Thyroid cancer: Something deadly was hiding in this photo of Ashleigh ‘I was on top of the world’ 

The photo that saved a young lawyer’s life after doctors dismissed the lump in her throat as ‘anxiety’ for YEARS

  • Woman explains thyroid cancer diagnosis at 25
  • Ashleigh Mills said it just felt like ‘a lump in her throat’
  • Friends begged her to go to a doctor once it was visible 

Ashleigh Mills was ‘on top of the world’ the week before she was diagnosed with cancer at just 25.

A lump on her throat, which was seen by a friend in a photo taken a week before she was given the life-changing news, turned out to be the most important clue.

The lump was visible from the outside for the first time that weekend – prompting her friend to encourage her to get it checked out.

But Ashleigh, now 33, was reluctant.

She had felt the lump growing in her throat for years, but doctors had always dismissed it as ‘anxiety’. She was also at a good point in her life – she had moved out of home, graduated and secured her first job as a lawyer.

Ashleigh Mills was just 25 when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer – after a friend noticed a lump on her throat (above)

Ashleigh admitted she never really believed the ‘anxiety’ line from doctors as she knew what being anxious felt like. 

But she didn’t know what else it could be, so out of fear of being ‘fobbed off’ again, she decided to stop asking doctors and instead took their word for it. 

Speaking to Nine Honey Ashleigh, who now works closely with the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, said she tried to dismiss her concerned friend.

‘I was so quick to be like “no, it’s nothing. I’ve already checked out, don’t worry about it”,’ she said.

But her friend didn’t give up and begged her to see another doctor.

Ashleigh decided to get it checked by a different GP the next day. A decision that potentially saved her life. 

The GP did tests and within a week she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

Ashleigh was celebrating moving out of home, finishing university and getting a job as a lawyer so tried to dismiss her friend

Ashleigh was celebrating moving out of home, finishing university and getting a job as a lawyer so tried to dismiss her friend 

Weeks later, Ashleigh had surgery to have it removed before going on a course of gruelling radioactive iodine treatments in a bid to kill the cancer.

This meant her time ‘living out of home’ was short. She had to quit her new job as a lawyer and move back in with her parents.

And for once she had no control.

‘When I was at school, or uni, or work, or I was in a particular sport, I could just try harder and work harder at whatever it was to get a result. But I couldn’t just work hard or study hard at not having cancer,’ she said.

Ashleigh needed something to distract her, so she started researching the thyroid and fundraising for cancer research.

But she is alive now because she did go to the doctor - and was diagnosed with cancer

But she is alive now because she did go to the doctor – and was diagnosed with cancer 

She planned a dinner inbetween her treatments, just so she had something to focus on.

In hindsight she admits she probably put too much pressure on herself by organising the fundraiser which raised $26,000. But it has led to a continued relationship with the cancer research body and given Ashleigh the opportunity to warn others to look for the signs.

She is now raising money for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation’s inaugural Fit40 in Feb challenge – exercising for 40 minutes each day in February to raise vital funds for cancer research.

You can help her with her fundraising efforts here.

What are the symptoms of thyroid cancer? 

There are several different types of thyroid cancer, the most common is papillary thyroid cancer, which usually grows in one lobe of the thyroid gland.

It is estimated that more than 3,900 people were diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2022. The average age at diagnosis is 53 years old.

Thyroid cancer is the ninth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, and it is estimated that one in 80 people will be diagnosed by the time they are 85.


There are often no obvious signs of thyroid cancer, however you may have one or more of the following symptoms:

– A lump in the neck or throat that may get bigger over time 

– Difficulty breathing or swallowing 

– Swollen lymph glands in the neck 

– A hoarse voice

Source: Cancer Council