Thyroid cancer survivor sees education as key

Doug Bentz prefers to tackle each situation head on, one at a time. But in 2011, he had something come up that would test that method many times over.

On the day of the annual Wrightsville Beach holiday flotilla, he was shaving and felt something like a swollen gland in his neck. After a series of scans and biopsies, Bentz, at 42, was diagnosed with Stage 4 papillary thyroid cancer.

He had the battle of his life ahead of him.

“So many thoughts rush to you when they confirm that you have cancer, your mind almost goes nuts.” he said.

His first thought was that his father, Bob Bentz had died of thyroid cancer a decade before. For the Bentz family, that was alarming.

His younger brother, Chris, soon had his thyroid checked, and doctors found nodules that would likely have turned cancerous. He underwent surgery he hopes will prevent cancer in the future.

Doug Bentz’s case, like his father’s, was unusual and rare. After much research into thyroid cancer, he and his partner, Ted, traveled to the Georgia Health Sciences University in Augusta (now the Georgia Regents University), where they met with

Dr. David Terris, a specialist in thyroid related cases.

“By January of 2012, the cancer was in the lymph nodes, so I had to have a thyroidectomy and what is called a radical neck dissection,” Bentz said.

The basis of the surgery is to remove everything that is cancerous. Next would be a process of denying the thyroid cancer cells iodine.

Then after several weeks of no iodine, Bentz would take a radioactive iodine pill to see if any hidden cancer cells would “come out of hiding.”

Becoming radioactive was not fun.

“I was under quarantine for five days,” he recalled. “Everything including my clothes, pillows, books I was reading all had to be thrown away afterwards.”

Although his cancer counts went down, the cancer had not gone away completely. He would face more surgeries in 2012 to remove 38 more lymph nodes.

This time, Bentz was fighting as hard as he could against the cancer, and winning. He soon entered remission.

For Bentz’s mother, Carolyn, the reality was beyond frightening. She had already watched her husband fight and lose the battle. Watching her son go through it was heartbreaking.

“It was everything we had been through already but there is nothing worse than the thought of losing your children,” she said.

She says there is nothing to do but go with it and take each day as it comes, and she believes that a positive attitude in the fight is key.

Bentz believes now, if the information available today had been available 20 years ago, his father would still be alive.

He received news on Father’s Day that he was officially cancer-free and now only returns every six months for a checkup.

Bentz said the website, operated by the Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association, helped educate him about living with thyroid cancer through the testimonials of others battling it.

Bentz feels that as a survivor, it’s his duty to educate others about it now.

“I don’t want my life to be defined by cancer,” he said. “But right now, out there in Wilmington, there is someone who might have it. And if I can help educate through my battle, they too, may become a survivor.”