After her sister was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Uzma Khan vowed to fight the disease, one patient at a time.
It was her sister's experience with thyroid cancer that propelled Uzma Khan, MD, to learn more about the disease. She began her career as an internal medicine physician, seeing many patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
But her sister's diagnosis of thyroid cancer in 2003 piqued Khan's interest - and displeasure.
"The way she was treated is not how I'd treat my patients," Khan said.
Khan's sister is now thriving, but it did not deter Khan from reaching out to patients with similar diagnoses. She performed a fellowship at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and became board-certified in diabetes, endocrinology and metabolism, which includes thyroid disorders.
Five years ago, Khan joined a multidisciplinary team at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center to provide thyroid cancer patients with top-of-the-line, compassionate care.
"Patients see Dr. Khan as approachable, warm, charismatic, a good listener and caring," said Deb Ritchie, MSN, APRN, a nurse practitioner for otolaryngology - head and neck surgery at Ellis Fischel.
Melissa Pagliai, 44, of Excello, Mo., said she appreciates Khan's bedside manner.
"You can tell she truly cares about patients and what they're going through," Pagliai said. "She is never condescending or talks down to you. She explains things well. I appreciate that about her."
Pagliai's cancer was detected in February 2009. Following a minor car accident on Highway 63, she went to her local hospital's emergency room for a CT scan. The staff observed an enlarged thyroid nodule, and referred her to Robert Zitsch, MD, a head and neck surgeon at Ellis Fischel. He performed a biopsy, then removed her thyroid in two surgeries. Khan has provided Pagliai's follow-up care since.
The thyroid - a butterfly-shaped gland located in one's neck - uses iodine from the blood to make thyroid hormone, which helps regulate metabolism, and uses cells to help regulate the body's use of calcium. Properly balancing hormones without a thyroid can be tricky. Patients who have their thyroids removed must take medication for the rest of their lives.
Thyroid cancer is one of the least deadly cancers - the five-year survival rate for all cases is about 97 percent.
"However, once someone is diagnosed with cancer, you can imagine the anxiety and concern," Khan said. "I try to reassure my patients, but I also make sure they understand their condition and treatment.
When I see patients a second time, they know what I'm talking about. They very quickly learn medical terminology. By the one-year mark, most patients know their plan for follow-up care. That's what makes me most proud."
After her thyroid was removed, Pagliai went to weekly appointments with Khan and underwent blood tests that measured her thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. She now attends follow-up appointments with Khan every three months and takes supplements to combat low calcium and Vitamin D levels in addition to medication.
Khan said that although frequent appointments are necessary from a medical standpoint, she personally enjoys seeing her patients often.
"I know about my patients' families, and they know about my family because we see each other every three months," Khan said. "We become good friends."