HANCOCK COUNTY — Spending time with her girls is the highlight of Christy Harpold’s day.
Harpold, 43, of Greenfield doesn’t take one minute she gets beside daughters Ella, 10, and Brooklynn, 15, for granted — not after she learned what it feels like to miss her family.
More than 10 years ago, Harpold was forced to stay away from both her girls during radiation treatments as she battled thyroid cancer.
Persistence to find out why she didn’t feel well and determination to get better once she learned the cause are two keys to why Harpold is alive today, she said.
Harpold was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the fall of 2006 when she was 32 years old. It was the first of two pieces of shocking news to come within days.
Within a week of her diagnosis, she learned she was pregnant with her second daughter.
“It all kind of came in one fell swoop there,” Harpold said.
In November of 2006, three months into her pregnancy, Harpold had surgery to remove her thyroid, but she postponed radiation treatments until after Ella was born in April 2007.
In July that year, Harpold underwent a special type of treatment that required her to stay in isolation to keep her as healthy as possible, away from both her daughters, who were 6 months and 4 years old at the time. She also had to stay away from the rest of her family, her support system, for at least a week.
When she was finally allowed to leave the hospital, Harpold went to stay at her parents’ home, where she was isolated in a room for a week until the radiation had cleared from her body, and she was gradually able to be around people.
“It’s important to advocate for yourself and your own needs … It comes back to that self-advocacy, finding the best person to consult and then treat.”
“It was summertime, so I’d go outside and have to sit on one side of the patio while my mom and dad would sit way on the other,” Harpold recalled.
Following the treatment, Harpold needed to have three clean cancer scans within a six- to nine-month period. But in July of 2008, when her girls were 1 and 5 years old, doctors found more cancer cells, forcing her to undergo radiation treatments a second time.
Thinking of her young daughters who needed her at home, she mustered the strength to try and get healthy.
“In all honesty, it was a lot harder the second time around,” Harpold said.
While thyroid cancer is highly treatable, the emotional issues that come with the diagnosis — keeping the patient away from loved ones during a time of need — are doubly hard, Harpold said.
Her oldest daughter remembers her mother going through treatments, how she had to stay away.
Brooklynn, 5 at the time and 15 now, is finally able to ask her mom questions about the time she had surgery and was isolated.
“She understands that it was cancer, and it has had an impact on her,” Harpold said.
When Harpold underwent follow-up tests last year, Brooklynn was concerned. She feared the cancer might return. It hadn’t.
As for Ella, she’s got the spirit of a fighter, her mother said. Ella battled to live inside Harpold for nine months as Harpold fought thyroid cancer and the complications from the surgery to remove her thyroid.
“She had to be pretty strong to live through that with me, and she did,” Harpold said.
Now, Harpold’s advice for others is to listen to their bodies and push a doctor for answers when you know you’re not feeling well.
Knowing her family had a history of thyroid issues, Harpold kept asking her doctor to look further into her thyroid when her blood tests didn’t show any issues. That persistence led her to a thyroid specialist in 2006, and the doctor there found she had cancer.
“It’s important to advocate for yourself and your own needs,” Harpold said. “It comes back to that self-advocacy, finding the best person to consult and then treat.”
Her journey with cancer isn’t over. She’ll take medication for the rest of her life as a result. But she pushes on, thinking of Brooklynn and Ella.
They are her inspiration. They remind her every day what she has to live for, she said.
Cancer type: Thyroid
Date of diagnosis: 2006
Thyroid cancer starts in a person’s thyroid gland.
The thyroid gland is below the thyroid cartilage, better known as the Adam’s apple in the front part of the neck.
In most people, the thyroid cannot be seen or felt. It is butterfly shaped, with a right and left lobe.
How common is thyroid cancer in the United States for 2017?
About 56,870 new cases of thyroid cancer have been diagnosed with 42,470 in women, and 14,400 in men.
About 2,010 deaths from thyroid cancer have occurred this year with 1,090 women and 920 men.
Source: American Cancer Society