St. John Valley

Snowmobile crash leads to unexpected diagnosis for young St. Francis woman

FORT KENT, Maine — Makayla Martin of St. Francis was not expecting to receive a cancer diagnosis at 23 years old. 

She was just a few months into a new job as a customer service representative for a Fort Kent insurance agency and was studying to become a licensed property and casualty insurance agent when a January snowmobile crash temporarily sidelined that goal.

As it turns out, the crash may have saved Martin’s life. It left her with a concussion as well as head and neck pain, so as a precaution, medical professionals at Northern Maine Medical Center performed additional tests to determine the extent of her injuries.

“They did a [computerized tomography or CT] scan of my head and neck and thankfully nothing was broken, but they did discover a mass, a bunch of nodules, in my neck on my thyroid,” Martin said. 

An ultrasound of her neck and throat confirmed the finding. 

Martin traveled to Bangor where she underwent a biopsy at St. Joseph Endocrinology the following day. 

“The doctors sort of prepared me for it to come back showing cancer by the way they talked, so in a way I was sort of expecting the worst, but still hoped for the best,” Martin said. 

“I had the biopsy done on a Thursday and it seemed like forever passed until that Monday when I got a call from my thyroid specialist saying what I feared the most — ‘I regret to inform you that the biopsy came back showing carcinoma thyroid cancer. I am very sorry,’” Martin said. 

Martin said her mind initially went blank and she became very emotional at the diagnosis.

“It was a lot to process and I didn’t really know how to deal with it, so I just cried,” Martin said. “It is such a lonely feeling having a diagnosis of cancer; you could be in a room that is crowded wall to wall, but in your own head things are moving in slow motion and you are only thinking the worst.”

The thyroid gland, located at the base of the throat, produces hormones that help control heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and metabolism. 

The National Cancer Institute reports that thyroid cancer is more common in women than in men, and when diagnosed early, has a high survival rate of 98 percent. 

In 2018, the latest year for which data is available, 198 Maine residents were diagnosed with thyroid cancer, according to United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms, which are not always present early in the disease, include hoarse voice, neck and throat pain, swollen lymph nodes in the neck and difficulty swallowing. 

“I did sometimes have issues with swallowing food or drinks and I always just pushed it off as, ‘well, maybe I am just not hungry or thirsty, or maybe my anxiety is just high right now and I will try again in a little while,’” Martin said. “You never think it could or would happen to you, but it just goes to show no one ever knows what can or will happen to them, and it can happen in the blink of an eye.”

Martin underwent surgery to remove her thyroid at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center and will take medication for the rest of her life to replace her thyroid hormones. 

“I was not going to walk around with a huge mass of cancer in my throat and just not do anything about it,” Martin said. “I have been through way too much in my life to let this get in my way and let it get the best of me.”

“I am far from being out of the woods; I go for blood work every six weeks to recheck my thyroid levels, and there is a chance that I will need radioactive medicine treatment but it is still too early to know if I will need that yet,” Martin added. “I consider myself in ‘limbo’ just waiting to see what comes next and I am taking it day by day.”

Martin celebrated her 24th birthday on July 1, and despite her unexpected turn in life, is back at work and studying once again for her insurance license. 

“I think the one thing that is very important with a diagnosis like this is to try to keep a positive outlook; surround yourself with love and happiness,” Martin said.

Nikki Shields, who owns Nikki Shields Agency where Martin works, said Martin is a valued employee who continues to impress with her strength through adversity. 

“Makayla is a true example of what fight and determination is,” Shields said. “She has maintained a positive attitude from the beginning and continues to amaze me with her courage and strength.”

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