World Cancer Day Part I: Talking About Cancer

February 4th is World Cancer Day and is focused on dispelling the dangerous myths & misconceptions surrounding the disease. It is a chance to raise our collective voices in the name of improving general knowledge around cancer and dismissing misconceptions about the disease. Globally, World Cancer Day is focusing on these four myths:

World Cancer Day 2014

The next 4 blogs will address these myths in more detail. Let’s start with myth #1: We don’t need to talk about cancer.

Things have come a long way, just in my lifetime, when it comes to talking about cancer. Unfortunately, many cancers don’t have the positive public attention others do and this can lead to silence from a patient or caregiver. People may hide the disease out of embarrassment, guilt, fear or misunderstanding about the disease, but talking about cancer is important for so many reasons.

Talking about cancer can help in many ways:

  • Talking can help a patient or caregiver cope with the shock, fear, anxiety and loneliness that comes along with the diagnosis.
  • Talking helps people with cancer feel more comfortable talking about their diagnosis and seeking treatment and support.
  • Most people know very little about cancer – talking about it may help someone get appropriate screening or preventive care or diagnose a cancer early.
  • Talking about cancer with your family can help everyone understand the family history and learn more about how that affects their risk.
  • If we can talk about breast cancer, why can’t we talk about rectal cancer, vaginal cancer or penile cancer? People should not be made to feel embarrassed about their illness.
  • If the patient keeps silent, the caregiver may feel they have to also. Caregivers need support, information and respite, which they can’t get if no one knows what they are dealing with.
  • Support groups can be just what the doctor ordered – there is nothing like talking to someone who has “been there”. Support groups come in all shapes and sizes- in person, one-on-one or “buddy” programs, online groups and email list servs. When you find the right one for you, it can be a valuable support – but it requires talking!

Not only do we not talk about the cancer itself, but we don’t talk about what a diagnosis can do to a family’s finances. The cost of having cancer comes as a big surprise to many patients – even those with good insurance. Co-pays add up quickly. Out of pocket costs like parking at the hospital, gas for travel there and things as simple as a cup of coffee or lunch while there for a long infusion can all add up quickly. Add to that the lost income while out of work – which may apply to the patient AND the caregiver. Knowing your rights as an employee and talking with human resources at your job can go a long way. (see Cancer and Careers for lots of helpful information) Reaching out to your support community – a church, neighborhood, school community. Talk to a social worker for support that can take some of the financial burden – i.e. help with finding co-pay assistance, accessing local grants or working with the physician to find an affordable treatment option.

So, if you are facing a cancer diagnosis, speak up! Don’t be shy and surround yourself with helpful, uplifting people to make the journey as pleasant as it can be. If a friend or loved one is dealing with cancer, don’t hide from the elephant in the room – let them know you are there to offer support.

See World Cancer Day 2014 Part II: Signs and Symptoms of Cancer

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