Cancer and Work Issues
November 1, 2010 8:03 AM   Subscribe

This April I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had surgery to remove my thyroid and several lymph nodes in my neck. The surgery went well, but I have had a very difficult time adjusting to the thyroid medication. I felt good for the first few months, but then unknowingly became severely hyperthyroid. I was optimistic and even happy when I was diagnosed (I felt grateful it wasn't a more severe cancer), then began experiencing night sweats, muscle aches, forgetfulness, severe anxiety and depression.

In the meantime, I moved across the country and started a great, very competitive new job which I had interviewed for and accepted prior to surgery. They know about the cancer, but don't know how hard it has been for me to adjust to the thyroid replacement. Unfortunately, I had my first post-surgery blood tests which weren't as favorable as I would have liked. The next day I *lost* it at work. I just started sobbing uncontrollably, hyperventilating, snot flying, etc. I'm uncomfortable I did this, but after everything I've been through, I can't say I blame myself. Fortunately, I found a new doctor who figured out what was going on and I'm feeling better. I'm just curious, how would others handle themselves after a meltdown like this? I talked to my boss who has been incredibly kind. I'm just not used to being so vulnerable at work and am afraid people will doubt my competence and sanity.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's good that you don't blame yourself. You really shouldn't.

Personally, I would go back to work as usual, without commenting on the event. This is because I can only think of two things to say. One, "I'm sorry if that made you guys uncomfortable" -- but I wouldn't feel like I needed to apologize for that. Two, "I've been dealing with a long-term illness and it overwhelmed me" -- and I don't think I'd want the questions/discussions/etc. that would probably follow (of course this is just me personally).

Most people won't be bold enough to ask you about it, anyway. For those who do, I'd probably go with statement number two above, and politely decline to answer further questions (e.g. "I'm not comfortable talking about it").

I think most people understand that shit happens in their colleagues' lives, and sometimes people still have to work post-breakup or post-cancer diagnosis or post-death of a loved one. Even in competitive workplaces. As long as your boss is understanding, don't worry about your coworkers in the short run; in the long run, your work will show that you're not incompetent or insane.
posted by neushoorn at 8:34 AM on November 1, 2010

I had a very similar experience three years ago... thyroid cancer, new job, medication adjustment. I never had a major meltdown, but I was struggling with anxiety (completely related to hypothyroidism), brain fogginess, fatigue. My work was very supportive. I pretty much prepped them before hand with info I found on In fact, I think there is information there about how to talk to your employer.

During the worst of it, I had a talk with my supervisor. I let her know I was dealing with medication related issues, but that I was working through them with my endo. It was a helpful conversation in that she let me know that my work was fine, and that my own perceptions of my behavior were a bit overblown (ie, I was seeing failures or problems where there were none).

And, thankfully, by the sixth month mark, I was feeling much more normal. I didn't feel any lasting repercussions from my co-workers or supervisors.
posted by kimdog at 9:08 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Shit happens. Your body chemistry is way out of whack because of your illness and treatment; somebody else might have lost it because they had bad family news; someone else might have had two or three sleepless nights because of a sick puppy and had a giant meltdown.

It is probably much more significant to you than to your co-workers. That said, if you feel like other folks in the department or division need to know, tell your boss that you will be comfortable with him or her sharing {information that you are comfortable about sharing} with co-workers who are confused or upset by the recent contretemps. The info will get out if it needs to get out.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:49 AM on November 1, 2010

Also, so sorry to hear about your illness and your challenging recovery. Sometimes the recovery can be the hardest bit, because your expectations for yourself can be so much higher. Best wishes to you for continued improvement.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:51 AM on November 1, 2010

I was diagnosed, surgered and irradiated just a year ago, so I know how hard the recovery can be. I can't speak specifically to the coworker issue as the complications with my own recovery have been less than helpful during my unemployment and jobhunt. For me, there's been a lot of brain fog coupled with intense emotion and I've had a few meltdowns, (one was during an interview! I was getting frustrated that I couldn't remember the SIMPLE answer to what I was being asked. I lost it and started bawling. Needless to say, I didn't get the job.), and you're already doing the right thing by not blaming yourself, because you really can't help it!. You sound incredibly lucky to have a boss that is understanding.

Good luck and I really hope things continue to get better for you.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 11:00 AM on November 1, 2010

Oh, I can relate.

I just nearly had the same thing happen not three hours ago, in a job interview no less. One question in and I just started crying. In the lobby, I put in a call to my doctor's office.

I'd recommend letting the doctor know, maybe something is up.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:15 PM on November 1, 2010

Hypothyroid here. Don't underestimate the effect that your thyroid levels have on your emotional state. It can be pretty intense until things stabilize. Tell them it's a side effect of your medication if that's helpful, and best of luck getting your medication levels sorted out. It was such a relief for me when it was finally where it should be.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:24 PM on November 1, 2010

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