A few weeks ago, we had the amazing pleasure of meeting Sara Reed — devoted wife, mom of two, successful professional, wellness advocate, and now, Everviolet model. Her warmth, humor and authentic spirit captured our hearts at hello, and we were blown away by her incredible story of facing stage III thyroid cancer at the age of 35, while pregnant! Her first concerns upon diagnosis were how she was going to tell her husband and keep her baby safe. To learn more about Sara’s strong and courageous journey — from the delivery of her son to surgery to remove the tumors, radiation therapy and a long road to recovery to her current state of wellness — read our latest In Her Words story below.
Name: Sara Reed
Location: Pleasant Hill, CA
Current Health Status: in remission from thyroid cancer (kind of…)
Tell us about yourself.
I am a very proud working mother of two incredible boys, Callan (4) and Brennan (2) and wife to an amazing husband and father, Devon. I have worked in the mortgage industry for 16 years, starting as a receptionist and working my up to a Vice President at a company that feels like an extension of my family. I have also recently started a business as a Wellness Advocate, teaching people about the powers of natural healing with essential oils which feeds my entrepreneurial side and also allows me to help people in ways I have never imagined. My husband, boys and I enjoy taking long walks around our beautiful neighborhood, spending weekends at the Oakland Coliseum (we have been season ticket holders for 9 years! Go A’s!) and traveling with the kids to visit family that we have scattered all around the United States!
When were you diagnosed with cancer?
I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of 35 while I was 5 months pregnant with my second son. Doctors said I was technically stage III due to the size of the tumors and the fact that it had spread to my lymph nodes, but the cancer was fortunately treatable. I actually found the lump on my neck shortly after having my first son (so 2 and a half years prior) which was biopsied and came back benign. I had 4 “nodules” on my thyroid, the largest being 2.5 cm. so the diagnosis was to just monitor them via ultrasound every 6 months. I did that with no growth a handful of times, but when I got pregnant with my second son, all of the tumors doubled in size, which worried the doctor so they decided to re-biopsy the large nodule. It turns out there is a 5% chance that biopsy results will give you a false negative so the second biopsy came back as cancer. I have no family history of thyroid cancer, but my grandmother had breast cancer and my father had recently passed due to a very rare form of cancer called Gastro-Intestinal Stromal Disorder.
What were your first thoughts when you were diagnosed?
Now, because I had already had a biopsy on the nodule and because I like to tell myself all of the positive “stuff” in situations like this, I had already convinced myself that I didn’t have cancer, so I didn’t even bring my husband with me to the results appointment. I did bring my boss, only because we are close and the appointment was close to work so at the last minute, I asked if she would go with me. She is a breast cancer survivor and knew someone should be with me for biopsy results. When the doctor gave me the results, it’s as if I didn’t even hear him. My boss walked over and held my hand and I sort of thought to myself, “why is she holding my hand?” I stopped hearing the doctor’s words but could see words coming out of his mouth and just sat there, kind of numb. It was sort of an out of body experience. When I finally snapped out of it, my first thought was, “how am I going to tell my husband this news over the phone?” He was at work at awaiting my call with the “all is clear!” results….
How did your friends and family take the news?
My friends and family took the news much harder than I did. I tend to be a super positive person so for the first three days or so, I didn’t shed a tear. My closest friends and family cried and sent me tons of texts and kept checking in and I felt pretty good about it all. Then, on about day 4, it finally sunk in and I had a couple of pity party days where I cried a lot and felt very scared. Cancer itself wasn’t as scary, it was the fact that I had cancer while I was pregnant. What is this cancer in my body doing to my unborn child? Will the stress of all of this affect him? I knew I had to stay as calm as possible for my son.
Describe your treatment and how you arrived at that course of action.
So, because I was 5 months pregnant, I had two choices on when they were going to operate. My OBGYN did not want me operated on during my second trimester because there are still major risks of losing the baby at that point. I had the option of operating during my third trimester but then you run the risk of early delivery. All of my doctors, my husband, and I decided to wait until I delivered naturally and then operate 4 to 6 weeks post-delivery. There was absolutely a correlation to my hormones and the growth rate of the tumors because, by the time I was in my third trimester, the large tumor was so big that it was protruding out of my neck and I was having sleep apnea because of the size. Because my first son delivered at 10 pounds and my unborn baby was measuring big, we all decided it was best to induce me 10 days early so that we can push up my thyroidectomy. I delivered a healthy 9-pound baby boy and had my thyroid surgery 21 days later. The large tumor measured 8 cm. at removal and I had three other tumors that had grown to 4 cm. from under 1 cm. at the time of diagnosis.
