Opinion

There is taboo around the word cancer

by
September 15, 2016

It can be easy to joke about the situation with comments like, “you’re doing pretty well for someone with half a brain” or “I’m surprised they managed to find a tumour in there, they would’ve had to look pretty hard”, and if not a joke then you constantly ask the person “how are you holding up?” and “do you want to talk about it?”, however the harsh reality is still in the back of everyone’s mind.

There seems to be a taboo around the word cancer that holds us back from saying aloud our real concerns about the situation in the risk of offending the person that has it. There is almost a notion of if we ignore it the cancer will just go away. This is where it becomes difficult on the family, how much should you acknowledge the existence of cancer and is it okay to talk about it around other people?

In Amy’s case we rarely bring up the topic of cancer, instead referring to her situation as “the tumour” or “her epilepsy”.

With the near complete removal of the growth the notion of cancer is hardly a factor in her life, so for our family it’s not something that we regularly discuss.

Of course we know there will always be the prospect of the tumour growing and the cancer returning again, but it’s not something that we deliberate over the dinner table or remind her of.

It’s easy to push the thought aside since she is still the same as before the surgery and discovering that the tumour was cancerous, and with absent seizures no longer an everyday occurrence the concerns are mostly forgotten.

There will always be moments that remind us she is still going to live with the idea of cancer and seizures for the rest of her life, such as the need for her to continue to take tablets on a daily basis or when a survey about young adults experiencing cancer came in the mail for her to complete, but we are fortunate in the fact that the tumour was identified and removed and the threat of cancer is only a concern for well into the future.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one-in-two Australian men and one-in-three Australian women are at risk of being diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85, which suggests everyone will be affected by the disease in one way or another.

However, there is still almost a reluctance to discuss the topic as a community or even amongst close friends and family.

In any case this most likely stems from the want to protect the feelings of those who have to go through the diagnosis and treatment and experience it all first hand.

It’s natural for people to be tentative about the conversation in the fear of overstepping any boundaries when it comes to the sensitive topic.

Like with any medical diagnosis it is considered a personal matter and we are mostly all wary of this fact when prying into someone’s story. It was Amy’s decision not to share the fact that the tumour was cancerous with people right away, aside from immediate family, most of whom was with her at the time.

Our family was confined to discussing it amongst ourselves until Amy decided it was the right time to let particular people know, and even then we were cautious with how much we shared about it.

When she decided to publish the piece I wrote about her story on Facebook, her journey was out in the open for all to read.

The response the article received was overwhelming with hundreds of family and friends sharing the post and sending messages of support.

Not everyone is as willing to be so open about their experience with cancer and often the outcome isn’t as successful as Amy’s, which makes it understandable that people wouldn’t want to share their stories with many.

As I mentioned earlier, not talking about cancer isn’t going to make it disappear, but for some it is easier to avoid the conversation as there will always be reminders about the diagnosis without the need to discuss it.

It’s often easy for those who know the person to look past the fact that someone is a victim of the disease, however for those who are experiencing it firsthand the idea is continually in that back of their minds.

Although talking about it can sometimes be beneficial for the individual and those around them, it doesn’t need to consume their lives.

For Amy, it is only a small fraction of what makes up her story so the need to discuss the concept of cancer is rarely there, and for others it is their information to share and will only be as prominent in their own stories as they want it to be.

It shouldn’t be offensive for people to have a conversation about cancer and it is becoming more natural to talk about it with so many people being affected by the disease.

As a whole it is subjective to individuals and their experiences as to how much they want to part with those around them, but it doesn’t need to be discussed constantly in order for the person to know that you care.

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