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Silence Is Not Golden

Someone I loved died from cancer recently.

I don’t like to think about death. But sometimes it gives us an opportunity to reflect.

Keeping cancer a secret

My Loved One’s cancer was a hard thing to experience. What made it harder was the silence – My Loved One didn’t want anyone to know about it. Diagnosis took a few weeks. It took another two weeks to schedule the first (and only) round of chemo. We were supposed to tell people that My Loved One was ill, but not get into any detail. Eventually, we were able to tell people, but only after My Loved One was in hospice. Then some family and friends were told. Some, but not all.

Maybe that decision was just a need for privacy. My Loved One was never one to over-share.

Or maybe it was My Loved One’s desire to just not be a burden on others. That would have been in character.

Cancer conversations change over time

But maybe it was kind of generational. My Loved One was almost 80 years old, and grew up in a time when people didn’t talk about cancer. When they did, it was said in whispers. I can remember being a kid and hearing people talk about cancer that way – “Aunt Carol heard from the doctor. She has cancer.” That word was always said in a whisper. Almost like it was something to be ashamed of.

That’s a strange thing for someone like me to think about. The world is so different today. At one time, doctors didn’t even tell patients that they had cancer. They’d tell the family, but not the patient. Just hearing the word was too much stress for the patient.1

I don’t get it.

Maybe it’s because by the time I was diagnosed, cancer awareness was so much more important. There are cancer walks and bike rides. Yellow wrist bands and pink bread wrappers. Support groups and websites and crowdfunding and funny twitter handles. No one says the word “cancer” in whispers anymore.

Shouting about cancer from rooftops

If anything, we’re shouting it from the rooftops. I certainly am. I write about cancer all the time. I’ll talk to anyone who wants to listen.

I think that’s better. For one thing, as cancer patients, we have enough negative emotions to deal with. We don’t need to add shame to it.

And for another thing, making cancer visible helps all of us. It helps raise money for research. It helps people be aware of cancer’s signs so they can catch it before it gets bad.

And for us as individuals, talking helps. When we share our stories, we learn that we’re not alone.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Sontag, Susan. Illness as Metaphor. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1977. Page 7-8. Available at


  • Bob McEachern author
    8 months ago

    Thanks, Racheli. And speaking of raising money, thanks to YOU for all your great work raising money for LLS this year. Good luck with your Man and Woman of the Year fundraising campaign!

  • Racheli Alkobey moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi Bob! I am deeply sorry for this loss in your life.

    I think what you mention here is deeply important. Silence is absolutely not golden- which is why we have chosen to be such vocal advocates. Your point in regards to the generational gap is extremely relevant- it’s not just that specific generation doesn’t know how to vocalize their experience.. it’s also important to recognize that they don’t come from a space to advocate for themselves with their healthcare team either.

    I love your point of raising awareness also raises money for research! It’s SO TRUE and SO IMPORTANT.

    Thank you for this amazing insight.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    I’m sorry for your loss. Knowing about a cancer diagnosis is definitely better than not knowing. I found out after it had already progressed and metastasized. I have changed so much about my life and its helping. If I had not known, I don’t know where I’d be right now. I feel sorry for your friend. It must have been so lonely for her. It was good that she had you to lean on.

  • amber.lynch moderator
    9 months ago

    This reminded me of the dinner scene in St. Elmo’s Fire when the mother whispers, “cancer”. When I shared my own diagnosis I received a great deal of support from my community of friends and our church. The interesting response was from those closest to me who didn’t want me to share. They felt it was not something you share so openly on Facebook or a blog. I agree that by sharing we feel less alone.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    I agree. I think we need to know we have the support of others. I’m so glad to have my family, who have been so wonderful.

  • bluchs
    9 months ago

    Silence is Not Golden.
    Unless we share our story about the cancer we have with those we love.
    We end up cheating them of the opportunity to help.
    Even if it is just for them to Pray for us?
    Prayer work, I am proof of this Fact!
    I would not be here, still fighting, if not for my friends and relatives support.
    In my opinion, they deserve to know?

  • Ann Harper moderator
    8 months ago

    That’s true. My mother died from cancer and I would have been so sad to not support her in the best way I could. I hated every minute of seeing her this way, but I’m glad I got to help her even if only a little.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    8 months ago

    @bluchs -glad to see your post. Hope all well on your end. Best!

  • Bob McEachern author
    9 months ago

    Thanks, Yolanda. I guess the good thing is that someone is there to listen or share when a patient is ready to talk. When we share our stories, the fear might go away just a little bit.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    9 months ago

    There you go… a little bit goes a long way in trying to adapt. Best!

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    9 months ago

    Bob, I’m sorry for you lost. I’ve lost about 3 people in the last few weeks too. You know the “C” word is plainly difficult for people to digest. The hangnail thought of this is how it ends for me is inevitable, and many can’t grip or want to delve into the thought. I’m happy we have forums such as this to discuss our experiences, and if others in the fight are not ready, that’s okay too; They’ll grasp a bit from our own stories. Thank you for sharing!

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