Statistically, thyroid cancer affects more women than men. In 2017, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, approximately 5,400 women will be diagnosed with the disease.

But, as celeb Brooke Burke-Charvet points out, cancer can be overcome and the best way to do so is to catch it early.

Burke-Charvet was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2012 and it was a complete surprise. “My cancer was caught in a regular, general physical checkup. I had no symptoms at all, which is quite common, and I was fortunate to have a very thorough doctor who felt a lump and recommended I check it out and have an ultrasound,” says Burke-Charvet.

Other than a lump, symptoms of thyroid cancer may include a cough, neck swelling, difficulty swallowing, and hoarseness, but it tends to be a slower-growing cancer and patients often don’t know they have it until a thyroidectomy — a partial or full removal of the thyroid gland — is done.

Burke-Charvet had several ultrasounds, in fact, before it was recommended she have a thyroidectomy, and it was confirmed that she had thyroid cancer.

“Hearing the c-word is scary,” says Burke-Charvet. “I’ve always been committed to health and wellness, and this showed me that I was not invincible. It was shocking and it was scary, because I think most people relate the word cancer to death.”

Dealing with cancer

Burke-Charvet did two things when she was diagnosed: she researched her condition, and she assembled the right team. “I did a lot of research so that I could fully understand the diagnosis,” she says. “When I began to understand what I was going to go through, it helped me remain positive. I also immediately decided to gather a team of doctors with whom I could have a partnership. I got several opinions, which I think is very important, and then I decided to be a good patient and to put faith in my team and stay positive, because a lot of negativity can brew in fear.”

Her team extended beyond the medical field, though, and Burke-Charvet stresses the importance of having people around you who can provide support:

“These are the people you can count on in your life — your friends, your family, your doctors. Finding those people who can guide you and take care of you is invaluable. My best girlfriend also had thyroid cancer and she was a powerful force for me, comforting me and guiding me with her experience. This was one of the reasons why I decided to make a public announcement about my diagnosis. I wanted to be able to do that same thing for other people who were going through thyroid cancer.”

Taking preventative measures

Today, things are good. “Now, life goes on as usual for me and I feel great,” says Burke-Charvet. “I was horrified to check into the hospital as a cancer patient, but I survived it and now I’m able to share that story and, hopefully, that will help a lot of people.”

Burke-Charvet was struck to learn how many people have never had a physical. “I’m a big believer and advocate for health and wellness and taking care of yourself. We don’t miss those types of appointments for our children, so why do we miss them for ourselves? It’s no joke; take two hours out of your day and take care of your body. Early detection saves lives.”

Her final words of advice? “Don’t be ruled by fear. Empower yourself with knowledge, envision positive things, find a support group, whether in person or an online community of people going through something similar, and treat yourself with compassion.”