When a routine physical leads to life-saving care for thyroid cancer.

Learning the importance of a physical

Stephanie Unser didn’t give much thought to the Saturday morning physical she had scheduled back in 2012, except for briefly entertaining the idea of rescheduling so that she could enjoy her whole day off. Turns out she was wise to keep her appointment at Sentara Family Medicine in Suffolk and visit that day with Nurse Practitioner Pharnethia Goodman Jackson, who felt something on Stephanie’s neck.

Stephanie later had a fine needle aspiration of her thyroid, and although the results came back as benign, she decided to follow advice to also have a surgical biopsy.

“I was nervous for the surgery and for the results. The staff and physicians did, however, make me feel at ease by walking me through the process and answering any questions I had,” said Stephanie. 

After having half of her thyroid removed, Stephanie learned that the four-centimeter tumor was in fact cancerous. Dr. Karakla, Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) head and neck surgeon, scheduled the surgery to remove the remaining thyroid lobe at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

Following her final surgery, Stephanie received radioactive iodine treatment from Dr. Bonner-Millar, EVMS radiation oncologist. She now receives follow up care from Dr. David Lieb, EVMS endocrinologist, and also finds comfort through a Facebook support group for thyroid cancer survivors.

“Having an outlet to share my experience with other thyroid cancer survivors and patients has made my recovery much better,” Stephanie says. “I enjoy helping other patients by sharing my personal story, and I learn from their journeys as well. By connecting with other patients, it has shown me how lucky I was to have my care team with the Sentara Cancer Network and EVMS. I know I would not have made it through my cancer experience without such a talented and compassionate team.”



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