From Alabama for answers: Adella’s thyroid journey

adella stands near a waterfall after recovering from thyroid cancer
Adella and her family have traveled to Boston Children's from Alabama for care.

She may only be 12 years old, but Adella Jackson has already expanded her family’s perspective. “She’s broadened our horizons,” says her mother, Cindy. “If it wasn’t for Adella, we never would have gotten to visit Boston, for example.”

The Jacksons, who hail from Alabama, have loved exploring the city’s rich history and art museums — but they admit that they might not have made the first trip if not for a much less lighthearted reason: Adella’s medical care. Indeed, their first stop wasn’t Faneuil Hall or the Museum of Science. Instead, it was the Thyroid Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Adella poses outside Boston Children's, where she is treated for thyroid cancer.
Adella during a visit last year.

An unexpected discovery

Adella’s parents learned that she might have thyroid cancer in a surprising way: Three years ago after she began exhibiting signs of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they brought her to a specialist to confirm their suspicions. But along with a diagnosis of ADHD, the clinician had another concern. “The doctor did a physical exam and felt Adella’s neck,” remembers Cindy. “She just looked at me with wide eyes and asked, ‘Have you felt this?’”

What the doctor felt was a lump on the third grader’s thyroid gland. She urged the Jacksons to bring Adella to her pediatrician the following day. Further testing revealed every parent’s fear: a tumor, which was later diagnosed as diffuse sclerosing thyroid carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of thyroid cancer. Because of this clinician’s quick thinking, Adella’s tumor was caught very early.

Adella holds a stuffed animal and smiles after treatment for thyroid cancer.
Treatments has been successful, and today, Adella is cancer free.

‘A higher level of understanding’

After researching their options, Cindy and her husband, Richard, decided on Boston Children’s Thyroid Center. “We were determined to find a higher level of understanding and care for Adella and wanted to go to the best place for that,” she says. Once in Boston, the family felt at ease — even though Adella faced a thyroidectomy with Dr. Robert Shamberger, then chief of the hospital’s Department of Surgery. “The staff updated us regularly and even encouraged us to ask how things were going,” says Cindy. “They never considered us a burden, and that took a lot of stress away from me during Adella’s surgery.”

But her treatment wasn’t over. Since the removal of her thyroid, Adella has twice spent a week receiving radioactive iodine treatment, which helps destroy any remaining cancer cells but requires patients to remain isolated to prevent others from being exposed to radiation. The treatments have been successful, and today, Adella is cancer free.

She returns to Boston for twice yearly appointments with endocrinologist Dr. Jessica Smith, associate medical director of the Thyroid Center. “Dr. Smith is great — she just gets it,” says Cindy, who notes that the physician uses numbing lidocaine cream to help ease Adella’s blood draws. She also worked with the Jacksons to counteract Adella’s significant weight loss following cancer treatment, ultimately resulting in a 30-pound gain. “We didn’t know how to help our daughter, and Dr. Smith made all the difference.”

Adella, who had thyroid cancer, enjoys ice cream.
Adella loves exploring and trying new foods.

Thinking outside the box

When Adella isn’t exploring and trying new foods — “Thanks to Boston, she’s developed a taste for raw oysters,” marvels Cindy — she loves playing volleyball, riding horses, and playing with her two cats and Corgi, named Benji, at home in Alabama. A creative kid who likes thinking outside the box, she’s also an artist and can be found perusing the aisles at Blick and other art supply stores. While most people would rather be anywhere but a hospital, she doesn’t mind traveling north for care and enjoys the kid-friendly aspects of Boston Children’s, including the lobby aquarium and musical stairs.

And Cindy appreciates the care team, from the clinicians to program coordinator Lori Foley, who keeps Adella’s schedule of tests and medications running smoothly. “We know that her cancer is aggressive and will be very hard to treat if it comes back,” says Cindy. “We love that this team has such a can-do, positive attitude. We can’t ask for more than that.”

Learn about the Thyroid Center.

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