Many patients and families simply avoid the cancer talk, probably due to fear, stigma or ignorance. In reality, sharing your cancer journey openly and regularly can be an empowering experience. Let’s explore why the cancer talk is really important.
“Silence, like a cancer grows …”
That was Simon and Garfunkel in their hauntingly beautiful song ‘Sounds of Silence’.
Many people often choose to avoid mentioning cancer, even with their family and friends. Cancer remains a taboo, including among the educated and the affluent.
Why people avoid the cancer talk
I lost a very dear friend to leukemia in 2007. What hurts me even more is that I was kept completely in the dark about her cancer, until her very last, dying days. It must have been a terribly painful and debilitating experience for her but I ended up feeling hurt and cheated too. I began to question the friendship itself. It was as if the silence had indeed grown to fill the vast gulf it had created between us.
It got me thinking about why folks prefer to stay silent on this subject. Could it be FEAR? Fear of this mysterious disease as patients and families traverse through the five shocks of cancer? Is it the fear of hurting those close to you, since cancer is indeed deadly? Perhaps it is the fear of being judged for your lifestyle habits and choices? Or is it simply anger and depression that can sometimes nudge you to withdraw from social interactions?
Since I never got a chance to ask my friend, I will never know why she kept the news from me. But having spoken to others who have had to deal with cancer in their families, and after doing some reading, I think it is perhaps a combination of all these reasons. Women, particularly, are hesitant and shy when it comes to talking about cancer, especially breast, uterine, ovarian and cervical cancer.
The cancer talk can be empowering
There are many stories of hope and courage out there. Cancer patients seek out ‘Thriver’ stories for inspiration. That leads me to believe that the very first step in healing cancer is finding the courage to talk about it.
- Break the taboo.
- Start by sharing the news of your diagnosis with your immediate family, your close friends, and your employers.
- As you become more comfortable, expand this circle to your extended family, your network of friends and well-wishers.And see what a difference it can make to the way you feel.
People who have done this (like my former colleague, Vijay Bhat) will testify that it can open the floodgates to a torrent of good wishes, encouragement, emotional and moral support, prayers and a lot more. At a time when you may be feeling vulnerable and powerless, this ‘wind-beneath-the wings’ will also help you to reclaim your power and find new resources for your own healing.
A distant aunt of mine – more friend than aunt – was diagnosed with breast cancer and she shared the news openly with family and friends. By the grace of God and the help of good medical treatment, I am happy to say that she too is now fully recovered. Looking at her, you wouldn’t know she was ever down with cancer. Like Vijay, she is so upbeat about life and what it has to offer! Having journeyed through cancer successfully and discovering how fragile life can be, they also now realize its full potential.
Cancer talk for the greater good
There may be no direct correlation between talking about cancer and recovering from it. A lot obviously depends on the type of cancer, how advanced it is, the kind of medical treatment, etc. And there is plenty of research to support the view that maintaining a positive attitude contributes to healing.
Perhaps, it’s also worth considering that when more and more individuals talk openly about cancer their experience, this can improve society’s collective knowledge of this little-understood and deadly disease.
“Silence is not always golden. Not when it comes to cancer.”
- What keeps you from having the cancer talk?
- What help do you need to overcome negative emotions like fear, anger, depression or guilt?
- Who are the people in your inner circle that you can share your cancer updates with?
- How soon and how much can you share with your wider circle of relatives, friends, colleagues and well-wishers?
Geeta Sundaram is a freelance Creative Director, with over 20 years of experience spanning several leading advertising agencies in India. She currently lives in Goa with her parents.