In 2001 I had a diagnosis of cancer, which proved to be a turning point in my life and set me on a totally different life path. I had surgery twice but no chemo or radiotherapy and from beginning to end was just six months.
Over my years in practice, I have treated a number of people who are going through cancer treatment, or who have been through it recently or who are waiting to see what will happen.
The thing that NO ONE tells you when you get a diagnosis of cancer, is that all your friends and family are as worried and upset as you, and that you will spend a lot of time reassuring them that you are doing just fine, and not to worry, and you’re sure the treatment is working.
What you may not get is a safe place to share your fears with someone who is neutral, objective and not personally involved in your life. In our society CANCER = FEAR, far more than many other diseases which have a worse prognosis. This is largely perpetrated by the media and our use of language around cancer (those with a diagnosis are ‘victims’, ‘fighting a battle’ against this evil disease which has infiltrated their body). It’s interesting that we don’t use such war-like terminology when discussing heart disease, for example, or diabetes.
The FEAR spreads to families and friends who are afraid for ‘the victim’ and for themselves. The treatments are hideous, intensive and out of your control. When you get a diagnosis of cancer you are set on the treadmill of treatment from which it is mighty difficult to get off.
So when someone comes to see me for support, perhaps for the side-effects of their treatment, or for immune boosting, or to obtain dietary advice to help themselves, what do they get? If they want to sit and cry for an hour they can do that. If they want to express in the most graphic terms their fears for themselves, their family, their body, they can do that. Those with a cancer diagnosis often find it difficult to show their emotions to those close to them. They want to put a brave face on things, and don’t want to upset others. They are often carers, kind and lovely people who want life to be the best it can be for those around them. So crying, wailing, shouting and screaming and being scared isn’t part of their plan for a happy home. This is part of the character of cancer, if you like. So it’s REALLY important that they do have the chance to express their deepest emotions in a safe, neutral place.
So that’s the thing with cancer. And even when they have completed their treatment and been given the all clear, don’t be deceived. That’s when all the fear and bottled up emotion can come tumbling out, even months later. All the time you’re on the treadmill of cancer treatment with the daily, weekly or fortnightly appointments you are either feeling too ill or are too busy to think. But when all that finishes, that’s when reality hits, just at the time when friends and family think celebrations are in order.
So next time you ask someone who has had cancer how they are, and they tell you they are fine, know that they are harbouring the fear that it will come back, but they probably won’t tell you that because they don’t want to spoil your day.