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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.

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