As It Happens

Woman diagnosed with cancer after doctor spots lump while watching HGTV

While watching HGTV's Beachfront Bargain Hunt recently, Dr. Erich Voigt spotted a mass in a participant's throat, and took to social media to make sure she knew about it. That led to a potentially life-saving diagnosis.

'I think everything happens for a reason,' said Nicole McGuinness

Dr. Erich Voigt met Nicole McGuiness after he informed her of a lump on her neck that he noticed when he saw her appearance on a TV show. (Submitted by Nicole McGuinness)

Nicole McGuinness had recently finished treatment for brain cancer when she decided to celebrate by doing some house-hunting.

While looking to purchase a beachfront home in North Carolina, she appeared in an episode of HGTV's Beachfront Bargain Hunt.

But when the episode aired, it caught the attention of a doctor who lived kilometres away. While he was watching the show, he noticed something abnormal on McGuinness' neck. 

"I noticed this subtle fullness in the region of her thyroid gland when she would swallow or position her head in a certain way," Dr. Erich Voigt said to As It Happens host Carol Off.

"As a otolaryngologist — a head and neck surgeon — it drew my attention right away that she had a problem there."

As his instincts kicked in, Dr. Voigt, who works at New York University's Langone Medical Center, knew he had to act. He posted on Facebook to try to contact McGuinness. He soon received an overwhelming number of suggestions on what to do.

"Someone said to contact the broadcasting company and try to reach her through them. Another friend actually sent me the link to the broadcasting company, so I sent them an email," Dr. Voight said.

Two weeks later he heard back from a friend of McGuinness' family, who said she had seen his post and passed the message along.

"I felt at first shocked and then I think, thankful," McGuinness told As It Happens. 

On the same day she learned of Dr. Voigt's post, McGuiness went to see her doctor who felt a lump on her neck. She was soon diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer.

Nicole McGuinness, who survived brain cancer, is now undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer. (Submitted by Nicole McGuinness)

TV appearance happened 'for a reason'

In 2015, McGuinness was diagnosed with grade four glioblastoma. She was given a short life expectancy by her doctors.

She said appearing on Beachfront Bargain Hunt was her way of celebrating her recovery. But upon hearing from Dr. Voigt, she now believes appearing on the TV show was fate.

"I think everything happens for a reason. I was on that television show, and I think that's because Dr. Voigt could spot what is on my thyroid," she said.

McGuinness contacted Dr. Voigt the same day she heard about his Facebook post.

"I was able to find his email address online and before I even went to my primary care physician, I sent him an email saying, 'Thank you so much. We're going to get that checked out right now and I will be in touch with you,'" she said.

Since then, McGuinness and Dr. Voight have kept in touch. They met in person for the first time on ABC's Good Morning America earlier this week.

Road to recovery

Since receiving her thyroid cancer diagnosis in early June, McGuinness plans to see a doctor at Duke University about how to move forward with surgery and treatment.

Dr. Voigt, who admits he was surprised that his message got to McGuinness, is hopeful that she will get through cancer once again. 

While he acknowledges that he has not examined her, papillary thyroid cancer "is a very curable cancer" from a clinical standpoint.
Friends and family gathered with Nicole McGuinness to watch her appearance on an episode of HGTV's Beachfront Bargain Hunt. (Submitted by Nicole McGuinness)

"She doesn't have any symptoms and it's not showing any signs clinically that it's doing anything harmful, meaning that she swallows well, her voice sounds normal. She doesn't have any [other] visible lymph nodes," he said.

"But clinically and hopefully, [the cancer] is on an earlier stage but will be determined with the sonogram and other tests that her doctors will do."

Nevertheless, McGuinness said she is "feeling blessed and very thankful" for Dr. Voigt.

"There are not many times in a person's life that you meet someone and say, 'Hey, thanks. You probably saved my life," she said. "So for me, it was amazing."

Dr. Voigt said meeting McGuinness was also emotional for him, and that he's grateful to have met her.

"You know in life, I think the world needs positive messages," he said.

"I think the world got to meet Nicole and saw someone really strong and really amazing. Her strength is incredible."

Written by Samantha Lui. Interview with Nicole McGuinness and Dr. Erich Voigt produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.