An Interview with Nick Thompson, Editor-in-chief of WIRED, on Undergoing Thyroid Cancer Surgery


Nick generously shares his account of undergoing thyroid surgery to overcome a follicular variant of papillary thyroid cancer 

Nicholas Thompson is the editor-in-chief of WIRED, a contributor to CBS News, a marathoner, a father, a musician, a publishing co-founder, an author, and much more.  In a profoundly moving essay he recently wrote about his father and their shared lifelong love of running, Nick also alluded to his challenging experience overcoming thyroid cancer in 2005 at the age of 30.  

In the past 15 years, much has changed about the treatment landscape of thyroid disorders. But Nick’s personal experiences will surely resonate with anyone coping with thyroid cancer. 

Nick was generous enough to answer some questions about his experience, as well as share a vivid journal account he wrote detailing his treatment journey.  (You can read the journal entry on our blog, and it is linked again at the bottom of this interview).   Many thanks again to Nick for his candor.  We hope you will find this interview useful. 

GETTING DIAGNOSED

How did you learn you had thyroid cancer?  Were there initial physical symptoms?  Results from blood work? Or a nodule found during a physical exam?

I was having a regular physical with my GP. He found a lump in my neck that I couldn't feel. We then did a biopsy.

After a biopsy, did the doctor tell you what type of cancer it was?  (e.g., Papillary, Follicular, Medullary, Anaplastic).

Yes. It was a follicular variant of papillary thyroid cancer.

What were some of your feelings?  Did you feel reassured by the prognosis?  Did you feel an urgency to move quickly?

I just felt overwhelmed and frightened. I did want to move quickly and I did want to be done with it. But I was just 30 and it was the first frightening medical diagnosis I had ever received.

Was there anything particularly helpful to you in that time?  Activities?  Resources?  For example, did you seek information online, or was that a bad idea?  (This question is coming from a hypochondriac who would diagnose myself with a third arm if I read the wrong blog online).

One thing that was very helpful was speaking with an older mentor who was also going through cancer at the same time, who helped me understand how to talk to other people about it. But fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, this was somewhat before the explosion of medical information online. 

Anything else you remember from that period of being diagnosed?  Any tips you would have given yourself, knowing what you now know?

I actually wrote a little journal about the whole thing, which I'm going to paste at the bottom of this.

FINDING A SURGEON / GETTING TREATMENT

How did you go about finding a surgeon?  Did you meet with several?  If so, why did you choose yours?  Did you feel reassured?   Was health insurance involved in the decision?

I just went with the one my GP recommended. And his last name was Cutter, so I assumed he had to be good.

Were you ever offered a wait-and-watch approach? If so, did you consider it?  If not, do you think you might have appreciated the option?  (Background: some hospitals offer something called Active Surveillance for those who don’t want or need to undergo surgery.  It depends on the type of cancer and a host of other criteria, and it is an individual choice for each person.  Just curious if you had that option or debated it).  

In retrospect, I might have done this. But this was an earlier time for thyroid cancer and I don't recall that being an option discussed. The one unfortunate thing that happened was that I had a first surgery where the doctor removed half of the thyroid and believed it was benign. The initial tests also indicated it was benign, which was a huge relief. But further studies revealed that it was not benign and, in fact, I would have to return to surgery to have the rest taken out. This was a shock and very hard.

[Editor’s Note:  In Nick’s case, it is neither certain nor likely that Active Surveillance would have been appropriate — or even an option — for his particular thyroid cancer.  Active Surveillance requires that the patient’s cancer meet specific criteria in terms of tumor size, location, (non)involvement of lymph nodes, and involves a thorough discussion regarding a person’s coexisting risk factors, risk tolerance, and age.  Learn more about Active Surveillance, and the current state of thyroid care.]

AFTER THE PROCEDURE

Do you take a daily Thyroid Hormone replacement pill? Synthroid, for example?  Any reactions to this, either physical or emotional?  Has this become a regular routine, or a source of stress?  Any other follow-up procedures or medicines that were required? 

Yes. I take synthroid now and it is routine and easy. But it took me about six months to get the dose right, and that was a very hard period.

Your essay beautifully describes the emotional impact thyroid cancer had on prior feelings of youthful invincibility, and the strides you made to reach even higher goals than ever before.  It is a great inspiration to all of us, and I imagine especially to people who are going through this.  Were there any “mindset” shifts you underwent that helped you move on?

I think the last year has actually been helpful. I kept my experience pretty bottled up for a long time. I didn't talk with anyone about it and there were close friends and colleagues who had no idea what I had been through. Yes, people would see the scar and ask. But I never offered information about the experience, and that probably limited my ability to think about it and learn from it.


*To read a vividly detailed journal account that Nick wrote about his treatment journey, click HERE 

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