Gubernatorial hopeful Sanders recovering after thyroid cancer surgery

Gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders takes the stage with family as she is greeted by supporters on her way to accept the Republican nomination for governor at the Embassy Suites Little Rock in this May 24, 2022 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced Friday she had surgery to remove her thyroid and surrounding lymph nodes after cancer was found in the area.

Sanders, 40, said in a news release that during a check-up earlier this month her doctor ordered a biopsy on an area of concern in her neck which revealed she had thyroid cancer.

"Today, I underwent a successful surgery to remove my thyroid and surrounding lymph nodes and by the grace of God I am now cancer-free," Sanders said in the news release. "I want to thank the Arkansas doctors and nurses for their world-class care, as well as my family and friends for their love, prayers and support. I look forward to returning to the campaign trail soon."

Judd Deere, a spokesman for Sanders' campaign, declined to go into further detail Friday afternoon when contacted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

"I would refer to the doctor's statement that says she is cancer-free and expects a full recovery and for her to be back on her feet in short order," Deere said. "I am not going to speculate or put a timetable on that, but she expects to be back on the campaign trail very soon."

Dr. John Sims, a head and neck oncologic and microvascular reconstructive surgeon at CARTI Cancer Center in Little Rock, said in the news release that Sanders is recovering from the surgery. Sims said the surgery went "extremely well" and that he expects Sanders to be back on her feet within the next 24 hours.

"This is a Stage I papillary thyroid carcinoma, which is the most common type of thyroid cancer and has an excellent prognosis," Sims said. "While she will need adjuvant treatment with radioactive iodine, as well as continued long-term follow up, I think it's fair to say she's now cancer-free, and I don't anticipate any of this slowing her down."

Sanders, of Little Rock, is a former White House press secretary for President Donald Trump and the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. She said in the news release that the experience is a reminder not to lose heart in whatever battle someone may be facing.

"As governor, I will never quit fighting for the people of our great state," she said.

Stage 1 papillary or follicular thyroid cancer is used to describe any small tumor with no spread to the lymph nodes and no metastasis, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology website

The American Cancer Society states on its website that most papillary cancers are treated with the removal of the thyroid gland, and if lymph nodes are enlarged or show signs of cancer spread, they will be removed as well. The organization also states that even if lymph nodes aren't enlarged, some doctors recommend the surgical removal of lymph nodes next to the thyroid along with the removal of the thyroid.

The American Cancer Society also notes that radioactive iodine treatment is sometimes used after thyroidectomy for early stage cancers, but the cure rate with surgery alone is excellent. People who have had a thyroidectomy will need to take daily thyroid hormone pills, according the American Cancer Society's website.

Cancer Research UK, the world's largest independent cancer research organization, states on its website that generally it takes a few weeks after surgery before a person is able to get back to doing all the things they were doing before surgery. The organization states most people are able to go back to work about two weeks after undergoing the operation, depending on how strenuous their work is.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Jones and his wife Dr. Jerrilyn Jones said Friday afternoon that their hearts go out to the Sanders family and that they wish her a successful recovery.

"Our family is thinking of you and praying for you and your family," the Jones family said in a statement sent to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "It's truly a blessing that you caught this cancer early and were able to receive world-class treatment so quickly. From one family of Arkansans to another, we send you hope, love and healing.

"Our family has been on this journey before and, while it's not easy, we know personally the power of prayer, the healing hand of God, and the strength that comes from being surrounded by community," Jones said. "May you have an abundance of all in this season."

Ricky Dale Harrington, the Libertarian candidate for governor, also offered prayers for Sanders' recovery. He said Friday afternoon he didn't want to speculate about what this means for the campaign, and that he hopes Sanders will make a full recovery and continue participating in the governor's race.

"I pray for her and her family," Harrington said. "Cancer sucks."

Sanders is the second former Trump administration official to publicly acknowledge they had thyroid cancer. Former senior White House adviser Jared Kushner revealed earlier this year he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2019 while serving in the White House.