Actor, Author, and Thyroid Cancer Survivor
by Jessica Webb
Award-winning actor, three-time New York Times best-selling author, and Harvard graduate Hill Harper is no stranger to success. His nonprofit foundation, Manifest Your Destiny, is even centered on success, specifically helping young people create and follow their own paths to succeed. With numerous screen and television gigs under his belt, including his current role as Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on the CBS crime drama CSI: NY, Hill has a new role to add to his repertoire – cancer survivor.
While filming Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls in Atlanta, GA, Hill woke up one morning unable to swallow. With a sore throat and the intuition that something wasn’t quite right, he visited a doctor friend of his who immediately performed a biopsy. During his visit, Hill spent time laughing with the staff and posing for pictures. When he returned for his results, however, the mood had changed; seriousness had replaced the laughter. Before the doctors even gave him the news, he knew what he was facing. He had thyroid cancer.
After hearing the word cancer, Hill wanted as much information as he could gather to deal with his diagnosis. His father, grandfather, and uncle had all lost their battles with cancer, Hill shares in a recent interview with Coping® magazine, but he was determined not to meet the same fate. Fortunately, rather than passing off his sore throat as nothing more than a cold, Hill followed his intuition. His cancer was caught early, which Hill cites as a blessing, and his doctors believed it was all contained in his thyroid. However, this meant his thyroid would have to be removed.
Surgery and Its Side Effects
Facing a complete thyroidectomy, Hill’s worries turned from the cancer itself to the possible complications from surgery. He knew that one tiny slip of the scalpel, damaging the nearby nerves of the vocal chords, could leave him hoarse. Or worse, without a voice. The future of his acting career hung in the balance.
Rather than passing off his sore throat as nothing more than a cold, Hill followed his intuition.
In July 2010, Hill’s surgeon at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA, successfully removed his thyroid gland, including three cancerous nodes. Though he had trouble speaking for a few weeks after surgery, his doctors assured him his voice would return to normal. “It’s a blessing,” Hill says with relief.
Another blessing – because his doctors believed that the cancer had not spread to his surrounding glands, Hill was able to forgo radiation therapy.
Although Hill’s voice was ultimately unaffected by his surgery, he was not exempt from some of its other side effects. The complete removal of his thyroid left him with lasting metabolic issues that he manages by taking thyroid medication, watching what he eats, and staying active. “I’m just trying to exercise as much as I can,” Hill explains.
Hill’s cancer also produced an unexpected side effect – its influence on the direction of his writing. He was in the middle of writing his fourth book – a book on finance – when he received his diagnosis. Drawing on his cancer experience, Hill took the same approach his doctors were using to cure his cancer and applied it as a method for curing the financial problems many people face. The result was his newest book, The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in Its Place.
Hill hasn’t let cancer affect his career. Today, he is cancer free and ambitious as always. His goals include acting in more feature films and award-winning television shows and carrying on his role on CSI: NY, which is currently in its eighth season.
Hill’s message to anyone diagnosed with cancer is simple: “Nothing is set in stone.” He wants those going through treatment to know that, even with a family history of cancer, they too can survive and thrive.
Follow Hill on Twitter at twitter.com/hillharper.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2012.