In a serendipitous twist of fate, Sally Rohan, a 27-year-old medical student at the Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey, discovered that she had Stage 1 papillary thyroid cancer during a first-year ultrasound class. Rohan, while learning to operate the ultrasound machine, volunteered to have her thyroid examined. The ultrasound image revealed an unexpected, bumpy appearance on her thyroid, a deviation from the norm.
The instructor, recognizing the anomaly as a nodule, advised Rohan to consult a doctor. Despite having no symptoms and normal thyroid hormone levels, the irregularity detected on the ultrasound raised concerns. A gap in her health insurance, however, postponed a formal thyroid ultrasound for nearly a year. The eventual diagnosis delivered a shock: The cancer had advanced, spreading to her lymph nodes.
Dr. Richard Jermyn, the interim dean of the school, underscored the fortuitous nature of this discovery. Without the ultrasound class, it's likely that the cancer would have remained undetected, potentially advancing to a more dangerous stage. This incident underscores the importance of early detection, even in the absence of notable symptoms or abnormal hormone levels.
Rohan's personal experience with cancer has offered her a novel perspective of the patient's journey. She has grappled with understanding medical terminology, coordinating insurance, and scheduling appointments. These experiences have deepened her empathy for patients' struggles, likely shaping her future medical practice.
Rohan is now slated for surgery and radioiodine therapy, marking the next step in her battle against cancer. Amidst the challenges, her story serves as a reminder of the vital importance of early detection and the unexpected ways it can occur.