SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. — After recognizing red flags, one local woman learned she had a tumor on her thyroid. But a chance encounter at work led her to a specialist who guided her every step of the way.

What You Need To Know

In 2023, Alex Freel started to pay close attention to her health after feeling lethargic. The vet tech, who works long hours, initially thought it was because of her schedule. However, she says she paid attention to her health and went in for lab work.

Following her labs, the 26-year-old Freel later got the first ultrasound of her thyroid for gut-wrenching news: a tumor.

"First thing I thought was, 'How is this going to affect my future?," Freel said.

At the time, Freel said she and her primary care doctor were not sure whether the tumor was cancerous.

While Freel waited for more appointments, endocrinologist Dr. Angela Mazza came through the doors where Freel worked at Healthy Pets Urgent Care with her dog. The two got to talking, and after learning of Mazza's specialty in thyroid disease and cancer, Freel said she knew it was meant to be.

Mazza worked with Freel during her biopsy and was the person to deliver the news that the tumor was, in fact, cancerous.

"We don't tend to think that cancer can affect young people, but Alex is very young," said Mazza, who works at the Metabolic Center for Wellness. "She's not the typical case that you would think for cancer, but we're seeing thyroid cancer more and more frequently in younger individuals, too."

Doctors diagnose more than 44,000 new cases of thyroid cancer a year, with the majority of them being women, according to the American Cancer Society.

Mazza and Freel are thankful she paid attention to the signs. Mazza said some signs of a thyroid issue can include changes in weight, energy, hair loss or rapid heartbeat.

"My thing I always tell my friends now is just because you're young, doesn't mean it can't happen to you," Freel said. "I thought it would never happen to me. So just listen to your body. If you feel something's wrong, advocate for yourself."

Freel said she's incredibly thankful for her support system at home, as well as at work. She is now living cancer-free but needs annual neck scans. She jokes that Mazza's dog is now a "VIP" at her work because of everything Mazza did for her.