Loading Results
We have updated our Online Services Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. See our Cookies Notice for information concerning our use of cookies and similar technologies. By using this website or clicking “I ACCEPT”, you consent to our Online Services Terms of Use.

Coordinated Care Helps Woman Conquer Multiple Health Challenges

Susan Welch enjoys a day at the beach

Susan Welch of Norton, Ohio, has faced more than her fair share of health challenges over the years, including thyroid cancer, two bouts of breast cancer, high blood pressure, a genetic blood clotting disorder and a family history of diabetes that puts her at high risk for developing the disease herself.

Many of these problems arose while Susan, now 69, was going through menopause, which can be a challenging transition in itself. Through it all, her endocrinologist, Betul Hatipoglu, MD, was by her side to support, encourage and offer innovative options for treatment. “She has been my physician for a long, long time,” says Susan. “She is such a good listener and always looked at my big picture – I never felt like a number or a disease with her.”

An Enduring Doctor/Patient Relationship

Susan first met Dr. Hatipoglu when she sought treatment for hypertension. “I was told that my high blood pressure was due in part to issues with my adrenal glands so it made sense to consult an endocrinologist,” she says. “That was many years ago but I was so impressed with her whole-person approach to treatment and her kindness, I have stuck with her ever since.”

The Health Challenges Piled Up

In 2018, Susan was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in her right breast and just one year later, with invasive lobular carcinoma in her left breast. “My mom had inflammatory breast cancer so I knew I was at risk but it was still a shock,” says Susan. She underwent lumpectomies on both breasts followed by radiation and hormone therapy. During this same timeframe, Susan developed appendicitis and had an appendectomy.

“And, in the middle of all this, I was told that I was losing bone mass. I was feeling overwhelmed and pretty yucky,” she recalls.

Focus on the Endocrine System

“While investigating possible reasons for my bone loss, Dr. Hatipoglu suspected a problem with my parathyroid gland,” says Susan.

The parathyroid glands are pea-sized glands located next to the thyroid gland in the neck. They produce a hormone (PTH) that helps regulate calcium levels in the blood and other body tissues. When tests revealed that Susan’s PTH numbers were high, she underwent surgery in September 2020 to remove the hypercellular parathyroid gland and left thyroid. The surgery also revealed she had thyroid cancer.

One side of the thyroid gland was removed and sent to the lab for testing. “When it was determined that I had an aggressive variant of thyroid cancer, Dr. Hatipoglu stepped in and encouraged me to have the remainder of my thyroid gland removed,” remembers Susan.

In June 2021, tests revealed Susan still had high levels of thyroglobulin (Tg). Elevated Tg levels can be an indicator of thyroid cancer, so in June 2021, Susan underwent a second surgery to remove what was left of her thyroid.

“After the surgeries and the subsequent radiation therapy, I was physically and emotionally wiped out,” says Susan. “But Dr. Hatipoglu was with me through it all – she stayed in touch and followed up, explaining everything to me as it happened. Her encouragement empowered me, gave me peace and helped me through some of the most difficult times of my life.”

An Innovative Research Study

With multiple surgeries and procedures behind her, Susan’s focus turned to her endocrine-related high blood pressure. “I was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes and am at very high risk for it to progress,” she says.

“My mother had diabetes and lost her eyesight as a result, so I was very motivated to find ways to manage my own risk of developing the disease.”

Once again, Dr. Hatipoglu became involved in Susan’s care.

“As part of the UH Diabetes & Metabolic Care Center, Dr. Hatipoglu was conducting a research study around type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Even though I don’t technically have diabetes, she invited me to join the study,” says Susan. “And, it has been life-changing for me.”

The study focuses on how strong and early interventions, while they may not change the course of a genetic predisposition for diabetes, can greatly improve quality and length of life. Participants are encouraged take an active role in their own treatment plan.

Early in the study, Dr. Hatipoglu led a one-day wellness retreat for the participants. “We all sat there and listened to this incredible team of experts explain different ways to manage diabetes including medications, nutrition, exercise and emotional wellness,” says Susan. “There was plenty of time for questions and we all left with a blood pressure cuff, a scale and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) – a wearable device that measures blood sugar levels.” Data from these devices are regularly downloaded and sent to the research team for ongoing evaluation.

The study also offers ongoing virtual sessions that discuss relevant topics. “Recently, I attended one about resilience,” says Susan. “I don’t know if there’s an end date to the study but I plan to participate as long as I’m able. I believe it is changing the course of my future and am so grateful to Dr. Hatipoglu for inviting me to participate.”

Staying in Control

With her many health challenges now well-managed, Susan is determined to keep it that way. “I still see Dr. Hatipoglu once a year to track my thyroid and adrenal issues. If something comes up between visits and I need to see her, her staff is very helpful and quickly get me scheduled. They even helped me coordinate my care with an endocrinologist in Phoenix who specializes in thyroid cancer – I have an uncle and aunt in Arizona and enjoy frequent visits with them. The two doctors communicate with me and each other to ensure there are no interruptions to my plan of care.”

Susan will take thyroid replacement therapy for the rest of her life to replace the hormones normally made by the thyroid gland and is diligent about her breast cancer surveillance follow up care.

Best of all, she is addressing her bone density with regular strength training. She works out at home and at the gym, takes aerobic swimming classes and is looking forward to taking yoga.

Happy Ending

The excellent care that Susan has received is, for her, bittersweet. “I look at my own journey and think wouldn’t it have been nice if my mom, who died 15 years ago, had had access to that kind of care.”

“I’m so appreciative of all the support I received from my family and friends throughout my treatment. And of course there’s Dr. Hatipoglu. I’m grateful for her professionalism and compassion. She never gave up on me and I would follow her anywhere.”

“Understanding I have a new normal, I look forward to continuing a lifelong journey of healthy practices with the ongoing guidance of Dr. Hatipoglu, the support of the team at the UH Diabetes & Metabolic Care Center, and using the tools and skills I learned at the research study wellness retreat and follow up programs.”

The former owner of an ice cream store, Susan is now retired and loves to travel and cook. She and her husband have one son, a daughter-in-law and a six year old granddaughter whom they visit regularly.