Jan. 31, 2014
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
A two-time member of the LPGA Tour in 2005 and 2009, Ole Miss women’s golf associate head coach Janell Howland was in the prime of life.
In June 2011, however, she was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, which is an overactive thyroid. In November 2011, she successfully underwent surgery to remove the thyroid, after which she learned there was cancer in the thyroid. From diagnosis, to surgery, to recovery, it all started with one friend simply looking out for another friend.
“I didn’t know I had it. I had pretty much all of the symptoms of Graves Disease, but I never put two and two together, but then Jami (Clinton) said enough was enough,” Howland said of Jami Clinton, coordinator of Olympic Sports Strength & Conditioning at Ole Miss. “She said I was shaking beyond control, and I needed to go see a doctor. She told me if I didn’t make an appointment, she would make one for me. You kind of didn’t have a choice then.”
The shaking, Howland said, was her biggest symptom of Graves’ disease. If not for Clinton, Howland said she didn’t know if and when she would have gone to the doctor to get tested.
“She’s a professional athlete, so she wanted to be in the weight room, work out and learn what I did,” Clinton said. “I noticed her hands would shake every once in a while when she about to lift. When we would sit and talk, her hands would sit in her lap and just tremble. I had a great aunt who had ALS, and that was one of the symptoms, so it was kind of frightening.
“If it was something serious, it is very important to catch it early as opposed to progressing to other symptoms. It started with that, and she knew me well enough that I would follow up on that threat, so that’s when she went to the doctor.”
When she learned that she had Graves’ disease, she had three options to treat it: surgery, radioactive iodine, or medicine, which she could only do for a couple of years because it damages other organs.
She chose the surgery route, and after the fall golf season, she went in and had surgery and everything went smoothly. Through the diagnosis and treatment, Howland has also been able to reach out and help others.
“I have had a couple of people come to me because I posted everything on Facebook and Twitter,” Howland said. “I have had one of my mom’s neighbors call me, and she had the same thing and she had her surgery. I have another friend who I played with on tour who later found out she had Graves’ disease and thyroid cancer. It’s been an eye-opening experience. For me, it was easier than some, but I’m very thankful that I went down that road and discovered it, so I can help other people.”
“The thing about Janelle is she always has a smile on her face,” Clinton added. “She’s always a very positive person. Janelle did not feel sorry for herself in any way, shape or form. It was fortunate that there were a lot of people around here taking good care of her.”
In November 2013, on the two-year anniversary of her being cancer-free, Clinton helped Howland cut off 16 inches of hair which she donated to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, which partners with the American Cancer Society. Through that partnership, they donate wigs to women of all ages who have lost their hair to cancer.
“That was a really emotional thing for her because it was a celebration to say that she had been two years cancer-free. It’s hard to be young and have the thoughts of: ‘I might have cancer, or I might be really ill.’ A lot of people expect that when you’re older. But she’s in her late 30’s and that was unexpected.”
Today, more than two years cancer-free, Howland has to have blood work done every six to eight weeks and have additional blood work done every six months to make sure that there are no cancer cells. She also has an ultrasound every year.
“I’m a very strong Christian woman, so for me, it’s all part of a plan. It wasn’t as scary for me as for some people because I knew there was a reason that this happened to me, and I try to use that to help other people if I can.”
For more information on thyroid cancer check out these websites:
American Cancer Society— www.cancer.org
Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association — www.thyca.org
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller