Illustration of thyroid cancer on a patient's neck

"I'm grateful I was required to have that physical"

In recognition of National Women’s Checkup Day, celebrated the second Monday of each May, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is highlighting an employee who hopes to inspire others by sharing the lesson she learned about the importance of visiting your doctor regularly. This is her story: 

As a healthy and fairly young woman, I have been fortunate to enjoy good health with only minor issues requiring a doctor’s attention over the years. Each year, I have been diligent about scheduling my regular dental visits and annual exams with my gynecologist, but until recently didn’t have a primary care physician and I didn’t have annual physicals. I rarely went to the doctor for ailments, so I didn’t think I needed either.

Thank goodness, my health insurance provider felt differently. A few years back, my plan with Blue Care Network required me to have an annual physical. I made my appointment and thought it would be an easy in-and-out visit. For the most part it was, but I was surprised by something the doctor mentioned literally upon my first steps into the room. She welcomed me, introduced herself and said “it looks like your throat is a bit enlarged, so we’ll need to take a look at your thyroid.” Puzzled, I asked her what she meant. I didn’t realize my throat was enlarged. It certainly didn’t feel different. At least I didn’t think it did.

She brought me over to the mirror and touched around my neck area to show me the inflammation. I didn’t see anything that looked different than what I saw in the mirror every day. Then, she gently pulled my neck back to highlight where the enlargement was. Now I saw it and couldn’t believe I had never noticed it. Thankfully, she was very calm and shared with me that it was common for people to miss the bump(s). Some nodules can be felt easily and others are hidden deep in the thyroid tissue or low in the gland making them difficult to feel.

She asked me a series of questions after that:

“It looks like your throat is a bit enlarged, so we’ll need to take a look at your thyroid.”

  • Do you have a hard time swallowing or breathing?
  • Have you been coughing more recently?
  • Have you had problems maintaining your weight?

These are symptoms of possible thyroid problems, some of which I had been experiencing but didn’t make the connection.

Following that appointment, I went on to have an ultrasound on my neck to see what we were working with. The test confirmed I had several nodules, solid or fluid-filled lumps that form on the thyroid. The majority of thyroid nodules are benign and many do not need treatment, but my doctor recommended I have a fine-needle aspiration biopsy to be sure.

I’m incredibly thankful that my biopsy discovered no cancerous nodules. While no further treatment was prescribed at the time, I was advised this was a condition I would need to monitor frequently. I am so grateful I was required to have that physical. Had it not been for that appointment, I know I would have gone a long time without seeing a primary care physician and without having a physical. I now realize how important it is to establish a relationship with a primary doctor that knows you and can alert you to any changes in your health., as well as your gynecologist and your dentist.

Our trusted physicians are our first line of defense against potential health problems…a very important lesson I learned from this experience.

Do you have a story on how a checkup helped with your health? Please share with us at stories@bcbsm.com or leave a comment below.

Photo credit: National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read 4 Comments