Akosua Paintsil, diagnosed at 16

I was working on plans for my Sweet 16 party with my mom. She was in the living room and I was in the kitchen – my mom had a strict no-eating-in-the-living-room policy, and I was having dinner.

I got an idea for the party and ran to the living room to tell my mom about it, still chewing. I swallowed and started to tell my mom my idea, but she looked distracted. “What’s that?” she said, pointing out a lump on my neck. “Did you bump your neck?”

I thought that was a weird question. How would I have bumped my neck? It didn’t hurt or even feel funny, and it was only visible when I swallowed. I remembered my friends joking around about my having an Adam’s apple, but I never took them seriously – I thought it was just high school teasing.

“Having surgery for the first time at 16 years old was scary, but I am glad I got diagnosed early and the thyroid cancer was treated successfully.”

My mom was really concerned about the lump but tried not to seem nervous. She took me to my primary care physician, who felt the lump and sent me to an endocrinologist to do further testing. Biopsy results indicated that it was in fact a tumor, and the endocrinologist recommended having surgery to remove the tumor.

I was scared. I’d never had surgery, had never even been to the emergency room. The lump didn’t hurt or give me any other symptoms, so I wanted to wait and see if it would go away on its own. My endocrinologist strongly suggested surgery because the biopsy doesn’t give the whole picture of what’s going on. My mom agreed that I should have the surgery, so finally I decided to have the lump taken out.

The doctor removed my right thyroid, and testing revealed it was in fact cancerous. Treatment included removing my left thyroid and undergoing radiation therapy. Luckily we had found the thyroid cancer early, and I didn’t need chemotherapy.

Looking back, I can now identify other potential early warning signs. I was comfortable with my primary care physician, but never thought to mention things like headaches while jumping for a rebound in basketball, getting really dizzy if I was hungry and heat rashes on my neck. I also remember being really tired a lot, which both my mom and I attributed to me being so active with track and basketball. Now I wonder if those could have been symptoms of cancer too, and I make sure I tell my doctor everything to get a full picture of my health.

I am lucky that I had such great doctors, and a mom who was able to advocate for me. She recognized that the lump was a change in my health, acted quickly to get it checked out, and encouraged me to follow through with full testing to figure out what was really going on. I am also lucky that I have a primary care physician that I feel comfortable enough to share everything with. Having surgery for the first time at 16 years old was scary, but I am glad I got diagnosed early and the thyroid cancer was treated successfully.


  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • rash on neck
  • fatigue