'Critical Role's Sam Riegel Opens Up About His Cancer Diagnosis & Recovery
(Critical Role)

‘Critical Role’s Sam Riegel Opens Up About His Cancer Diagnosis & Recovery

On Monday, July 8, Critical Role‘s Sam Riegel shared an update video on the company’s official YouTube and social media channels explaining his recent absence from streams and events.

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Wearing a black “Fight On!” t-shirt bearing a red cancer ribbon and sitting in front of a fireplace set piece, Riegel revealed that earlier this year, he “couldn’t taste sweet” and after a negative COVID test, his doctor suggested he visit an otolaryngologist, who eventually diagnosed him with oropharyngeal carcinoma (“a fancy word for tonsil cancer,” per Riegel).

Two weeks later, Riegel underwent surgery to remove his tonsil, part of his tongue, and part of his soft palate, as well as six weeks of radiation treatment to keep the cancer from spreading. He now has a “dope 7-inch scar” on his neck, but—good news!—the cancer is gone.

“Guys, it sucked. I spent four days in the hospital. I ate from a feeding tube. I had to relearn how to speak and swallow, which is why you may notice my diction is a bit slurry. But they got the cancer,” he says, then reveals that the radiation “sucked even worse! I lost 20 pounds, I couldn’t taste, I got radiation burns, I couldn’t eat, and I cried a lot. But, I’m happy to report that today, I am on the road to recovery.”

Riegel says he wanted to share this news for three reasons. First, oropharyngeal carcinoma is 100 percent preventable through a vaccine. It comes from the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common viral infection that can, in rare cases, develop into cancer, as it did with Riegel.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Nearly everyone will get HPV at some point in their lives.” The virus is spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact, even if infected participants are asymptomatic. The CDC says 90 percent of HPV infections go away without treatment within two years, but they can be prevented altogether with two doses of the HPV vaccine, which the CDC recommends administering at age 11 or 12. Children as young as 9 can receive the vaccine.

Riegel’s doctors said he likely contracted HPV in college and never knew about it. There was no such thing as an HPV vaccine when he was younger, and he encourages people to ask their doctor about it now: “If you have kids, please consider getting them vaccinated, and even if you’re an adult, you can get vaccinated up to age 45 in some cases. And it works. You get the shot, you don’t get the cancer. So please, do not get this cancer. It is awful.”

The second reason Riegel wanted to share his story, he says, is to encourage viewers “to listen to your bodies, and get things checked when you feel weird. I caught this early because I noticed that my oatmeal tasted funny,” he explains. “If you feel something weird in your body, please go tell a doctor.”

“Lastly, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped me on my journey,” Riegel says, getting emotional as he names his doctors, friends, and family who supported him the last few months. “From the doctors, nurses, and therapists at USC, like Dr. Tamashiro and Dr. Jan; to the friends who drove me to treatments; to my mom who stayed with me in the hospital; Jen, Chris, Andrew, my sister-in-law, Uyen-Vi, who cooked soup for three months; the folks who sent ice cream, flowers, gifts, notes; and of course, my wife and children, who have been endlessly patient and supportive.” As Riegel speaks, photos of him in the hospital with his support system—including Critical Role cast members Ashley Johnson and Liam O’Brien—flash on the screen.

Riegel starts to talk about what he’s missed and how happy he is to be back, but he breaks down in tears. Off-screen, Marisha Rey says, “We love you, Sammy,” and he gathers himself and tries again.

“I’ve missed performing, I’ve missed my friends, I’ve missed telling stories, but mostly I miss talking and thinking about anything other than cancer,” he says through tears. “I have many more months before I will be 100 percent, but for now, I love you all, and it’s good to be back.”

The end of the video shows a link to the website for Cancer Care, which provides cancer-related resources, and a note from Critical Role: “Thank you to USC Keck Medical Center & Sam’s care team for keeping our boy Sam healthy.”

Sam Riegel has received an outpouring of support from Critters

After Riegel’s video was published, he received an outpouring of support from cast mates, Critters (Critical Role fans), fellow Dungeons & Dragons and TTRPG industry professionals, and more. In the caption of Riegel’s video on Twitter/X, Critical Role wrote, “Welcome back to our fearless leader, bard extraordinaire, and a true inspiration @samriegel! ✨ Thank you one and all for your patience, kindness, and respect for Sam’s privacy as he’s been on the mend – join him below for an important message about his journey and recovery. ?”

One fan asked others to share their favorite performances of his, which has accrued over 1 thousand likes and hundreds of responses; others posted fanart of the current campaign’s characters embracing Riegel’s PC, Braius (who entered the campaign asking the party for help healing a throat wound); still others commented on how proud they are of him, or how excited they are to see him back in action.

“Sam Riegel coming back from cancer to be a hot minotaur and flirt shamelessly with all his friends is the realist shit and I’m sobbing about it,” wrote one fan.

O’Brien quote-tweeted Riegel’s video, writing, “I thought I couldn’t be prouder of @samriegel. I was wrong. Love you forever, friend. ?”

Wizards of the Coast community manager LaTia Jacquise said, “Thank you for sharing this with us, and we’re so happy to hear you’re on the road to recovery!” TTRPG performer and game designer Dillin Apelyan said, “Thank you for using such a personal horror to spread awareness and light on such a crucial vaccine. <3” Comic book writer Gail Simone said, “We love you, @samriegel. You absolute hero, you true human.”

For once, we actually recommend reading the comments. It’s great to see Riegel on the road to recovery and it’s wonderful to see him use his platform to raise awareness for a vaccine that could prevent many, many people from developing cancer down the line.

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Samantha Puc
Samantha Puc (she/they) is a fat, disabled, lesbian writer and editor who has been working in digital and print media since 2010. Their work focuses primarily on LGBTQ+ and fat representation in pop culture and their writing has been featured on Refinery29, Bitch Media, them., and elsewhere. Samantha is the co-creator of Fatventure Mag and she contributed to the award-winning Fat and Queer: An Anthology of Queer and Trans Bodies and Lives. They are an original cast member of Death2Divinity, and they are currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative nonfiction at The New School. When Samantha is not working or writing, she loves spending time with her cats, reading, and perfecting her grilled cheese recipe.