A Life-Changing Decision

October 31, 2018

A modern approach treats thyroid cancer that almost went undetected

In June, Donna Nielsen’s employer was offering free health screenings. “I felt well, so I wasn’t going to go, but I decided to do it anyway,” she says. During an ultrasound of her neck, the tech found a nodule on Donna’s thyroid and said she should get it checked right away.

Donna, 53, made an appointment with Toby Tracy, D.O., a family medicine practitioner at Southern Ocean Medical Center. He ordered an ultrasound that confirmed the presence of a nodule and sent Donna for a biopsy. Within a few days, Dr. Tracy called Donna with the result: She had thyroid cancer. “I was in shock,” she says. “My mind immediately started racing.”


Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, Donna made an appointment with Michael Sullivan, M.D., M.H.S., an endocrine surgeon at Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

“He was so warm and welcoming,” she says. “He understood my fears. He explained what he recommended and what was going to happen. Once I knew what to expect, it didn’t seem as scary.”

Dr. Sullivan recommended Donna undergo a right thyroid lobectomy, in which he’d remove only the portion of the thyroid where the cancer was located, instead of the entire gland. “When patients are good candidates for this newer approach, we can cure their disease, minimize the risks of surgery and maximize their quality of life after surgery,” he says.

Dr. Sullivan works hand in hand with other providers at the Center for Thyroid, Parathyroid and Adrenal Disease at Jersey Shore. “It’s unusual to have surgeons and endocrinologists working in such a collaborative way, but it allows us to streamline patients’ experiences, ensure they get optimal surgical outcomes and provide ongoing care, all within the same group,” Dr. Sullivan says.


In October 2017, Dr. Sullivan performed Donna’s procedure at Jersey Shore; she went home the same day. Fortunately, the cancer hadn’t spread beyond the thyroid, so she didn’t have to undergo any additional treatments.

Donna’s recovery went smoothly. Today, she’s feeling as healthy as ever, with the love and continued support of her friends and family, including husband John and children Chris and Jacki. She follows up with Danielle Lann, M.D., an endocrinologist with the Center for Thyroid, Parathyroid and Adrenal Disease, every six months to check her thyroid hormone levels and make sure the cancer hasn’t returned.

“It’s been such a positive experience from the start,” Donna says. “Not only do I feel that I received the very best medical care, everyone was so comforting and reassuring all along. That’s exactly what I needed.”

Learn more about the Center for Thyroid, Parathyroid and Adrenal Disease at Hackensack Meridian Health.