HC: What emotions did you go through when you learned you had thyroid cancer?
Doug: I was a little scared, but to be honest, I also felt triumphant that I wasn't crazy. As many thyroid patients will tell you, when enough people tell you that you are crazy, you sometimes start to believe it yourself!
HC: What were your biggest frustrations or challenges when you were diagnosed, and currently?
Doug: At the time I was diagnosed, I'd always wanted to go to school for musical theater. I had a pretty good voice, and 11 hours of neck surgery partially paralyzed my vocal cord. I had to learn to speak again.
My biggest challenge now is managing my energy and remembering that how you feel has to “drive the boat” when you check in with physicians and endocrinologists. Secondary to the radiation I had, I am also at a higher risk for some other types of cancer, but knock wood, I am very healthy today.
HC: How has having a thyroid condition affected your work as an actor?
Doug: I think it has both helped and hurt.
I don't think I'd be a very good actor if I hadn’t been through the thyroid cancer and recuperation.
When I couldn't speak for a year — thank you to the incredible Linda Carroll, the best injured-voice pathologist in the world, for rehabbing me — I had to really use that time to learn about acting that didn't involve voice training. I also started exercising every day and eating a pretty meticulous diet. During that time, my physical gait from the cerebral palsy also improved.
Going though thyroid cancer also cultivated my empathy as a human. It taught me to truly listen. In the interest of honesty, I can be a talky gasbag, and I had to learn to be quiet. I had no choice. And that made me a better actor.
The biggest challenge has been managing perceptions about illness. Kathleen Turner once said she hid her rheumatoid arthritis for so long because “people don't hire people who are sick.” I was terrified of being open about it for so long.
But I think part of growing up is just saying: “Hey, this is reality. I can handle it myself, but this is what’s going on in case you have questions.” It doesn't affect my ability to work at all. Now, when people ask me about it in a work environment, I welcome it.
HC: What advice to you have to others who are struggling to live well with thyroid disease?
Doug: Know that how you feel physically has to drive the boat and be gentle and patient with yourself.
Also, know that thyroid disease is manageable, but often, the numbers don't match how you feel. Seek an endocrinologist with big ears, one who looks up from the lab results and numbers and who will dig deeper. Dr. Beatriz Olson is my endocrinologist and she is wonderful. I go 90 miles each way to see her once a year.
I'm so lucky I found that, and I'm living well today!
You can learn more about Doug Plaut on the web at http://www.dougplaut.com.
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Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
How is Thyroid Cancer Diagnosed?
How is Thyroid Cancer Treated?