Home Improvement Gets Thyroid Cancer?


Update:  OK, this is actually one of the most popular posts I have ever written.  It seems everyday someone finds it and reads it.  Why is that?  If you’re reading this, can you comment and let me know?

I’m not sure if anyone who reads this remembers the show Home Improvement, but I recently found the episode The Longest Day on Youtube.  It deals with Randy, the middle son, who may have thyroid cancer.  Now that my surgery is over, I decided to watch it.

First of all, I haven’t seen this episode since 1996, when it first aired.  I remember very clearly that my mom thought that the episode was overly dramatic, with the parents crying about their worst nightmares and Randy crying, “I don’t want to die Dad.”  Her reasoning was that thyroid cancer is a very treatable kind of cancer (which it is) and that the show was becoming too melodramatic (which it was).

Her criticisms aside, the episode was, in a way, traumatic.  In 1996, it was a rare 12 year old girl indeed who was not in love with Johnathon Taylor Thomas, the actor who played Randy in Home Improvement.  I can still remember seeing a small group of girls in the gym during recess, sitting on the sidelines, crying because Randy might die.  (So glad middle school days are over!)

Anyway, I decided, now that my thyroid surgery is four weeks removed (!) and I’m waiting to see if I need the radioactive iodine treatment, I wanted to watch the epiosode again.  Here’s what I thought.

1 First of all, Randy’s thyroid cancer, or lack thereof, is determined by a blood test.  This is inaccurate.  A blood test can determine if a person has hypothyroidism, but not thyroid cancer.  Only a biopsy, or an examination of the thyroid nodule itself, can determine that.

2 I think the reason they left out that information is because a major part of the plot is Tim and Jill lying to Randy about the possibility that he might have cancer.  A blood test can be fairly innocuous, but a biopsy usually conjures up images of cancer.  If Randy had a biopsy, he would have known that he might have cancer.

3 In the episode, Randy goes immediately from his gp to an endocrinologist.  That made me laugh.  I had to wait two months to get an appointment with my endocrinologist, and then I waited another 20 days before I had my biopsy.  It would have been awesome if I could have done all of that on the same day.

4 Mom felt that they were too overdramatic about the possibility of thyroid cancer.  However, I have two thoughts about that.  First of all, even if cancer is easily treatable (such as papillary thyroid carcinoma) it is still a traumatic experience.  When I found out my biopsy found abnormal cells and I needed surgery, my life passed before my eyes.  (Ok, not literally, but it was scary.)  Second of all, from what I understand, men have a higher risk of having a less common, more agressive variety of thyroid cancer, so Randy was right to be afraid.

5 Tim and Jill not telling Randy about the possibility of cancer was stupid, because he found out about it on the school computer.  This episode was made in 1996, when the internet was just emerging.  Just saying.

6 I do like the scene when Randy begins to cry.  “Why does this kind of stuff always happen to me?”  I hear ya Randy.

7 I also love Randy’s response when Tim tries to comfort him, by telling Randy that bad things happen to Tim all the time.  “Yeah, but you cause it!”

8 The scene with Jill talking about the bubble over her family was quite stupid.

9 That being said, I love her exchange with Wilson.

“Do you know that Tim has survived over 200 accidents?”

“Really?  I would have thought that number to be much higher.”

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9 Responses to Home Improvement Gets Thyroid Cancer?

  1. queridorafa says:

    It’s funny, I distinctly remember this episode as well now that you bring it up, Emma! Especially that punchline…”Yeah, but you cause it!” It’s always kind of strange how these little time capsules from the past can take on different meanings years later, isn’t it? Is thyroid cancer common among teenage boys? I remember then (and still now, even) being a bit thrown off by that. In any case, the episode isn’t exactly 100% authentic, then or now, as you point out!
    Hope you’re feeling well, and you get good news (well, as good as it can be) re: additional treatment!

    • Yeah, it is very funny how these things come back around.
      I can’t imagine thyroid cancer being incredibly common in adolescent boys. It’s less common in males than in females, and it’s generally more agressive. It’s relatively common in women of childbearing age.
      It’s funny, though, because I still remember sitting with the girls in middle school, and they sobbed and sobbed, terrified that Randy Taylor was going to die. Ahh, the infatuations of a twelve year old girl.
      Thanks for the good wishes! Back to the doctor tomorrow morning.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Glad you posted this. I was looking for this specific episode. I was 13 in 1996 and remember the episode, but not all of the details. So “funny” seeing this again and knowing how it really works. One cannot tell from a blood test only. Sure the parents were melodramatic, but if I were a parent and clueless, I would be dramatic too. ( so I think.)
    Do you have a big scar from your operation?

    • Hi Jennifer! Thanks for commenting. I have a one inch scar where my throat joins my collar bone. It’s not too big. I have a picture of it on the blog called “My Incision.” It’s faded since then, though, which is nice.

  3. Jimmy says:

    I like this episode. Many many thanks for sharing.

  4. Sandra says:

    I just watched this episode. I’m sorry you had to go thru this and hope you are good now. My sister had partial removal of her thyroid. Keeping in mind, 1/2 sitcom, I thought it was very good. I missed some of the show, hoping there was a scene addressing the lie

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m doing OK now. They do address the fact that they lied to Randy, but I do think they don’t really mine it as well as they could have. I may have to revisit this in the future.

  5. Cat Fox says:

    I read it because I just saw that episode for first time ever (I’m in my 60s) and wondered if that’s why he us so short and your essay popped up

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