Patient Stories

Thyroid Cancer Survivor

Lani Mills

Lani Mills, Seattle, Washington
  • Diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer at 37
  • Cured with surgery and radioiodine therapy

Lani Mills, pictured here with her daughter Stevie, was in her late 30s when she noticed her neck was swelling just under her chin.

“I have a froggy disease,” Lani recalls telling the nurse in the Emergency Room. “I need a handsome prince to kiss me.”

Lani’s sense of humor is what kept her going during a tough year of misdiagnoses and surgical errors that brought her to seek care with University of Washington Medicine physicians, who care for patients at SCCA, UW Medical Center, and Harborview Medical Center.

The doctor Lani first saw for her swelling throat diagnosed her with salivary gland stones that he said would eventually pass. The initial swelling in her neck came and went a few times until painful growths replaced the general swelling. Lani consulted three other doctors. One diagnosed her with a cold, another prescribed antibiotics, but still her symptoms persisted and progressed until she sought the advice of an ear, nose, and throat specialist. A simple office visit biopsy revealed her true problem – papillary thyroid cancer.


“I had surgery to remove my thyroid on November 17, 2005,” Lani recalls. “My surgeon then referred me to UW Medicine for radioactive iodine treatment next.”

She was referred to Dr. David Mankoff who spent several months monitoring Lani while she recovered from other conditions, unrelated to the thyroid cancer, before she received the radioiodine treatment.

“Dr. Mankoff was just wonderful,” Lani says. “He explained it all to me and at one point I had to come to the hospital every day for 10 days in a row as part of a new therapy to prepare me for the radioactive treatment.” The treatment Lani refers to is radioiodine therapy using recombinant TSH (thyrogen) to drive radioiodine into thyroid cancer sites, rather than the more traditional approach of thyroid hormone withdrawal.

Lani’s doctors felt that her other conditions would make it hard for her medically to tolerate hormone withdrawal, but felt that radioiodine was important in the treatment of her modestly aggressive thyroid cancer.

The SCCA/UWMC team is able to take advantage of their experience in calculating radioiodine doses in more advanced thyroid cancer to be able to treat patients like Lani, who cannot tolerate hormone withdrawal.

Lani received her radioactive iodine treatment in July 2006 and was in isolation for 30 hours.

“It was strange to be in isolation, or jail, as I called it,” she says. “Everything was covered from the remote control for the TV to the toilet seat. But everyone at UW Medical Center was just wonderful and Dr. Mankoff is awesome.”

Patients receiving high doses of radioiodine frequently require radiation isolation to avoid exposing others to radiation. This is performed in special rooms at UWMC. Although they look like ordinary rooms, lead in the walls ensures radiation isolation. The staff at UWMC is quite familiar with radiation isolation, and are able to follow appropriate safety measures while monitoring patients and attending to their needs.

Life after cancer

Lani is finally feeling better: “Even though I feel like I appreciated life before I had cancer, I really appreciate it so much more now. Colors seem brighter, sunsets are more beautiful, and days with my daughter are more precious.”