Model Undergoes Treatment For Lump On Her Neck That Left Body Radioactive
A model who was forced to isolate after cancer treatment left her radioactive is hoping to inspire others struggling with the disease.
Olivia Robles, from Ventura, California, noticed a painless, lemon-sized lump in her neck when she was 19 years old and was rushed to an urgent care clinic for testing.
The model and flight attendant, now 25, feared she was going to be diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo 12 hours of intensive testing as doctors attempted to figure out what caused the lump.
Recalling the experience, Olivia said:
I first went to an urgent care clinic, then transferred to an emergency room where they did many tests. I was so anxious, scared, and alone that I don’t really remember what exact tests they did.
I was there for over twelve hours, so it seemed like they did plenty of investigation into my mysterious cyst, but they didn’t do a biopsy. I asked if it was cancerous and the doctors kept saying ‘we can’t say this isn’t cancer’. This didn’t settle my nerves very much.
Following the gruelling experience, doctors concluded the lump was harmless and diagnosed Olivia with a birth defect called a branchial cleft cyst. The then-teen was assured she could have surgery to remove it at any time, or choose never to have it removed if it didn’t bother her.
Olivia put off the surgery for a few years, until her mum told her to ‘get it over with’ during her final year of university.
She had her first surgery on December 23, 2015, and was happy to discover the experience wasn’t very painful at all. Olivia recovered easily and was out shopping a few days later when she received a call from her doctor, who told her they had made an unexpected discovery.
He said simply, ‘We did not find what we expected to find. We found cancerous cells, originating from your thyroid, and you will need to come back immediately to have your entire thyroid removed.’
I felt my soul leave my body. I was in such a state of shock.
The model had to undergo a second, more painful surgery known as a thyroidectomy, which she said involved surgeons ‘digging and scraping’ to find the thyroid, which is buried deep within the neck.
Following six weeks of recovery, Olivia underwent radioactive iodine treatment used to destroy microscopic cancer cells after surgery. She was instructed to take a pill which turned her whole body radioactive, but had to isolate for fear of affecting those around her.
I took the pill, and immediately my body became radioactive. This sounds cooler than it actually was. I did not glow green, I did not have superpowers, I did not even have any cool dreams or anything. I was extremely underwhelmed and disappointed to learn that I had to follow a lot of rules as a radioactive person.
My mum and I had to drive home from the appointment in separate cars. I had to stay in my room alone for three days. Anyone or anything else I touched, including pets, would become radioactive and cause damage to their healthy thyroid function.
I had to be careful with any bodily fluids such as sweat and saliva, wash my clothes carefully and use paper plates. My parents would deliver food to my bedroom door. Any rubbish I produced had to be carefully and separately disposed of.
I had to clean the toilet with a special solution as not to contaminate the septic or wastewater system.
By October 2018, Olivia was well into recovery and continued to see a specialist to monitor her synthetic thyroid blood hormones. She celebrated a ‘cancer-versary’ on New Year’s Eve and treated the experience as a ‘weird one-off incident’.
However, during one of her later check-ups, a scan found she had another growth. The doctor hugged Olivia as they delivered the news and at first she thought that meant they were celebrating, but looking back she realised ‘hugs are not great in a medical setting’.
Hear Olivia discuss what happened below:
The growth was on the same side of her neck as previously, and described as being about the size of a grape.
Even without further testing, my intuition told me that this would not be good news.
Olivia had her third surgery to remove the growth on Valentine’s Day in 2019, and she recalled that experience as the most painful of them all.
We proceeded with the surgery and decided on no additional radiation. The doctor removed around twenty lymph nodes from the left side of my neck, all the way up to my ear, around my jaw, and down through my collarbone.
This was the most painful surgery of all. I could not lie down or sit up on my own as that motion uses neck muscles, and mine were non-functional.
I had a lot of numbness in my ear and collarbone, and my nerves were damaged in a way that made my smile completely uneven. My doctor was uncertain if those functions would ever come back, but fortunately, mine did.
Thankfully, Olivia regained feeling in her face and is able to smile again as normal. She has now been cancer-free for over a year and recently celebrated the milestone with a new ‘cancer-versary’ party with her friends and family.
The 25-year-old is often met with questions and comments about her scars, and Olivia varies her responses depending on whether she is feeling ‘confident’, sometimes explaining her thyroid cancer and other times simply saying she had surgery.
I have received every insensitive comment in any inappropriate scenario you can imagine and more. I’ve perfected the RBF – Resting B*tch Face.
Restaurant waiting staff are my least favourite people to discuss my body with – and you’d be appalled how many of them have asked me ‘what’s wrong with your neck?
Olivia is now hoping to inspire other people suffering with cancer, explaining:
I want to be an inspiration for the people diagnosed with cancer, or in other dire situations, who might feel like their life is falling apart.
I would hope that I can give that person hope that while yes, your life may fall apart in certain ways, it’s possible that you can put it back together again in a way that is more beautiful than it was in the beginning.
Olivia shared a video detailing her experience and continues to open up about it on her Instagram page. Hopefully Olivia’s journey and recovery will provide hope to anyone in similar situations.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, contact Macmillan’s Cancer Support Line on 0808 808 00 00, 8am–8pm seven days a week.