Dr. Coomer Turns to Nuclear Medicine to Fight Cancer

When Dr. Cynara Coomer became radioactive, she didn’t glow with power like the superheroes we see on the big screen. She didn’t gain any superhuman strength or the ability to fly either. Instead she got the boost she needed to fight thyroid cancer.

“It was a very strange experience when I took the pill,” said Coomer, a Fox News Medical A Team member. “I was in this room with the doctor who was two feet away from me – as soon as I took the pill, everybody just backed off – it was a very isolating feeling.”

After noticing a lump on her throat and being diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, Coomer, chief of breast surgery at Staten Island University Hospital, had her thyroid removed. In the weeks following the surgery, the next step in treating the cancer was to turn to nuclear medicine.

“Radioactive iodine is used to treat two conditions,” said Dr. Joseph Machac, director of nuclear medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. “An overactive thyroid and the treatment of thyroid cancer.”

According to Machac, this iodine would ensure that any remaining thyroid tissue in Coomer would be removed so she could make a full recovery from cancer.

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In February, Coomer began these radioactive iodine treatments. First in small doses, then increased amounts. In addition, she learned to adjust to a drastically different diet.

“In order to prepare the patient, we need to lower the amount of natural iodine in the diet to avoid competition,” Machac told FoxNews.com.
For the treatment to work successfully, patients need to significantly reduce their iodine intake from food for two weeks before the treatment and the next three days after the treatment.

“The diet is very restrictive,” Coomer said. “You really have to make your food in order to know what is going in your food.”

Since she was not allowed to eat anything that contained regular salt, Coomer focused on eating meats and vegetables.

“It's actually a really healthy diet,” said Coomer. “I'm not a good diet person, but doing it for medical reasons certainly gets you to be committed to it because if I had to do this just to lose weight, I would have given up a long time ago.”

On Feb. 16, Coomer swallowed the radioactive iodine pill. According to Machac, the pill released two types of radiation: short range beta, which actually treats the thyroid cancer, and gamma radiation, which is similar to X-rays. Because of the risky nature of this radiation, Coomer was required to distance herself from those around her.

“For the first three days we advise our patients with this kind of dose to maintain a distance of about 10 feet from other people, which means basically being in a separate room,” said Machac.

In preparation, Coomer stockpiled everything she thought she would need in the basement of her home, including dishes, sheets and books.

This available space, Coomer later reflected, was really something that made the challenge of no human contact more bearable.

“I have thought about people who haven't been so fortunate to have such a good living situation and have had to be hospitalized for the first three or four days, and I think that would have been very difficult and certainly very isolating,” Coomer said.

Although it was tough being away from her baby daughter and husband, Coomer appreciated the mental break from her practice and was even able to indulge in a few reality TV shows.

“Now I understand what the “Jersey Shore” is that people are talking about,” Coomer said. “I never knew why people liked the Kardashians, now I know! That certainly numbed my mind for a little while and passed the hours.”

After the treatment, Coomer faced a few residual symptoms including a dry mouth, which was something expected considering that iodine travels though the salivary glands. But overall, Coomer felt the benefits of the treatment far outweighed any sort of immediate discomfort because it limited the possibility of future surgeries.

“By doing the radioactive iodine treatment, I reduced my recurrence rate dramatically and that will hopefully benefit me for the rest of my life,” she said.