Tara Pagano, diagnosed at 29

I was about to turn 30, had just had my fourth baby and was living a great life – and a very busy one!

I traveled 20 weeks out of the year, worked literally around the clock and went to the gym five days a week. We were adjusting to our chaotic life because our family had doubled in size in 18 months.

My husband noticed a lump on my neck, and was concerned. I would have just ignored it, but he wanted me to get it checked out. I saw my primary care doctor a few weeks later and asked about the lump.

My doctor didn’t think much of it and referred me to an endocrinologist who initially thought it was just a goiter filled with fluid, but sent me for an ultrasound as a precaution. Results came back that it was a solid mass and that’s when things got serious. A biopsy was quickly done—three months had passed since my husband first noticed the lump, and all of a sudden the week of Christmas I found myself at a cancer center for a consult.

“We need to make ourselves a priority as well—pay attention to your own subtle health changes and share them with your doctor.”

Looking back, the lump was the only symptom I noticed at the time, but there were other health changes. I was tired, exhausted and forgetful, but I didn’t think much of those because they could all be explained by my 50-hour work week and four kids (two of them under two years old).

Once I was diagnosed my world changed in an instant—I was frozen in fear. I met with various surgeons until I found one whom I felt understood my concerns. I was very scared, postponed the surgery two times and the tumor was the size of an egg making it difficult to eat and breath. I finally realized I was afraid of anesthesia, so my amazing surgeon removed half my thyroid with me awake under local anesthetic.

I declined the radioactive iodine because of the risk to my babies—knowing that the cancer could return. Years later, I have no evidence of disease, am off all medication and still have half my thyroid. I am forever grateful for finding my amazing doctor. I am now 43 and spend a good portion of my time doing CrossFit and running obstacle course races.

As moms and caregivers, we are always focused on others. We need to make ourselves a priority as well—pay attention to your own subtle health changes and share them with your doctor.

My advice to others is to find a doctor that you are comfortable with that has you best emotional and physical well-being as a priority. Never settle and don’t let your diagnosis define you—be amazing every day!


  • exhaustion
  • forgetfulness