"You have cancer." Those three words are among the most dreaded and powerful a person can hear. In the case of Tony Harnell, the diagnosis of thyroid cancer was doubly frightening.
A vocalist/songwriter with a four-octave range, Harnell had toured in the U.S. with likes of STRYPER, TWISTED SISTER and GREAT WHITE and appeared on stages worldwide, entertaining legions of fans as lead singer with hard-rock band TNT.
But with the diagnosis, he not only faced a delicate surgery to remove two large, cancerous thyroid tumors from deep within his neck, but also the very real possibility that the life-saving procedure could cost him his voice.
Harnell thought he detected a small growth in his neck in 2001 and ignored it on a doctor's advice until four years later when, while on tour, he started experiencing pain that intensified whenever he sang. His discomfort continued, but he powered through it for several years until a new physician recommended an ultrasound study and a biopsy based on the ultrasound. Then the unsettling news: he had Papillary Carcinoma, the most common type of thyroid cancer, representing about 80 percent of all thyroid cancers diagnosed in the U.S.
Harnell is only one among many: thyroid cancer diagnoses have more than doubled since 1990, one of the few cancers that has increased in incidence rates in recent years. The good news is that thyroid cancer is an extremely treatable disease when caught in its early stages — which is why screenings and self "neck-checks" are vitally important. Also key to a positive outcome is having an expert thyroid surgeon perform the procedure.
Harnell underwent surgery to remove the tumors and affected lymph nodes, radioactive iodine treatment to destroy any remaining thyroid tissue, and was placed on thyroid hormone replacement medication to keep his body's metabolism balanced. Because of his occupation and the extensive surgery performed, he also elected to undergo physical therapy to rehabilitate his vocal cords and other muscles affected by the surgery. Harnell made it through his experience with his voice intact and is back to hitting all the high notes in his career.
To assist those who are interested in how to perform a self "neck-check" or more information on thyroid cancer or other thyroid-related conditions, AACE has created a dedicated web site: www.thyroidawareness.com.