I’ve been thinking for a little bit about how thyroid cancer is considered a “good cancer.” When I went in to have my thyroid biopsy, the doctor told me, “Sometimes these things do come back cancerous, but I don’t even worry about it because thyroid cancer is nothing. If you have to have any kind of cancer, that’s the one to have.” It’s true in a way, because thyroid cancer is, especially in young women, very easy to treat. That’s why doctors and people refer to it as the “good cancer” because it is usually so easy to cure, and the survival rate is so high, especially for papillary thyroid carcinoma. It’s true, that calling thyroid cancer a “good cancer” can make a person feel better after hearing they have been diagnosed with it.
However, it can also make a person feel guilty. This is what I mean. When I was diagnosed, I was told it was a good cancer and that it was not a big deal. The doctor wanted to reassure me that I was going to live. However, I was still upset. I was upset about having to have surgery, worrying about permanent damage to my voice, having to go on a restricted diet, having to have tests and scans and x-rays, paying for treatment and count how many times I flushed the toilet. And yet, I kept thinking, “Don’t be upset. Why are you upset? It’s a ‘good cancer.’ Think about the people who don’t have good cancers! Why are you letting this get to you?”
That’s in part why the Thyroid Cancer website posts the “Thyroid cancer is not a good cancer” statement. And they are right. It’s very unlikely that a person will escape thyroid cancer without having surgery, and surgery is always a physical and emotional ordeal. Plus, afterwards, a person will have to take thyroid replacement medication for the rest of his life. This medication needs to be taken in the morning, which means the first thing I do every morning is to remind myself that I had cancer.
Sometimes people need to be reassured that what they’re facing isn’t life or death, and that they will survive a trial. At the same time, people also need permission to grieve, to freak out, to know that their feelings of fear and sadness are perfectly normal, and not a sign of weakness or immaturity, or overreacting.
After all, it’s not a competition.