Luling resident battling thyroid cancer at 40

Blandon Zeringue and his son, Noah.
Blandon Zeringue and his son, Noah.

Blandon Zeringue: Fishing for Frankie beneficiary

In a flash, Blandon Zeringue’s mind went blank and his body numb.

The 40-year-old Luling resident and lifelong St. Charles Parish resident had been referred for an ultrasound by his primary care physician after some tests had come back irregular, but nothing could prepare him to learn he had cancer.

“You hear the words and … it’s just shock,” Zeringue said. “I honestly don’t know that my mind was working at that point. I had some symptoms checked, got the ultrasound and was waiting for results, but even hearing it said to me, the reaction is just, ‘No, it can’t be cancer.’ It was sheer shock.”

Zeringue, who owned Zeringue’s Seafood for 15 years, was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in July of last year. It is the most common kind of thyroid cancer, representing about 80 percent of all thyroid cancer cases. The illness is often asymptomatic, but the most common symptom is a mass in the neck.

“You hear about people being dialed up and thinking they have it, and then they go get checked out and it’s not cancer,” he said. “So, naturally, me being 40 and in the best shape in my life, I never thought it was that at all.

“The day I found out, I was headed up to meet everyone for a family vacation. And … I didn’t tell anyone about it for a good while. I wasn’t ready to and was still jarred from it.”

Though the cure rate is high, his fight has not been easy.

His diagnosis came after he was hospitalized for an illness. Through blood testing results, he was referred to his primary doctor. Zeringue said that at first, his doctor thought it was probably nothing major, but once his results came back, he was sent to see a specialist, who didn’t believe it to be serious, either.

But his doctor was not convinced.

“He said, the way you’re feeling and with your levels, there’s no way,” Zeringue said. “Something’s going on.”

He was referred for an ultrasound, which caught the cancer.

The month he was diagnosed, he underwent a thyroidectomy with dissection of the surrounding thyroid bed. During that surgery, doctors discovered the cancer had spread to the lymphatic system and immediately re-opened him to remove all the surrounding lymph nodes. Once that was done, he started radiation treatment.

A second surgery on his neck was needed and that left him with severe nerve damage to his right side and has cost him the ability to work.

He will soon head to MD Anderson in Houston for additional surgery and consultation, followed by testing. He hopes that will clear the cancer, but even then, his road to physical recovery from the nerve damage continues to be a daunting task.

The unknown is as well.

“You don’t know if and when you’re getting it (full range use of his right side) back,” Zeringue said. “It could be six months, a year, or two years. It’s been six months to this point … it’s been a slow process.”

He says it’s been difficult, but he’s been able to cope in part because he made the decision his illness will not keep him down. Zeringue undergoes physical and speech therapy and is a regular in the gym, where he puts work in.

“I’m staying positive. I have good days and bad days, but the biggest thing is I’ve gotta get out the house,” Zeringue said. “I was very active before. I stay busy and have never been someone happy with just sitting around and watching TV.

“In my situation, staying positive, yeah it’s difficult. But to me, it’s all mental. That’s the key.”

Making those trips to put in rehabilitation work isn’t always easy, but Zeringue pushes through nonetheless.

“Every day, you’re fighting to get out of bed, but I do it and come (to the gym) every day because that’s as much about the mental side as anything, too.”

Another thing that’s helped him through is the tremendous support of family, friends and the community around him. A number of people in the community have rallied to help — examples include a blood replacement drive held earlier this month at First National Bank in Boutte, and he will be the beneficiary of the upcoming Fishing for Frankie tournament fundraiser, which will be held Aug. 4 at Somme’s Marina in Des Allemands. Funds raised at the tourney will help offset the costs of treatment, medication and surgeries.

“The support from everyone has been tremendous and I don’t know that I have the words to fully express my thanks,” Zeringue said. “You see these people who are there for you and want to help out any way they can. Just knowing you have those people to fall back on … I’ve never been one to rely on people for anything, and now I’m in a place where I kind of have to.”

He said he feels fortunate to have so many people behind him, because he knows that’s not the case for everyone.

“A lot of people have to go through it alone. They don’t have the support,” Zeringue said. “It’s already lonely enough even when you do. Your support system is everything and it’s what helps carry me through this.”

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