From Shopper News Health & Lifestyles
As a school psychologist for Anderson County Schools, Joshua Reese, 31, evaluates children who may need extra services in school. But Reese put those research skills to work for himself nearly a year ago when he was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer.
“My endocrinologist gave me several surgeons’ names and I did research on them, looking at their credentials and reading about thyroid cancer,” said Reese. He chose Dr. Troy F. Kimsey, a Premier Surgical surgical oncologist on the medical staff of Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.
“I felt really comfortable with Dr. Kimsey. I contemplated and prayed over it, and I felt like it was a good fit,” he said.
The process began in July 2015, when Reese felt a lump on the left side of his neck. “You could see it protruding; it was palpable. At first I thought it was some lymph node thing, but it grew,” said Reese. His primary care doctor ordered an ultrasound and a CT scan to get images of the mass that was in his lymph nodes.
“He sent me to an ear, nose and throat doctor, and I had the mass removed at the end of August. We did not believe it was cancerous at the time,” said Reese. “He thought it was a cyst. But I got the results back in September, and found out it was thyroid cancer.
“I saw Dr. Kimsey on a Thursday and he said, ‘Let’s get this thing out.’ He was very confident, and I felt like he was the right one to do the surgery,” said Reese.
Papillary thyroid cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer, although it is three times more common in women than men.
“It has a very good prognosis, certainly a 90-plus percent cure,” said Kimsey. “We measure thyroid cancer in 30-year survival rates instead of five years, and if a person is less than 45 years old, it’s typically a lower stage of cancer and a better prognosis. There are other more aggressive types of thyroid cancer, but they’re very uncommon.”
In October, Dr. Kimsey completely removed Reese’s thyroid gland, along with the rest of the lymph nodes on the left side of his neck. Kimsey also transplanted one of Reese’s parathyroid glands into the thyroid area. These rice-sized glands control the level of calcium in the body.
“I was in the hospital three nights,” Reese said. “Going in, I was expecting at least one night in the hospital, but my calcium had difficulty balancing out so I had to take a lot of calcium,” Reese said. “I received excellent care at Fort Sanders,” said Reese. “Everyone encouraged me. They rally around you – it was a very positive experience. I had not been in the hospital since I was 5 years old, so it was all really a new experience to me. It was definitely great care.”
About a month after surgery, Reese followed up with a thyroid ablation performed by his endocrinologist. The thyroid gland absorbs nearly all iodine in the body. For a thyroid ablation, the patient eats a low-iodine diet for a few weeks, and then ingests a radioactive iodine pill or liquid. The radiation goes straight to the remaining thyroid cells, while having little effect on the rest of the body. Perhaps the trickiest part is that the patient must stay away from other people for a few days so as not to expose them to radiation.
“I went to Fort Sanders and took a nuclear iodine pill, and then I had to be by myself for three days, in isolation,” said Reese. He went straight to a lake house owned by the parents of his fiancée (now his wife, Kelsey Reese).
“So I had a nice weekend by myself, for 72 hours of isolation. Really there were no major side effects,” Reese said. “There was some anxiousness of not knowing the results of my upcoming scan, so that was the biggest part.”
Fortunately, by the first week of December the scan results were back and it was good news. “I got cleared the first week of December, and got married the third week of December,” said Reese. “It was a wild ride for a few months.”
Today Reese takes daily thyroid replacement hormones, but is back to working with students at school. At first they were curious about the scar on his neck.
“I said I was attacked by pirates,’” he joked. “No, I told them what happened, and they were very understanding. I feel like it helps relate to some students.
“I ran the Covenant Health Half Marathon a few weeks ago,” Reese added. “Married life is good. I have to take thyroid medication and keep an eye on it, but I’m doing well.