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HGTV's Tarek El Moussa Says This Was His First Thyroid Cancer Symptom

Plus, the incredible story of how a fan saved his life.

Tarek El Moussa, star of the hit HGTV shows Flip or Flop and Flipping 101, became an overnight reality star in 2013. But unbeknownst to fans at the time, El Moussa's life changed drastically in more ways than one that year. Just after the first season of the show aired, the reality star suffered a health shock: He was diagnosed with not one but two unrelated types of cancer. In fact, El Moussa has a fan to thank for tipping him off to the problem. Read on to hear the incredible story of his dual battle with thyroid and testicular cancer, and what he now says is the most important thing he's learned from the experience.

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El Moussa says this was his first thyroid cancer symptom.

Tarek El Moussa
Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Flip or Flop premiered in 2013, and gained a near instant fan following. One of those fans, it turns out, would go on to save the host's life. A viewer of the show—a registered nurse—noticed while tuning in that El Moussa had a worrying lump on his neck, and wrote an email to the production team urging the star to get his thyroid checked. El Moussa told Coping Magazine that receiving that email confirmed a long held concern that he had a serious underlying health problem.

"I had a bad feeling when I received that email," El Moussa told Coping. "For two years, I had been experiencing tightness in my neck, and I was constantly clearing my throat. I had gone to my doctor twice and was told it was nothing, just allergies. After I read her email, I went to the doctor—a new doctor—the next day and insisted on further testing."

Upon receiving his diagnosis, El Moussa had his thyroid removed, but learned immediately following his procedure that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. He then underwent radioactive iodine therapy to target the remaining cancer.

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He was diagnosed with a second type of cancer that same year.

Tarek El Moussa
Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

Later that same year, El Moussa made a second shocking discovery: In addition to his thyroid cancer, he was also diagnosed with testicular cancer. Newly attuned to the importance of following up on health concerns, the star says he requested aggressive testing from his medical team after he experienced a mysterious symptom. "I was having a lot of pain in my fingers and hands, and because of that my doctor just did a whole bunch of testing," he told Coping.

Ultimately, El Moussa opted for removal surgery, replacing the affected testicle with an implant. "I can't tell the difference," he told People Magazine in 2017.

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Now he's urging others to look out for symptoms.

Tarek El Moussa
Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Though open with the public about his thyroid cancer diagnosis, El Moussa was tight-lipped about his testicular cancer at the time. "Testicular cancer is more of a private thing," he explained to People. However, these days, he's speaking up about the importance of testicular cancer awareness, and imploring others to get regular exams and perform self checks. "With testicular cancer, literally a three to five second self-check in the shower can save your life," the HGTV host said.

El Moussa adds that we need a cultural shift that puts men's health and well-being over the appearance of strength and masculinity. When asked why more men don't seek examination or treatment, he told People, "It's just men being men. We're raised to keep things in and be quiet and be strong, and a lot of times that's what we do. I haven't talked to many other men about this, but I never had anyone tell me to check myself, and even if they did tell me to check myself, what am I checking for? I don't even know what to look for."

As the star now knows, a lump or swelling in the testicle is the number one sign of this form of cancer. Some men may also experience a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum, pain in the lower back, fatigue, or swelling in the lymph nodes.

He now says it's crucial to "trust your gut" when it comes to your health.

Tarek El Moussa
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

El Moussa's greatest takeaway from his dual diagnosis is that it's always important to follow up on health concerns. He admits that if that fan never emailed, he may not have received his life-saving treatment on time.

"Because I went to my primary care doctor twice about the tightness in my neck and was dismissed, I would not have gone a third time. If that viewer had not reached out to me, I would have never done further testing," El Moussa said. "My advice to others is this: If you feel something is wrong, talk to as many medical professionals as you can. It's better to get opinions from five doctors rather than one who could make a mistake. Ultimately, you know your body. Trust your gut."

Today, El Moussa says surviving cancer has completely transformed his life. "I used to think I was invincible, that nothing could happen to me," El Moussa mused. "Well, it turns out cancer can affect anyone; it doesn't matter who you are." Taking that revelation to heart, he says he now puts his health first. "Since my diagnosis, I have changed my lifestyle to a healthier one. Sometimes I think that cancer turned my life around."

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more