Letter to Dr. Jennifer Ashton

1 Dec

Recently, Brooke Burke-Charvet was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Shortly after the news was released, Dr. Jennifer Ashton spoke about it on ABC News. Naturally, she said, “patients will do incredibly well…it will not affect her life.” I was annoyed, but not surprised. I reached out to Dr. Ashton via Twitter, asking her to refrain from dismissing the difficulties of thyroidless life. Many of my fellow thyroid cancer survivors friends did the same. It is Dr. Ashton’s Facebook response to us that has me infuriated. Here are the condensed highlights:

Here is my official response to the plethora of inaccurate, vicicous, hurtful and reactionary comments made following my segment on Brooke Burke’s recent diagnosis of thyroid cancer:

I am a practicing physician, who actually takes care of patients. Therefore, on a daily basis, I am involved in patient care, rather than trolling social media. 

 Perhaps many of those who were irate at my saying thryoid cancer is ‘good’ should go back and rewatch my segment. AT NO TIME DID I UTTER THOSE WORDS. IN FACT, BROOKE BURKE HERSELF DID, IN QUOTING HER ONCOLOGIST.

I would consider it incredibly poor form to mention any ominous, negative, skeptical, frightening, or discouraging comments about her disease on national television. She bravely brought her diagnosis to the public and it was my hope to ENCOURAGE those fighting the disease.

As an Ivy-League educated, Board-certified physician in Women’s health, (as all physicians do) I have been formally educated and trained in treating the entire patient, not just a body part. That is why medical school is four years and residency is four years. We learn the ENTIRE body, not just one specialty. I have patients with ALL types of cancer, including thyroid cancer. 

This journey has made me strong. But not strong enough to sit back and let her call thyroid cancer survivors vicious social media trolls. My letter to Dr. Ashton follows.

Dear Dr. Ashton,

I was very sorry to hear that one of my fitness idols, Brooke Burke-Charvet, was diagnosed with the disease that ripped my body apart. When I saw her video blog, I pitied her…I remember thinking I had “good cancer” too. And who told me I had “good cancer?” My stupid, stupid doctor. And why did my doctor say that? Because the pervasive thinking in the medical community is: “Outcomes are everything. Thyroid cancer doesn’t kill as many people as some other cancers. Quality of life post-surgery is not really a problem.” Guess what? It’s a HUGE problem. But since most doctors are unsympathetic, our problems are brushed off as imaginary, self-inflicted or exaggerated.

When you went on national television and said, VERBATIM  “patients will do incredibly well…this will not affect her life,” I thought, what a waste of an opportunity to set the record straight about thyroid cancer. Instead, our doctors, employers, family and friends will continue to feel justified as they condescend us and blame our thyroidless symptoms on other things. So I reached out to you in hopes you would recant your statement and at least acknowledge that while thyroid cancer has an excellent prognosis in terms of life expectancy, that life can be quite altered. Instead, the entire thyroid cancer survivor community was called names and further dismissed in our fight for true awareness.

I get why you are defensive. You should be. You are very, very wrong. It is not your words that we are most offended by, it is your attitude and beliefs about cancer patient care. We do not wish to be lied to for purposes of encouragement. It would be very encouraging to me to have a doctor confirm that I am not crazy and that my symptoms are real, and are to be expected after a thyroidectomy. Instead, I was supposed to go back to “life as usual,” so I must have suddenly come down with a case of obesity, depression, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue, hair-falling-out-in-clumps, shaky-hands syndrome. If I had not connected to the wonderful community of thyroid cancer survivors whom you categorize as “vicious,” I would believe I was all alone. I might be focused on correcting my plethora of new health problems with additional, unneeded medications instead of focusing on optimizing my thyroid medication and the new lifestyle it requires. All you had to do was say,” I apologize if I offended those who are battling this chronic disease.” Instead, you had to throw your Ivy-League education in our faces, as if that qualifies you to know more about our daily lives. (P.S. “Vicious” is not spelled with an extra “c.” You spelled “thyroid” wrong. And “re-watch” is hyphenated. But what do I know? I only went to a lowly little college in Middle America.)

I hope with all my heart that thyroid cancer will not affect Brooke Burke-Charvet’s daily life as much as it has mine. But in case it does, I hope she will connect to doctors and fellow survivors who can give her the real encouraging words she needs: “You are beautiful. You are tough. And while your thyroidless life will be different, it can still be great.”

Sincerely,

Sarah Young, Thyroid Cancer Survivor

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7 Responses to “Letter to Dr. Jennifer Ashton”

  1. elvira walker December 4, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Your letter could not have been more profound. You certainly spoke for me.

  2. sarahyoung1119 December 5, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Thank you Elvira!

    • Tracey Johnson December 5, 2012 at 11:22 am #

      Thank you Sarah for your advocacy, time and dedication. Life without a thyroid, whether it be the result of cancer or auto-immune disease, is devastating to the “ENTIRE body”. Perhaps an issue that should be integrated to the medical education that Dr. Ashton refers.

    • Wendi Strange December 11, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      Thank you!…..Thank you! Beautiful letter.

  3. Becky December 10, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    Thank you Sarah for a wonderful response. It was well worded and I appreciate you taking the time to do this. There is hope that someday people will listen to us!

  4. P December 18, 2012 at 6:14 pm #

    thank You Sarah, it is for me, can be for others a very debilitating journey. Very well written. Thanks again….Please I pray the world realizes the extreme side affects of being thyroidless and cancer looming constantly is horrible.

  5. Lyson April 29, 2016 at 12:25 am #

    True. Thank you for sharing your letter if advocacy. It has been 6 yrs. Since my thyroidectomy and I appreciate your positive view re: blog. -after going through a similar tremendous health upheaval Myself, I came through this life experience recognizing both my vulnerability and strength.

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