On ABC’s hit TV show Modern Family, Sofia Vergara exudes confidence as feisty Gloria, a wife and mother of two. In real life, the Colombian actress brought the same shoot-from-the-hip perspective to coping with thyroid cancer as a young mom after her diagnosis in 2000.
Sofia, 41, now has hypothyroidism after the vital gland was removed during treatment. Also known as “underactive thyroid,” the condition affects an estimated 10 to 20 percent of women but often goes undiagnosed. The actress hopes to help change that through her work with the Follow the Script campaign.
To mark January’s Thyroid Awareness Month, we caught up with the busy Emmy-nominated actress—who will soon appear in the films Heat, Machete Kills and Fading Gigolo—to talk about coping with cancer and what she and Gloria have in common.
Spry: How were you diagnosed with thyroid cancer?
Sofia: I went in for my yearly physical when I was 28, and my doctor found a lump in my neck.
I had no family history of cancer or thyroid problems, so I was shocked. I also worried about my son, Manolo—his dad and I had divorced several years before and he was very young at the time. I knew nothing about the disease, and I feared the worst, but I read everything I could. I received iodine treatment and surgery, and fortunately, it was successful.
Spry: What did you learn from battling cancer as a young mother?
Sofia: Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you don’t have good health, you don’t have anything, so you need to make your health your number-one priority. After my diagnosis, I made a more conscious decision to work out on a regular basis and eat in moderation. I have tried to teach Manolo healthy eating habits, too.
Spry: How do you manage your hypothyroidism now?
Sofia: I take medication every morning and have my blood levels checked every 3 to 6 months. I get frustrated when I hear people say they haven’t had their thyroid levels checked in several years because most people need to have their medication dosage adjusted over time.
Because I stay on top of it, I’ve never had any hypothyroid symptoms, like extreme fatigue, weight gain or joint stiffness. I want women to know that hypothyroidism is easy to diagnose with a blood test and very treatable.
Spry: How do you find the time to exercise with your busy schedule?
Sofia: I have a personal trainer. I don’t have a typical 9-to-5 schedule, so I try to fit it in when I can. I don’t exercise to be skinny, but for my well-being. I love food, so if I have cake, I know I need to work out the next morning.
Spry: What do you have in common with your character, Gloria?
Sofia: Gloria has two young boys, and my son is 22, but I think our mothering style is the same. Manolo and I are very close, and even though he is at college, we still talk and text often, and travel together. We visited China and Japan last year.
Are You At Risk?
Thyroid disease affects one in eight women between ages 35-65, and one in five women over age 65, but approximately half of cases are undiagnosed. Your doctor can check for underactive or overactive thyroid with a simple blood test. For more information, visit The Endocrine Society or the American Thyroid Association.