Were able to work through treatment?
Because I was on maternity leave, I didn’t work through my surgery and recovery, but I did have to follow my surgery with radiation 90 days later and by that time, I was back at work and worked through that treatment. But I would say that having a newborn and recovering from that surgery was much more difficult than my desk job so it might have been easier to be back at work!
Where and how have you found the best care?
I would honestly tell people that are dealing with something like this to get a second opinion and make sure that you have a connection with your doctor. It’s a much longer story than I have time to tell, but my first doctor had me on the wrong treatment path and because of that, I was not able to breastfeed my son for as long as I should have been able too, which was very upsetting to me. The doctor I have now is a gem and I only wished I had her from the very start. She is a mom and really understood the emotional affects this cancer was having on me. My first doctor had no regard for the emotional trauma I was going through, being pregnant with cancer, and I wished I had seen the signs sooner and made a change.
Have you received any additional support or alternative therapies? If so, what kind, and have they been they beneficial?
I have not, but I have found a passion for natural emotional healing through essential oils which were brought on by my desire to remove as many chemicals from my home as possible. My cancer is environmental, not hereditary, so having emotional and physical support from natural remedies rather than modern medicine has made a huge impact on my life and my families’ lives.
Who have been your biggest supporters? Who makes up your cancer tribe?
There are too many to count, I am so blessed! The best thing about the cancer was when I saw people, they would give me the longest, tightest hug, which was such a magical thing. So healing! My tribe was for sure my husband, my mom, my aunt and my mother-in-law. They were literally the army that was helping take care of my kids when all of this was going on. Post-surgery and during radiation, they were all taking shifts and caring for our boys. They were all getting up with the newborn and doing night feedings so I could rest and heal. It was incredible. I would never be able to thank them enough for the support they gave me during that time.
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of the experience for you?
Hands down, the emotional aspect of it all was the hardest. It was very scary for my husband to see his pregnant wife with cancer and go through surgery when I hadn’t even healed from childbirth. For me, it was the time I was missing bonding with my son. I was only able to breastfeed for two weeks which was heartbreaking for me. I also had so many people helping with him, which was necessary and I was grateful, but I also felt so much guilt. Guilt that I wasn’t bonding with him like I did with our first son. Guilt that he didn’t get the same nutrients that our first son received. Guilt that he was a fussier baby because he wasn’t getting the same attention from me that our first son got.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you were diagnosed?
I am not a person who focuses on regrets or the “what ifs” of things. So, I don’t know if there is anything I had wished I had known before I was diagnosed. I feel like everything happens for a reason. If I had been pushier with my first biopsy and doctor, then I might have found the cancer sooner and gotten my treatment sooner, but then would have had to wait longer to conceive my second child (because of the radiation) and I might not have the same spunky, independent, crazy, gorgeous boy that I have today.
Is there a particular mantra or inspiration that helps you?
“She believed she could so she DID!”
If you could offer a woman, who has been newly diagnosed, some words of wisdom for her journey, what would you tell her?
Push through it ladies! Try not to stay too long in that dark place. Have a short pity party, eat some cookies, binge watch a show that makes you cry (in my case, it was "This Is Us") and then, move on. It does no good. Be brave. We are stronger and we are capable of way more then we could ever imagine!! YOU GOT THIS!!!!
What are you most proud of in your cancer journey?
I am most proud of the fact that I have come out of this experience stronger and feeling better than I have ever felt in my life. My cancer was a wakeup call for me to be a healthier version of me, and I am that person now. Without cancer, I don’t know if I would have gotten to this amazing place I’m in now.
How has cancer affected your outlook on life? On illness?
I have some fear that I will get cancer again. I think everyone that has had cancer feels this way. Now that I had confirmation that it was in my body, with every scan or blood test, I sit with tightness in my stomach awaiting the results. I also feel that I have a much deeper understanding for what some of my friends and family have gone through or are going through now. I have best friends with diseases that have no cure (such as Lupus) so I am grateful that my cancer was treatable and I can live a normal life now. Some people never get that feeling of being “over” something and my heart breaks for them.
How have you changed?
I have undeniably changed for the better through all of this. I think that is what these hurdles in life are for. To grow us as humans. To guide the direction of our life. I am healthier now. My husband is healthier. I feed my children with better foods. I removed toxic products from our home. We get outside more. My whole family is closer. I even feel that I have more passion for things in life. So cancer is scary and awful and I wish it would just go away but I am also super grateful for who I am because of what I went through!
Love and healing to you all!