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Julie Martwick: Her Journey With Poorly Differentiated Thyroid Cancer

Julie Martwick: Her Journey With Poorly Differentiated Thyroid Cancer

When Julie isn’t working at her job as an IT project manager in freight logistics, she spends almost all her free time in her luscious garden where she lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The master gardener is most at home there tending to her many hydrangea bushes, planting new trees and harvesting vegetables, all while looking forward to what will bloom next. These are the good days - however there are days when she wishes she was just a master gardener, not a master gardener with a stage IV Poorly Differentiated Thyroid Cancer (PDTC).

Like many thyroid cancer patients, Julie’s journey to diagnosis took too long. She first went to the doctor when she experienced strange symptoms such as feeling like her oxygen was cut off when she would raise her hands over her head, gaining some weight and feeling out of breath walking uphill. The doctor didn’t seem too worried. After 7 months went by, and January 1st rolled around, Julie decided to take matters into her own hands for the new year and immediately started a rigorous diet. She did lose weight but a few months later she discovered a huge lump in her neck.

Julie had surgery to remove her thyroid in March of 2020. Two weeks later she was diagnosed with PDTC, the exact time as the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Julie quickly moved on from her local area doctors to a more experienced medical care team at MD Anderson Cancer Center whom she feels more comfortable with. “Since PDTC is such a rare disease, you have to go where the specialists are,” she emphasized.

After biomarker testing showed a RET-positive fusion, Julie was put on Selpercatinib (Retevmo), just 7 months after having her thyroid removed, and saw immediate improvement in her scans. The cancer that had metastasized to her lungs, neck, chest and liver was definitely shrinking while on Selpercatinib, however, her liver could not tolerate the drug. Thankfully, she had the option to go on Pralsetinib (Gavreto) and since then her cancer is stable.

Julie feels incredibly fortunate that when it came time to go on targeted therapy, there were actually two RET-specific drugs to try. Not everyone can tolerate these drugs so if and when one of them proves to be too toxic, as was the case with Julie, there is a second option. “I was so lucky to have Gavreto as an option after having issues with Retevmo. I am so very grateful that pharmaceutical companies like Blueprint Medicines exist, they are making a huge difference in the way we live with cancer today.”

Julie is very active in Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association (ThyCa) and founded the Poorly Differentiated Thyroid Carcinoma Warriors Facebook Group so she can help others understand what is ahead and as she says, “onboard them to being a cancer patient.” Despite the evilness of cancer, the scananxiety, the three month window of time where she feels boxed in and can’t make plans, the fatigue, the pain, Julie is very optimistic about the future. “Cancer research is going at warp speed. Best practices today are changing very fast. We have so much to look forward to!”

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