I had cancer (and we need to talk about it)

I’m 29 years old. I had thyroid cancer.

It was removed a couple of months ago, together with my entire thyroid and a couple of limph nodes, in two surgeries last October/November. Then the remaining tissues are being completely destroyed right now – I write from the hospital room.

Every thing is under control now: I’ve got chocolate.

Why am I saying this? It’s because we need to talk about it. We need to talk about cancer.

Every time I used the “c” word, I noticed an elephant in the room. Some people wouldn’t like me to say it:

“C’mon, you don’t need to talk like that, it isn’t so bad”.

Others were really, really sorry for me:

“But you’re a fighter. You’re going to overcome this battle.”

Others were more curious.

“OMG, will you need chemotherapy? Will  you lose your hair?”

So here is the start of a few texts about thyroid cancer I’m gonna publish in the next few days, just to be here to be found in the internet by random people searching for more information about thyroid cancer. I found out that there aren’t many personal views out there, and that’s something I would’ve liked to read in the beginning of my treatment.

Let’s start simple: three things you should know now.

1- Thyroid cancer is very common and you probably know someone who had it.

More than 9 people get diagnosed every day just in the United Kingdom, and it happens to affect more women than men. It’s expected that 1 in 180 women will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer during their lifetime. After getting the diagnose, I talked to some friends both in the U.K. and in my home country, Brazil, and almost all of them know someone who has gotten the same diagnose.

Yet, we don’t talk much about it. Since thyroid problems are really common, a lot of people feel more comfortable just saying they’ve got a “thyroid problem”. People are fine with that answer and don’t ask anything else – which is fine, as I’m a strongly supporter of personal choice on how to deal with your health (could it be otherwise?). But since I’m more outspoken, I don’t mind talking about it because if I (and other people) had actually heard about it before getting the news, everything would’ve been much easier.

Since the 70s, thyroid cancer incidence rates have more than doubled in Great Britain, a 149% increase. So, here is the deal: thyroid cancer is common. It really is.

2- It isn’t so bad as other kinds of cancer (but there is no such a thing as ‘good cancer’).

The survival rates are encouraging. 9 in 10 people in England survive for 10 years or more after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Usually, it tends to be more concerning for elderly – more than half (55%) thyroid cancer deaths in the United Kingdom are in people aged 75 and over (considering 2012-2014). And since the 70’s the mortality rate has decreased by almost half.

Being young, healthy, aware and having found out about it in an early stage helps me. It helps in any kind of health issue.

The “cancer” word is scary. As much as it is for me, it is for other people who hear it from me. But when they show themselves scared, or too emotional, they make more harm than good (even though I know that’s just their empathy with us). As my doctor said, “it’s concerning, of course, but it isn’t life threatening at your age and health, and you shouldn’t change any life plans for it”.

I’d love that people would believe me when I say so. There are different kinds of cancer, and it has different stages too. Every person and their condition is unique. Learning not to fear the “c” word would make it easier for many of us.

Still, get a grip. People get hurt when you say “but you’ve got the good cancer”. C’mon.

3- You don’t need to feel ill to be ill.

“How do you feel?”

During the past 9 months I’ve felt concerned about work, anxious about the diagnose, painful and sore after the surgery, stressed because of slow recovery, annoyed because of the diet, worried about radiation and a little apprehensive about isolation.

I didn’t feel pain because of it, apart from when I was recovering from the surgeries. I didn’t have any change in my hormones because of the tumor. I didn’t feel anything. In fact, it’s hard to accept that I’m ill when I feel healthy. If it wasn’t for  a sanity check after having mumps, I wouldn’t know about this uncontrolled bad tissue growing on my neck.

So don’t expect me to answer “how do you feel?” with a long battle story about struggle and physical pain. Most of it is inside our minds, and the way of me dealing with all that is: no drama; trust the doctors; let’s do this; I’m lucky to be in a place where healthcare is amazingly good (I’ll talk about this in another opportunity, but we must take care of NHS here); I don’t want to be much time away from work; let’s do this; no drama. (Actually, no drama has been my approach for so many things lately, idk if that’s a consequence of what I’m going through or if it’s because I finally realised that drama only makes things harder. Drama is fun only on jokes.)

So if you’re reading this because you’re worried about me, please, don’t be. And if you’re reading this because you’re worried about your thyroid cancer, don’t be. Don’t let the “c” word scare you, and most importantly: trust your doctor. Seriously, spend a long time talking to your doctor, and even if you might not have all your questions on the first appointment, write them down as they come to your mind and take your list to him/her during your the next visit. Trust reliable sources. Your doctor should be the first one to hear your concerns.

If we talk more about it we might make it easier to hear “cancer” without freaking out, facing it as we face Dengue fever in Brazil.

Concerning? Yes. But no drama. If you want to talk, feel free to reach out to me and leave your comment.  Let’s do it.

Stats from Cancer Research UK .

Psst! You might want to check the Low Iodine Diet recipes I’ve started to collect.


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