We need to talk about the big C. Cancer. You may well be thinking ‘Talk about cancer, don’t we do enough of that already?’ Unfortunately the truth all too often is no, we don’t. Admittedly cancer is frequently in the news either in the form of a fundraising initiatives, such as Movember, Race for Life or regarding a new treatment made available (or not) on the NHS. But there remain many myths and half-truths surrounding cancer. Rarely discussed in the open is the impact receiving a cancer diagnosis has on the person diagnosed and on their family and friends.
Today is World Cancer Day, which aims to dispel many of the myths surrounding cancer and follows hot on the heels of Macmillan’s Cancer Talk Week in January. Macmillan’s Cancer Talk Week was this year aimed at encouraging people affected by cancer to talk openly about cancer. I’m sure many of us have shied away from talking openly to someone about some condition or other because we don’t quite know what to say or how to say it. What will they think? Can I ask that question? What if they get upset? Well imagine you’re thinking those things in relation to someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer or, heaven forbid, you’ve just been diagnosed with cancer. There’s a strong likelihood that you’ll steer clear of anything that may cause offence or put you in an awkward or over-emotional position. It’s something of a paradox that, because there are many things which we just don’t understand about cancer we tend not to talk about it. But because of our general ignorance about the subject it’s actually more important to be open about cancer, to help remove widely held misconceptions.
This year Macmillan’s Cancer Talk Week focused on the need for families to learn to discuss sensitive and distressing topics. Talking to your family about any personal issue is a stressful experience for many people; we all know families can be messy with many complicated relationships at play but there are sometimes things too important to be left unsaid. This lesson extends beyond talking about cancer and to all serious health issues, and no doubt other issues besides. Ultimately the only way things will improve is if we swallow our pride, put aside our anxieties and just open up to each other. The alternative is to suffer in ignorance and silence.
Sometimes talking about things is the hardest thing to do. Break that taboo and everything else has a chance of falling into place. Because only once we can talk about these immensely difficult and emotional subjects can we fully empathise with all those affected, and once we can empathise then we can start to address the innumerable challenges with confidence.