A Northwest member’s Facebook post leads to a cancer diagnosis and recovery

DEC 18, 2017
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As a professional health and wellness coach, Shelly Gonzales knows that her clients, friends, family, and even strangers look to her Facebook page for inspiration to help them eat right and stay active. One post dramatically changed her life — and potentially others’.


In January, while going through a divorce, Shelly created a video about how to handle life’s twists and turns. One viewer, whom Shelly had not met, messaged her and said, “I hope this doesn’t sound too forward. I am a nurse and I was watching your video and noticed a huge bulge in your neck. I wonder if you have had your thyroid checked.”


Shelly was angry, disbelieving, and scared. After all, she thought she was healthy.


After examination by her personal doctor and specialists, and an ultrasound test, the dreaded “C” word — cancer — entered her vocabulary for the first time. Within days, her thyroid was surgically removed at Kaiser Permanente’s Westside Medical Center.


A stranger and guardian angel


Shelly considers the stranger her guardian angel and thanks her for being bold enough to speak out. (In the spirit of passing a good deed forward, she recently suggested that a woman in the grocery store get her thyroid checked.) She’s also grateful for her Kaiser Permanente care team that provided all the expertise, skill, and compassion to achieve a good outcome.


“Everyone was wonderful,” she said, “The cancer specialists recognized the urgency in my case and did everything possible to get me into surgery quickly. Fortunately, I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation.”


Shelly also said that during conversations with her providers, “they focused on me, not on the clock, nor on their next patient. They made sure all my questions were answered.”


Advanced cancer care


Patients such as Shelly who have thyroid cancer receive care from the Kaiser Permanente Northwest Ear, Nose, Throat Department, headed by Sunshine Dwojak, MD, otolaryngologist. Dr. Dwojak also leads the Kaiser Permanente Northwest Head and Neck Cancer Task Force, which helps maintain best practices for patient care.


Patients receive care from a team consisting of medical, radiation, and surgical oncologists, anesthesiologists, speech therapists, registered nurses, nurse navigators, physician assistants, dentists, and other professionals.


Patients also benefit from robotic surgery to remove cancerous tissue. This advanced surgical technique can lead to shorter hospitalization, less pain and discomfort, and faster recovery.


Focused on recovery and living


“We know that a cancer diagnosis can cause great fear and anxiety for patients and family members,” said Dr. Dwojak. “We want patients to know that Kaiser Permanente is equipped to treat complex, advanced cancers with leading technology and techniques delivered by highly trained clinicians.”


As for Shelly, the woman whose thyroid cancer was diagnosed by a stranger, she’s optimistic that her suffering is behind her. She leads a joyful life and uses her Facebook platform to inspire others to achieve health and wellness and overcome life’s challenges.


“I’m a cancer survivor, and I have a lot to live for,” she said.


Learn more about cancer treatment at Kaiser Permanente Northwest.


*This article was originally published on KP Share.


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