LB Third Section

May 1, 2018

Barbara Kopyta had been suffering from thyroid issues ever since she had her children, her youngest, Matt, born in 2000. None of her issues had been severe enough for her to seek treatment.

Kopyta was more than aware of her symptoms, being that hypothyroidism runs in her family. But as far as papillary carcinoma, she is the first in her family to be diagnosed

“I never thought it was cancer, I just thought I had official hypothyroid.”

In the summer of 2008, her symptoms took a turn for the worst and became more severe. Kopyta noticed that she was experiencing hair loss and heart palpitations, and suspected that she finally developed hypothyroidism.

Upon visiting her endocrinologist, she received an ultrasound showing the same enlarged nodules, a small swelling of cells, that she’d had for several years but they had now become big enough to perform a needle biopsy on.

Kopyta’s endocrinologist gave her the option of performing the biopsy immediately in her office. Kopyta agreed, only to later find out she had papillary thyroid cancer.

“When I received the call from my doctor, it was 9 o’clock at night, and I saw the caller I.D. and I turned to my husband and I said ‘This isn’t good news, just so you know.’ Doctors don’t call at 9 o’clock at night with good news,” she said.

Being a former physician, Kopyta, although surprised by her diagnosis, says that she didn’t go into a “panic mode” but instead did her research on disease and even had her surgeon lined up by the next day.

Her family, while also shocked and distressed by her diagnosis, avoided panicking as well. Kopyta claims that after doing their research and learning that it was very curable and easily treated, her family became a strong and everlasting support system.

Kopyta underwent a full thyroidectomy in October 2008. Her calm and focused outlook followed her into the operating room, although there was uncertainty of whether or not the cancer had manifested in both sides of her thyroid. Though her doctors knew the carcinoma was contained and localized, there is never 100% certainty until you’re in surgery.

Her doctors had spoken about only taking the side of her thyroid infested with tumors out, but once in surgery, it was clear that both sides were affected and must be removed.

With any surgery, there are risks and complications that can arise before, during, or after operation. So to insure her health and safety, Kopyta was kept overnight in the hospital.

The biggest risks of thyroid removal surgery are damage to the nerve that is connected to the voice, which can result in a permanent voice change or loss of voice entirely. There is also risk of damage to small, microscopic glands that surround the thyroid called the parathyroid glands. If damaged, they can affect the body’s calcium levels and result in heart problems such as palpitations.

Fortunately for Kopyta, she experienced none of these symptoms while hospitalized, and left the hospital a day later with a positive outlook towards a slow but steady recovery.

Because thyroid disorders and cancers are passed down genetically, not only are Kopyta’s blood relatives at risk of developing thyroid disorders, but her children are susceptible to developing papillary thyroid cancer as well.

“Since that time, my brother has been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is a form of hypothyroidism. Now that they know my history, they watch him very, very closely. Both of my children have been tested, the pediatrician did that right after my diagnosis,” she said.

Kopyta’s knowledge of her family history and her calm and focused perspective through her journey made the stress of the diagnosis and treatment much easier to bare. She makes sure that her children, as well has her other family members, stay aware of their health and symptoms to ensure that any disease is treated swiftly and easily.

“It’s about knowing, and that information is worth a lot,” Kopyta said.

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