top of page
Cristy Lee from HGTV intervew in Preferred Health Magazine

Making Her Comeback to HGTV After Suffering The Effects Of a Rare Thyroid Disease

By Angelina Cappiello

After a hiatus from television due to her battle with Grave's Disease and Thyroid Eye Disease, HGTV's beloved tomboy, Cristy Lee, is making a courageous comeback. 
  In an emotional interview, the "Battle on the Mountain" designer opened up about the challenging diagnosis she believed would shatter her career dreams. 
Sitting down with Preferred Health Magazine, Cristy shared her journey with the symptoms of Grave's Disease and T.E.D., shedding light on their impact which caused disfigurement, physical and emotional pain she admits she is still working through.

You've had an incredible, dreamy career on HGTV. Everything is going great, and then last year, 2023, you get a diagnosis that stops you in your tracks. Tell us about that.

It literally feels like yesterday. It's hard to look back on it now and think it's been over a year. Basically, 
I woke up one morning, and I thought I had the worst migraine ever, maybe even a sinus infection that was developing. I had that pressure pain; I had a little bit of swelling, so I just figured maybe I was going on a one or two-day ride with the migraine, and that's about all. Six days later, I ended up in the emergency room. 
   Over the course of the next week, my symptoms just got worse, and my eyes, which were swollen, got more intense. It was making it difficult for me to move my eyes and see at the same time. I wasn't feeling well, and I didn't know why. At that point, I went to the emergency room. I had a full-blown anxiety attack, just a complete meltdown. Literally... I completely freaked out. I had no idea what was going on. It turns out that Graves' disease causes hyperthyroidism, causing raging hormones throughout my body and improper hormone bone imbalance. Which was a factor to that breakdown.
   [Doctors] ran every test you can possibly imagine. They even thought maybe an orbital fracture, concussion, everything. The PA came back and said we did your blood work, and your thyroid levels are really off, and looking at these numbers, you have Graves' disease, and because of your eyes swollen, we would say you have thyroid eye disease. 
  I remember looking at that doctor in the emergency room and thinking. What?!
I remember leaving the ER and getting in the car. I was prescribed something immediately because of an elevated heart rate. I didn't even pick the prescription up because this was too much. I didn't even go get it. When I got back home, that's when the reality of the situation settled in. 

  I was able to see an endocrinologist and of course they ran more blood work and more detailed blood panel that was more specific to the thyroid. And it was then that the news was delivered to me. And that's when it kind of felt more real. It's still all feels surreal to me. It's kind of like I'm living in this parallel universe that is in fact my life. And current health state. 

I understand you had some severe symptoms from the disorder. How did you feel seeing yourself that way? 
I’m still accepting the fact that I will never look like I did pre-T.E.D. It’s still very hard for me to speak about this. Before this, I knew when it was time just to be okay and push through. And, like, I can’t do that anymore. It just overtakes you. And that’s part of my Graves journey now. 


What was your mental state going through this?
Tearfully and bravely, the HGTV star continued and explained:

It’s kind of accepting who I am now. It is a learning process. It’s a daily process. I always refer to it as a journey. The mental health state of Graves’ disease and T.E.D.... It’s a disfiguring disease. It affects not only your eyes, which is how we humans connect with other humans, but your entire face and facial structure. So those changes are happening not only in my eyes, but in my entire face, in such a short period of time without any way to fix it or make it better with a snap of a finger. Or even a few years... it’s really terrifying.
   And that was a major mental health struggle, and it's still is a major mental health struggle for me. 
That, and accepting that I’ve overcome a lot, and this is me now. And I know people say, ‘You look exactly the same’ and ‘You haven’t changed’, and I think it’s easier on the outside looking in to say that, but I have changed, and this is not only a new face, but it is a new me, emotionally.

I'm sure being on camera for your career made this experience even harder for you. 
Did you have to take time off from work?  Every day was a challenge, but it was also a hurdle I could overcome to gain more strength and momentum over each of those hurdles.

Let's talk about some of the symptoms that you experienced.
Initially with my diagnosis, and then what some might call like a thyroid storm is essentially what I experienced. 
My thyroid was just inflamed and freaking out. With T.E.D. disease, the fatty tissue muscles behind the eyes are affected, and they become inflamed and swollen. This creates no room for your eyes. That's what makes that bulging symptom with thyroid eye disease. There's no place for your eye to go, so your eyes end up pushing outward. With that came a slew of problems. Once your eyes start reaching out from your eyebrow area, 
which you don't really realize your eyebrows actually protect your eyes; once they breach past that point, they become exposed to everything - the elements, the winds, the dirt, the sands, and most importantly, the light. 
   In three months, my eyes grew from 12mm to 15mm. So, they moved very quickly. And in that short period with all that swelling that's happening with the tissue and the muscles behind your eyes, two things were a huge concern. One was my eye mobility and then the second was my vision with the eye mobility. I had zero! My eyes were so swollen. These glands were so swollen, the muscles and tissues, I couldn't move my eyes at all. I wasn't able to drive for five months. In addition to that, with the swelling, those muscles can push and affect your vision. I am so grateful that throughout the entire process, my vision was not affected.

