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Patient Stories: Thyroid Cancer, Richie

Boston Medical Center’s "Magic Bullet" for Thyroid Cancer Gives Young Man a Second Chance

Just after turning 21 years old, college student Richie Haley was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Richie's primary care physician quickly referred him to Scharukh Jalisi, MD, FACS, director of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology and Skull Base Surgery at Boston Medical Center, for a surgical evaluation.

Working with BMC endocrinologist Alan Farwell, MD, Dr. Jalisi explained to Richie that his preoperative scans indicated that the cancer had spread beyond his neck into his chest and lungs. As a first step in treatment, Dr. Jalisi was able to carefully remove the cancer from Richie's thyroid, surrounding lymph nodes and vocal cords, but after surgery, Dr. Jalisi worked closely with Dr. Farwell to address the spread of Richie's disease.

"Luckily we have a magic bullet for the treatment of thyroid cancer called radioactive iodine that can zero in on metastatic cancer and destroy the cancer cells," explained Dr. Farwell.

BMC is one of only a handful of hospitals in the world to offer standard and maximal dose iodine treatment for thyroid cancer. The treatment requires close collaboration between medical physicists, nuclear medicine radiologists and endocrinologists to determine the optimal dosage for each individual patient without damage to the lungs and bone marrow.

"The treatment is very labor intensive and you have to have a group that is very committed to treating patients with complicated cancers in order to do this," explained Stephanie Lee, MD, PhD, director of BMC's Thyroid Health Clinic. "Richie was lucky to be at an institution where there was a true coordination of care, where the doctors can call and say this person needs this treatment and we need to individualize it so it is just right."

Richie endured a special salt-free diet and a week-long hospital stay in isolation to undergo the intense therapy. BMC doctors and staff tried to make Richie's stay as pleasant as possible. "Dr. Farwell and Dr. Lee were there to check on me every day," remembers Richie.

Thankfully, Richie was very responsive to the treatment. Where his initial scans showed large clouds of tumor micro-deposits in both his lungs, his follow-up scans were completely clear. Today, Richie is expected to make a full recovery from his thyroid cancer and can now focus on finishing his college degree.

Richie's younger sister, Jessica Lemieux, was so grateful for the treatment that her brother received at BMC; she organized "Richie's Run", an annual 5k race in their hometown of North Adams, Mass. Proceeds from the race help support thyroid cancer research at BMC. This year, the race raised $2,500 for the hospital.

"It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from—BMC is here to help you. Without Dr. Jalisi, Dr. Farwell and Dr. Lee, I don't know where I would be today," said Richie.

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