HGTV’s Flip or Flop stars Tarek El Moussa and his wife, Christina, consider themselves lucky that a viewer was paying close attention during one of their shows. Registered nurse Ryan Read was watching a Flip or Flop marathon two years ago when she noticed a lump on the neck of real estate expert and show cohost El Moussa.
Ryan immediately reached out to HGTV’s production company to explain that Tarek had a large nodule on his thyroid and that he needed to have it examined.
El Moussa, 33, who is now speaking out about the incident because he’s in remission and has recently become a father for the second time, had already suspected something was wrong. “I was having a harder time swallowing, and this lump was getting bigger,” he told People. “I actually went to the doctor twice for it, and they said it’s nothing. So once I saw [the note from Read], I was like, ‘You know what? I need to get a second opinion.’”
In most cases of thyroid cancer, there aren’t any signs except for an asymptomatic lump in the neck, according to Adam S. Jacobson, MD, associate professor in the department of otolaryngology and associate director of head and neck surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center. “If they do develop symptoms, it can range from feeling pressure in their neck to having voice changes, swallowing problems, and breathing problems,” Jacobson tells Yahoo Parenting.
After seeking a second opinion, El Moussa was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The doctor also told him that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. He had surgery to remove his thyroid gland, followed by radioactive iodine therapy, which is the standard treatment for most thyroid cancer cases, notes Jacobson.
The good news is the cure rates for most thyroid cancers are very high, typically more than 90 percent, according to Jacobson.
The couple recently released a new HGTV video where they talk about El Moussa’s cancer diagnosis and meet the eagle-eyed nurse Read to thank her in person. “This nurse saved my life,” El Moussa says in the video.
But battling cancer wasn’t the only obstacle the couple had to face. After cancer therapy, El Moussa and Christina, who have a 3-year-old daughter, struggled to get pregnant with a second child. “Thyroid cancer is most common in people ages 30 or higher, during the childbearing years,” says Jacobson.
“We found out Tarek had cancer, and we asked the doctor if that would affect our chances of having a child,” Christina told People. “They said that if you go through radiation, which Tarek had to, then you should not get pregnant from that sperm from six months to a year. So, right away, we did sperm banking and [tried] IVF.”
After two failed IVF attempts, including a miscarriage at eight weeks, Christina switched doctors and tried one last round of IVF, which was successful.
Christina and El Moussa, who is now cancer-free, welcomed a baby boy, Brayden James, three months ago. “I’m going to raise him as a good man,” El Moussa told People. “I’m going to make him a superior athlete, make sure he gets good grades, and hopefully plays college baseball.”