He made sure all our questions were answered. He spent time listening.

He did his own ultrasound and found a few inconsistencies made in the initial ultrasound I had done by a local imaging place. I don’t think I will be able trust anyone but Dr. Yeh to do my ultrasounds from now on. He is meticulous and steady, a quality I want in a surgeon.

I told Dr. Yeh that my voice was important to my work and we discussed the vocal chords and his approach. He said he has a lot of experience with similar patients who depend on their voice. Without saying much, I have a feeling he is the go to guy for actors, singers and voice talent in L.A. who face this type of surgery.

I’m a nightmare when I go through medical stuff and having cancer has really freaked me out. I ask zillions of questions and google way too much. For some reason, Dr. Yeh has been a good fit for me and his intellect puts me at ease. I know I’m dealing with excellence.

The same day, Dr. Yeh had me meet with an endocrinologist, Dr. Smooke. She was able to take me in without an appointment and talk to me about the thyroid medicine I would take the rest of my life. She is straight forward and gets back to me right away.

THE SURGERY: The first step was to have my thyroid removed. Dr. Yeh said if it came out contained, no need to do anything more but follow up blood work.

His “don’t do anything unnecessary” approach is what I look for in a doctor. Unfortunately, my nodule was invading a small part of the soft tissue so I had to do the Radioactive Iodine treatment to mop it up.

THE PATCH: I was worried that I would be nauseated after surgery, the last thing I wanted to do was throw up with stitches in my throat. Fortunately, I had a great anesthesiologist, Dr. Hong and his team. They gave me a patch behind my ear, the same thing you use for sea sickness. I woke up feeling really good. I even had some soup from CPK that my friends snuck in 6 hours after surgery because the hospital food is terrible!

RECOVERING FROM SURGERY: I was pleasantly surprised how good I felt after surgery. Dr. Yeh predicted that I would be hoarse for a while and experience a mild sore throat. I was able to talk, a bit hoarse, but my full voice came back within 2 weeks. I had a little pain under my chin for a couple of weeks but it went away too.

I’m very thankful to a nurse who encouraged me to do neck stretches right away. Even though I had stitches, I moved my head up and down and side to side. It really helped. I also took laps around the nurses station as soon as I could get up. I wanted to take back control of my body as soon as possible so I did my work.

Dr. Yeh made the incision in one of my 51-year-old neck wrinkles so it barely shows. I appreciate his attention to my vanity!

NUCLEAR MEDICINE AND THE PLASTIC ROOM A month after the surgery, my husband and I consulted with Dr. Schiepers in UCLA Nuclear medicine before my RAI treatment. Dr. Schiepers spent a lot of time answering our fearful questions, he reviewed the pathology reports and he entertained our curious science questions. We really enjoyed talking to him, it was fascinating in a National Geographic kind of way.

Two weeks before treatment, I did the low iodine diet. I stuck to it faithfully; I’ve never been able to stick to a diet in my life but I would eat worms for two week straight if it meant getting this cancer out of me. I’m determined.

On the day of my treatment, I was escorted to a room covered in plastic with a big lead door. I gave my husband a huge hug because I know it will be my last for a while.

Anthony, the nuclear tech, put rubber gloves on me, opened up a silver canister and pulled out a pill that looks like a tylenol capsule. I swallowed it and I started drinking a lot of water to get this out of me. Anthony followed the pill down my stomach with the geiger counter and my geiger reading started at 35, went to a 7 the next day and by Sunday it was a 2 and I was free to go.

Overall I did good but after a while I couldn’t take the smell of the plastic and metal in the room, It made me feel like I had morning sickness. The hospital food was nauseating and I craved cheese enchiladas. But if that’s the worse side effect, I’ll take it.

THE SCAN AND UPTAKE IN MY BREAST 3 days after I was released from the plastic room, I went back to nuclear medicine for a scan. I was so happy that Dr. Schiepers was there to discuss the results with us right away so there was no waiting and worrying.

Fortunately, nothing was in my lungs or bones and it all looked good but there was uptake in my breast! Dr. Scheipers and Anthony were so kind and comforting, they knew I was freaking out. What impressed us about Dr. Scheipers was how diligent he was and determined to find an answer. He immediately dug into my file to look at my past medical records while Anthony did a side scan. Dr. Scheipers figured out that a benign cyst that has been showing up on my annual mammograms was causing a false positive. I was relieved.

COUNTING MY GRATITUDE: I’m so thankful for Dr. Yeh and his excellence. He is a gifted surgeon and I’m thankful he shared that gift with me.

I’m grateful for my primary doc of 30 years, Jan Miyakawa. She has helped me navigate all the compartments and specialties. She is the thread that ties it all together. She calls me to check in and she knows how to handle my fear. She is a rare gem in the world of doctors.

I’m grateful for Dr. Smooke who is staying on top of my thyroid medicine. So far I have not had any side effects. She is a mom and during our first consult, she took the time to share ideas of how I would talk to my daughter about all of this.

I’m grateful for the team in nuclear medicine. It’s amazing what these scientists do. I wish all cancers could be treated in this way.

I’m grateful for modern medicine! Thank you UCLA.