Surviving Thyroid Cancer


When one is told to have the Big C at the prime of one’s life, one’s perspective changes, making one grateful even for the little blessings in life

By Excel V. Dyquiangco

While studying in a coffee shop late October in 2016, dentist Jio Vaughn Santos never noticed anything peculiar. His friend who was a medical student from UP Manila and was with him at that time, however, told a different story.

“My friend noticed an asymmetry on the left side of my neck and advised me to have it checked,” says Jio. “I pushed the check-up for two weeks until I could feel that the lump was getting bigger and finally had it checked on the 4th of November of the same year. I was advised to get an ultrasound for it and consequently, a biopsy where they had to remove my whole thyroid gland. Only then did we learn that I had papillary thyroid cancer.”

Papillary thyroid cancer, Jio learned, is the most common type of thyroid cancer. He was naturally shocked at first but he knew better than to let his emotions get the best of him.

After digesting the news slowly, he asked his doctor how he could have possibly gotten the illness and his doctor told him it was probably caused by a genetic mutation since he had no known family history that pointed to thyroid cancer. “I smoked before but at the time of my diagnosis, I have been nicotine-free for ten whole months,” he says. “All I know was I have a new battle ahead of me.”

Dealing with cancer

Jio says that the first few weeks after getting this unfortunate news, he tried to remain level-headed, often thinking of the best ways to cope with the disease. He also never allowed himself to wallow in self pity or sadness because of his condition. Instead, he told himself that he was going to be a ray of sunshine to those who need it.

“It really didn’t take much for me to process it to the level that I needed to function properly,” he says. “I knew that all I had to do was be diligent with my treatments and follow my doctors and trust that everything goes well.”

So a month after his total thyroidectomy with lateral neck dissection, he was subjected to radioactive iodine treatment. His lifestyle also changed as he was compelled to eat better and healthier. He had to go through months avoiding iodine-rich food (seafood, iodized salt, soy products) in preparation for his treatments, so it became quite a big change for him and his family.

Early in his treatment, he had already decided that he would never allow himself to snoop around medical sites for information about his treatment, or to search about the little pains that he felt. He also didn’t allow himself to have negative thoughts because he knew that it wouldn’t help him and the people around him. All he knew was that in order for him to be healthy and cancer-free, he needed to trust his doctors, absorb the support from his family and friends, and pray.

He also had to quit school for one semester.

“That was supposed to be my last semester in dental school, too,” he says. “And when I finally went back to school, it was difficult to stay in a condo alone in Manila and be on a strict low-iodine diet in preparation for treatments and scans.”

Perhaps one of the most unforgettable moments in his cancer treatment was his first birthday after the diagnosis. It was December 28, 2016 and his family decided to spend the night in Tagaytay overlooking Taal Lake. He remembers watching the sunrise on the day of his birthday—with his whole family. It was then when he realized that it’s the little things in life that make living such a beautiful thing.

Jio’s saving grace

Two years after he was diagnosed with cancer – and after spending so much amount on his treatments and medications – he was inside the premises of a mall when he got a Viber message from his doctor who also happened to be his aunt, Dr. Florence Santos.

The news broke records when his aunt told Jio that he was cancer-free and all of them began crying inside the mall!

After which, his mom called his dad and his other relatives to inform them. It seemed like a scene from a TV show but it was such a happy moment for his whole family.

Jio admits that having cancer changed his perspectives and his outlook on life. He began to be more grateful for the little things, and he has learned to appreciate them more. “When you go your whole life taking things for granted, something as drastic as having cancer can make you realize that these things – no matter how little – are important too,” he says.

For those who have been diagnosed with cancer and are having a hard time coping, Jio advises to listen to their doctors and follow them diligently, absorb all the support and to pray intently.

“My doctors, headed by Dr. Florence Santos and Dr. Bonan Achilles Mendoza, were very hands-on and involved me throughout the whole process of my treatments,” he says. “I’m also very lucky to have a very supportive family, who never let me feel like I was a burden to the finances. PhilHealth was such a blessing, since I have just been paying for a few months when we got to use it. I’m sure that with a little research, there are also foundations that are willing to help and extend a hand to those who are in need of help to finance their treatments.”

“He remembers watching the sunrise on the day of his birthday—with his whole family. It was then when he realized that it’s the little things in life that make living such a beautiful thing”

Sept 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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