My name is Anna Warner. I am a wife and mother of 3, a sales professional for a pharmaceutical company, and a singer who has sung on stage, television, and radio. I am a thyroid cancer survivor.
For months I struggled with a sore throat, hoarseness, and at several singing engagements was unable to reach notes that I could have before. After a few rounds of antibiotics and continued humidifier use, massaging my neck one day, I found a lump. The following week I was with an ENT, he scoped my throat and did not see anything. He ordered an ultrasound then a biopsy; by the end of the week I was diagnosed with Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma with a 4cm tumor. 3 weeks later on January 31, 2008 I was on the operating table.
After the 7 hour surgery, my surgeon told me the cancer was un-encapsulated, tumors were everywhere, and my right recurrent laryngeal nerve was cut leaving my right vocal chord permanently paralyzed. He said my singing was over. I did not have a voice for about 4 months afterward. March of 2008 I received 256 mc of Radioactive Iodine (Radioiodine) Therapy for Thyroid Cancer (RAI) and soon after, my left remaining vocal chord started moving again and I started speaking softly.
By April of 2009, I was miraculously singing at a concert once again. Unfortunately by August 2009 a routine ultrasound showed my cancer had returned.
September was surgery number 2. The surgeon took out some cancerous lymph nodes and my endocrinologist decided not to re-administer RAI because he thought I was resistant since my cancer had come back.
I was singing again by November, but in December of 2009, another ultrasound showed I had a large tumor surrounding my healthy left recurrent laryngeal nerve. It was 4cm long completely wrapped around the nerve, the surgeon compared this to ‘chipping a brick off a spaghetti noodle”.
I ended up with a specialist at the University if Michigan and was warned that the surgery was complicated and not to panic, but I more than likely would need a tracheotomy after the surgery and for the rest of my life. I grieved for my voice, my singing, and my breathing in general but was ready to fight for my life.
My third surgery was in March 2010 and after the 4 hour surgery, the brilliant surgeon was able to save my left nerve, in turn saving my left vocal chord, but did have to take part of my trachea. Since my papillary cancer was a rare and aggressive subtype, the doctors decided to do aggressive external beam radiation and treat my cancer like esophageal cancer. This formed scar tissue around my left nerve and vocal chord so now that too is partially paralyzed. Despite vocalizing with a half of a functioning vocal chord along with some difficulty breathing at times because my vocal chords now sit closer together, I am singing again. It is a miracle and my doctors don’t understand why or how my voice can be so clear.
I have written a book called ‘My Lipstick Journey Through Cancer’ and will be singing at the opening of my area Relay for Life in a couple weeks. It’s been a long and emotional journey, but I’m still standing and I’m alive! Oh yeah, officially one year cancer free!