Thyroid Cancer Survivor
Supermodel faced the challenge of cancer head on
Supermodel Angie Everhart was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, then decided to turn the disease into something that changed her life for the better.
She was told, “Redheads don’t sell” and then became the first redhead to be featured in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and on the cover of Glamour (USA 1993). It was the highest selling issue that year. Supermodel-turned-actress Angie Everhart also has more than 350 skydive jumps under her belt and has never shied away from challenges.
The news that she had thyroid cancer in March 2013 at the age of 43, however, set her back on her heels. “Those three words, ‘You have cancer’ are something you never want to hear, and it’s one of the scariest things in the world. You sort of go into shock,” Angie said.
She was diagnosed with cancer while she was seeking treatment for severe migraine headaches and a sore shoulder and neck — all of which kept her from sleeping. Despite having a family history of cancer, with her grandmother, grandfather and mother all having different cancer diagnoses, and even previously having a basal cell skin cancer herself, Angie did not suspect her symptoms might mean cancer. She went to a variety of therapists but found no relief, and finally had an MRI.
The MRI showed a large mass in her neck. After a number of follow-up tests, Angie’s thyroid was biopsied and the results came back positive for Stage I thyroid cancer. Her physician called her at home to tell her the diagnosis. “I was in my living room by myself and my boyfriend was out of town. I felt very alone. I think a lot of people feel alone when they have cancer because it’s scary,” she said.
Angie called a close friend to help her process the news. “I allowed myself one ‘Pity Party.’ I called my girlfriend who got a bottle of Jack Daniels and we just sat and drank, and I cried and we laughed. I had her write down all the things I wanted her to tell my son if I didn’t make it through surgery.”
Angie’s son, Kayden, was four at the time and she was in the midst of negotiations for a role on a TV show. She had to turn down the role because of the surgery. The thought of facing a cancer diagnosis as a single mom filled her with fear.
“You think, ‘Oh my gosh, am I going to get to see my son grow up?’ It (still) makes me cry every time I think about it,” she said. “I felt guilty and thought that somehow it was my fault that I got the cancer — that I did something wrong to get it. Being a mom, you think more about your kids than you do about yourself. When I was a supermodel, I would only think about me.”
Angie’s career in modeling began when she was still in high school. She moved to France for 10 years and worked as a runway model and cover girl. She was featured as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model starting in 1995 and posed for Playboy in 2000. Angie has also been on the covers of Glamour, Elle, Marie France, Cosmopolitan, Fitness, Shape, Self and Golf for Women magazines.
The morning after her Pity Party, Angie said she woke up with a hangover, but determined right then that she was going to fight and win her battle against cancer, in part to ensure Kayden would have his mom. When she explained to him that she had a disease called cancer and was going to the hospital to have it cut out, she even promised him she wasn’t going to die.
“I knew I could promise that because I had decided it was going to be that way. A lot of it is mental and also, thyroid cancer is the lucky cancer — if there is such a thing. It’s slow growing and it’s curable,” she said.
Her confidence in her doctors and her positive prognosis did not mean there weren’t tough days. She said her boyfriend Carl (Ferro, who became her husband in December 2014), Kayden and her family gave her the support she needed during the surgery and recovery. And surprisingly to her, when her diagnosis became public, her fans were also a source of support.
“When the news broke that I had cancer, I didn’t realize what a blessing it was because I wouldn’t talk to people about it. I didn’t want anyone to know. Most times when you are in the public eye, the press is mean. This time, I got an outpouring on my Facebook page and my Twitter account. It was pages and pages of people wishing me well. And I read every single one of them. It made me cry and it made me laugh,” Angie said.
“It gave me a new-found belief in mankind. This was really amazing and thoughtful and kind, and people were just wonderful.”
Fortunately for Angie, her cancer was diagnosed early, and her physicians were confident that, with surgery to remove her thyroid, her prognosis was excellent. (The American Cancer Society lists the five-year survival rate for Stage I thyroid cancer at nearly 100%.) She made the decision to have her entire thyroid removed and in May 2013 the surgery was successfully performed and she was later pronounced cancer free.
And while Angie is grateful to be cancer free, she will need to take thyroid-replacement medication for the remainder of her life. Her side effects include less energy and short-term memory loss. She and her physicians also had to work together to find the right thyroid medication that caused the fewest side effects.
“I wish I would not have taken out my entire thyroid. My doctor asked me what I wanted to do and I just said, ‘OMG — get the cancer out! Take it all out!’” Angie explained. “Now I don’t have the energy I used to have and I’m a completely different person,” she explained.
This has been particularly discouraging because Angie has always been an avid adventurer and a good athlete, as she pursued skydiving, motorcycling, golf and regular workouts. “I love to work out and I just can’t do the things I used to do because my heart races and I have a hard time regulating my body temperature,” she said.
In the beginning of her recovery, Angie not only suffered from lack of energy and bouts of narcolepsy, but until she switched medications, her trademark red hair began falling out in clumps. Fortunately, they found a better fit for her — Armour Thyroid (thyroid tablets) — which improved her energy level and ended the hair loss.
Additionally, Angie’s short-term memory loss continues to affect her work as an actor, which she has pursued since her first role in “Last Action Hero” in 1993. Since then, Angie has appeared in more than 50 movies, including “Take Me Home Tonight” and “Cloud 9.” She has had recurring roles in a number of TV series including “UC Undercover” and “The Dream Team,” and most recently was featured in a made-for-TV movie, “Model Citizen.”
“I honestly don’t know if it’s from not having a thyroid or from taking the medication, but since the surgery, I have to write everything down,” she said. “It also makes me a little more insecure with my line reading and I have to work twice as hard as I did before to memorize my lines. But I have noticed in the past couple of months, it’s a little better.”
Despite her challenging side effects, Angie has a positive attitude. She remains cancer free and she vigilantly watches her health and diet and has regular medical screenings. She is busy with acting projects and is launching her own line of hair care products. She said having cancer changed her life for the better and she travels to speak to cancer centers and support groups.
“I look at life differently now and I don’t take it for granted. I talk to people about my experience because cancer patients need a family. You need support. It’s not a disease you can handle alone because on the days you don’t have the strength, you need your partner or your husband, your sister or your mother to have the strength for you.”