Graves’ Disease: Angel’s Story

Compliments of Roswell Park Cancer Talk Blog

Angel Brasher wants to help change the perception of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, especially within the African American community. “I think everybody is afraid of what Roswell Park represents, which is cancer. Black people are also suspicious of hospitals and medicine, stemming from the Tuskegee Experiment where African Americans were used to test drugs from 1932 to 1972.” Through her own experience, Angel has learned that “Roswell Park is not death, rather it is hope.”

A mother of four, grandmother of two, and her own mom’s caregiver, Angel was diagnosed with Graves’ disease 10 years ago, a condition that causes the thyroid gland to produce too many hormones, but did not take it seriously. When she noticed her hands were jittery, and became increasingly short-tempered, she chalked it up to getting older.

However, Angel’s best friend, a nurse, told her about the prolonged effects of untreated Graves’ disease, including its effects on the heart, metabolism, body temperature, and mood. When Angel made an appointment with another endocrinologist, she learned she had goiter (enlarged thyroid) and nodules within the thyroid gland. “That’s when I was introduced to the ‘c’ word, you know, ‘cancer,’ because they can contain cancerous cells in them,” she recalls. A self-defined “plus-size woman,” Angel knew she needed to lose weight, but didn’t realize that her longtime struggle with weight loss was connected to her thyroid issues. She had considered a gastric bypass, but dropped from 300 to 194 pounds after she began walking two miles a day and changed her diet. “I lost half a person,” she jokes.

Angel’s goiter eventually grew, and her nodules multiplied. A biopsy was inconclusive, but her endocrinologist was concerned about possible cancer cells, and referred her to Roswell Park. There, she was immediately impressed by the precision and kindness of Roswell Park’s patient care because she had endured vastly different encounters in the past with other providers.

After consulting her family, Angel decided to undergo surgery to remove her thyroid gland, and recalls, “Everybody was so helpful and kind. I felt like a real person.”

Now, Angel, a Fidelis membership services specialist, wants the African American community to know that Roswell Park is hope, not death, as many believe. She also wants the African American community and other people of color to proactively take care of themselves, and to follow through on appointments and screenings, especially when it comes to cancer

“If I can change one person’s view about taking care of themselves, that’s what I want my story to be,” she confides. “I want to let people know it’s scary, it’s terrifying, it’s gut-wrenching. You’re going to have sleepless nights; you’re going to worry. But you’re not alone.” She also wants them to know that it is worth it. “Had I not followed through, I might not be sitting here right now.”

To make an appointment at Roswell, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355).