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Sally Rohan: Medical student helps discover her own cancer during ultrasound

Sally Rohan’s decision to go to medical school may have helped save her life.

Rohan, 27, is currently undergoing treatment for papillary thyroid cancer, a type of cancer that she says was first discovered while she was in a class learning how to perform ultrasound scans.

Rohan, who is originally from California and attends school in New Jersey, said she was learning how to use an ultrasound machine last year as a first-year medical student when she was the first in her classmates to volunteer to have her thyroid checked.

“We were taught how to do an ultrasound of the thyroid because it’s a very easy structure to ultrasound,” Rohan told “Good Morning America.” “We were looking at mine versus what we saw in the videos we watched before the class, and I remember looking at it and going, ‘Wait, there’s something wrong Not with mine. Mine looks bumpy.'”

Rohan said the instructor told him the bump on his thyroid was a nodule. She said that although nodules are common, the instructor urged her to take a photo of the ultrasound and follow up with a doctor.

Sally Rohan, 27, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer while studying medicine.

Courtesy of Sally Rohan

A follow-up appointment with her GP led to blood tests to check her hormone levels, which she said came back normal. Rohan also said that she had no symptoms of thyroid complications.

Largely because of a lapse in her medical insurance coverage, Rohan said she didn’t have a formal ultrasound of her thyroid until October of this year, almost a year after discovering the nodule on his thyroid in class.

When the official ultrasound results came back, Rohan said she was diagnosed with stage 1 papillary thyroid cancer, the most common of the four main types of thyroid cancer, according to the National Institute of Cancer. cancer, and the one with the best overall prognosis.

In Rohan’s case, the cancer had also metastasized to nearby lymph nodes.

“It was a complete shock,” Rohan said of the diagnosis, adding that his family had a history of skin cancer, but not thyroid cancer.

Dr. Richard Jermyn, interim dean of the Rowan-Virtua School of Osteopathic Medicine, where Rohan is a student, told “GMA” that he, too, was shocked by Rohan’s cancer diagnosis, which could have been missed much later without the school ultrasound class.

File – An ultrasound machine is pictured in a Planned Parenthood exam room Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Houston.

File – An ultrasound machine is pictured in a Planned Parenthood exam room Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Houston.

(Photo by Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle via Getty Images)

“We go to great lengths to demonstrate to students the benefits of collaboration, including working with classmates to learn from shared experiences,” Jermyn said in a statement. “The sequence of events that led to Sally’s diagnosis and now her medical recovery is astonishing and spiritual to a degree. It’s almost as if her journey through medical school was meant to be.”

Rohan said that while she continues her studies to become a doctor, her diagnosis also informs her about what it feels like to be a patient, from understanding medical terminology to dealing with insurance and balance between appointments and laboratory work.

“I learned how much of a full-time job being a patient is,” she said. “That’s a huge thing I’ve learned, how disruptive it can be to your life to even be on the phone so much or having to deal with getting pre-authorizations for insurance.”

Rohan’s treatment plan includes surgery to remove his thyroid and affected lymph nodes, followed by a form of radiation therapy known as radioactive iodine.

Since learning of her diagnosis, Rohan has shared her story on social media, saying she hopes to both demystify the medical process for people and also raise awareness about the need to get screened for cancers.

“The more I share, the more messages I get from people saying they have hope and feel inspired,” she said. “And also (Since) a lot of people have the same diagnosis, because it’s the most common type of thyroid cancer, so I just want to show what I went through, and maybe it will make them less afraid too.”

Rohan said the experience also helps shape how she will interact with future patients, saying, “I’m definitely learning a lot about how I want to be as a doctor.”

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