You had mentioned having a hyperthyroid. How did the effects of this autoimmune disease effect treatment plans?
With an overactive thyroid and a hyperthyroid state, the biggest thing is your blood pressure and your heart rate. And I mean, I was upwards of 100 and 300, and 40 beats per minute just sitting, not moving.
    Once we got that situated, the focus could be shifted to TED and the outlook for both of these diseases, especially Thyroid Eye Disease. They call it an active phase, and that active phase can last anywhere from a few months to five years, so you just don't know.

"It was really strange how it was almost like this carnal instinct kind of kicked in where my body knew. "

You're already overwhelmed, and now you get a cancer diagnosis. Tell us about that.

   Yeah. So normally, when you have an inflamed thyroid and one or all or any of the nodules are swollen, it can sometimes be referred to as a goiter. So, I did have a nice neck goiter going, and my neck was incredibly sensitive. I was really protective of it. It was really strange how it was almost like this carnal instinct kind of kicked in where my body knew. Mentally, I  knew something was wrong and I had to protect my neck. I don't know if it was me and I don't know if there's anyone else out there that ever experienced that, but I'm talking to the point where I lived with my hands around my neck for weeks, a scarf, a pillow, a blanket, anything. I couldn't have my neck exposed. I am still trying to understand why.
    We already knew I had Graves' disease, and it was very apparent that my thyroid was inflamed and overactive. We never even got to that point. I was diagnosed on February 1st, 2023, officially with both of these autoimmune diseases. And it was May 26, 2023, that I had my ‘What's that?’ moment when they decided to take a sonogram.

   I had a total thyroidectomy in May. So, just a few months later, I just had it taken out. Then, during a post-op pathology, they tested one of the nodules, and that's when they detected a carcinoma, a 3mm carcinoma, and they only tested one of my nodules. Obviously, further testing didn't matter. The thyroid is gone. That's a blessing in disguise. But that was a conversation that was never had before my surgery.
    Funny, you know you hate to say that anything could take precedence over cancerous cells in your body, but at that point in time, it did. You know, the current state of my thyroid and my eyes took precedence. So now, luckily and thankfully, my last ultrasound was again cancer-free. I'm very grateful for that. That will be something that I will continue to monitor.

An ongoing journey, but staying hopeful: 

Unfortunately, I always refer to both of these diseases as a journey because, again, they're so similar, they are so different, and I am very much still in my journey phase. My dosage has been changed multiple times. I do take synthetic thyroid hormone every day now, which I will do for the rest of my life. My dosage has been all over the place. 
    I'm working together very closely with not only my endocrinologist but also my ophthalmologist because he specializes specifically in treating patients with thyroid eye disease. I've been struggling quite a bit with this for the last 3-4 weeks. My eyes are being very difficult, so I'm having a lot of sensitivity with them, not light sensitivity all the time, so I'm grateful for that. But just sensitive to everything else. Irritability, swelling in the upper eyelid, edema, and then today, my heart rate is back up again.
    I'm going through a lot of the hyperthyroid symptoms again, which is so confusing as much research, reading, and knowledge as I've gained throughout this whole journey. It still just baffles me at times.
   So, I'm feeling hyperthyroid. My metabolism is booming. I'm starving constantly. I'm losing my hair again. 
My hair is falling out if I brush it, it's just clumps.


Let's talk about what's happening in your career. 
So you've been back on HGTV, starting with "Battle on the Mountain", and this summer's, "100 Day Hotel Challenge" in Breckenridge, CO. I had actually only been to Breckenridge in the winter and, Oh my gosh, Breckenridge in the summer time is just stunning. The scenic mountain views and all the like the flora and fauna. It was just breathtaking. That was actually my very first time back on camera and back to work in any capacity post surgery.
   But looking back on that and seeing it now. My face was still so swollen and my eyes were still swollen. I had to wear glasses. I couldn't wear makeup yet. It's crazy looking back at that and seeing how far I really have come. I was so grateful for my HGTV family being so incredibly understanding and compassionate. 
   100 Day Hotel Challenge: I'll be honest. I have never renovated a hotel before. So, this was like new territory. I love this like, fun, funky style that we really brought into the spaces. And it was just completely different. I think the HGTV fans are really gonna like this one.

It sounds like a lot of fun. I'm so glad to have you back into the HGTV family. I know you're going through your own journey right now, but you're coming out of it with flying colors. What advice can you give our audience or anyone feeling a little "off",  or about hormone health?

I would say talk to someone, whether it's a family member, a friend, or a medical professional. Getting that second opinion can help guide you in a different direction. Lean on people. I've always been such an independent person, and these diseases have both taught me that it is okay to need other people. I can still be my independent self, 
but we all need people. 

HGTV fans can watch Cristy Lee on “Battle on the Mountain” and her upcoming appearance on 
“100 Day Hotel Challenge” airing this summer . Visit to learn more. 

bottom of page