A large lump on the side of 13-year-old Alyssa Kukla’s neck was the first warning something was wrong.
“They initially thought it was just her body fighting off a virus,” Teri Kukla, Alyssa’s mother, says.
Then, the lump grew larger. Alyssa’s parents brought her to Beaumont Children’s Hospital in Royal Oak for testing. When the results came back, Beaumont pediatric surgeon Begum Akay, M.D., asked the family to come to her office that night.
“8:30 at night, she met us at her office. It was just so great of her to do that,” Teri Kukla says.
Alyssa had thyroid cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 2 percent of thyroid cancers occur in children and teens.
“It was probably the scariest moment I have ever had. I wished that it had been me instead. No one should have to go through something like that, especially not a child,” Teri Kukla says.
Alyssa’s father, Michael Kukla, adds, “There is nobody to blame. It’s nobody’s fault. That’s probably one of the hardest parts for me … just being a man and not being able to do anything … Alyssa’s not upset and she’s the one that’s going through it and going through the surgery. As her father, I think, all I can do is be supportive.”
Alyssa and her parents say Dr. Akay’s personality and genuine concern about her patients made it easier to cope with the cancer diagnosis.
“She’s really nice and I really like her. She’s one of my favorite doctors … Honestly, I don’t feel all that scared. I’m just trying to get it over with,” Alyssa Kukla says.
Teri Kukla shares the same sentiment, “Dr. Akay has gone over and above, out of her way, to assure that we’re OK, that Alyssa is comfortable, that we feel like we’re taken care of.”
Doctor Akay gives all of her patients her cell phone number and email address because she wants to be accessible to them.
“They will text me and call me. I tell them never to hesitate and to do it any time that they want … Being a pediatric surgeon is a little bit different than being an adult surgeon. You’re not just taking care of the child. You’re taking care of the mother and the father and the aunt and the uncle and the grandparents. It’s really important for me to have close relationships with the families because they’re instilling all of their trust in me to take care of their child,” Dr. Akay says.
In February 2014, Dr. Akay and her team removed nearly all of the disease in Alyssa's neck, including her entire thyroid gland and about 50 lymph nodes.
Alyssa came back to Beaumont Children’s Hospital several months later to have more of the cancer removed.
“I’ve tried so hard to keep her sheltered and keep her protected from things that the outside world can harm her with. This is something that just spontaneously rose up within her. You can’t protect your child from that. That was the hardest thing,” Teri Kukla says.
The surgery went well and Alyssa says she’s proud to call herself a cancer survivor.
“It showed me that I’m braver than I thought I was. I used to think I was so weak. But, this shows me I’m braver than I thought I was,” Alyssa Kukla says.
Dr. Akay meets with Alyssa Kukla days before her second surgery.