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Medical student discovers her own cancer in class demonstration

Sally Rohan found out she had nodules in her thyroid in medical school, but hopes the experience will make her a better doctor

Amelia Neath
Wednesday 13 December 2023 09:12 GMT
Sally Rohan, 27, made a suprising discovery during class at med school
Sally Rohan, 27, made a suprising discovery during class at med school (Courtesy of Sally Rohan via Instagram)

A medical student made a life-changing discovery when she found out she had cancer in her ultrasound class.

Sally Rohan, 27, who attends medical school in New Jersey, was learning how to use an ultrasound machine in class last year when she noticed something unusual.

She said the first place they were testing was around the thyroid areas on their necks, and her friend was practising on her.

“What’s wrong with mine, mine’s bumpy; there’s something weird here,” Ms Rohan said in a YouTube video uploaded to her channel, then recalling that she called her teacher over to show the findings.

The teacher told the medical student that it looked like she had nodules on her thyroid and said that in these classes, they always come across incidental findings every year.

Due to living in different states from her primary care doctor who was in her home state of California, she found herself in an odd period where she could only get blood work done, she explained in her video.

She was also about to turn 26, which in the US means that you can no longer be covered for health insurance under a parent’s plan and would have to set up your own, which delayed getting further medical care.

Sally was in an ultrasound class when she found out she had nodules on her thyroid (Courtesy of Sally Rohan via Instagram)

Her blood results came back, which said her thyroid level was normal, and she wasn’t experiencing any thyroid complication symptoms.

Eventually, Ms Rohan went to get a professional ultrasound last month, around a year since she discovered the suspected nodules, where it was confirmed she had thyroid cancer.

By this point, the cancer had spread to the cervical lymph nodes on both sides.

She said in her video that she was “pretty overwhelmed… it was a lot to go through.”

Sally recently underwent surgery to remove the cancer (Courtesy of Sally Rohan via Instagram)

At first, the doctors thought the surgery would be simple enough for her to go back to school within a week, but when the surgeon saw her for an initial consultation, she was told the surgery could take six to eight hours and Ms Rohan would be away from school until after the winter break.

Ms Rohan said on YouTube the whole experience was “very stressful and very emotional,” but she added there is one major silver lining out of all this: becoming a better doctor.

She said that she hopes she can use this experience to make her a better doctor (Courtesy of Sally Rohan via Instagram)

“If I have to have cancer, first of all, I am glad it is me and not someone else,” she said.

“But also, if I have to have cancer, I am going to learn as much from it as I can and use this however I can to become a better doctor,” she added.

Ms Rohan said she now understands that being a patient is a “full-time job,” a valuable perspective she will take into her medical career.

The student recently underwent surgery to remove the cancer from her thyroid and posted a picture to her Instagram post-surgery with a huge grin.

She told The Independent that she is doing after her surgery.

“I have very minimal pain, I am able to use my voice and walk around. The doctor said I am not allowed to run or exercise for two weeks after my surgery, so I am following those rules. I should be set to return to medical school right after winter break, in January,” she said.

“I am excited to get back to school, see my classmates, and keep learning.”

Ms Rohan feels she has come out stronger because of her diagnosis and has only confirmed to her further that she really wants to finish her degree and become a doctor.

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