Give cancer the proper weight, attention

Mar. 28, 2016

Eleanor Sturt
[email protected]

I hate cancer. Not just the illness, but everything that comes with it.

The way people talk about it, the way people treat patients and survivors, the way people talk about curing cancer and, most of all, the lack of knowledge about it.

Cancer is not one illness and it isn’t as rare as people expect it to be.

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, there were 589,430 deaths in the U.S. caused by cancer in 2015. It is also the second leading cause of death in the U.S., with the first being heart disease.

Cancer is regularly discussed, and there are countless organizations searching for its “cure.”

I despise the term cure.

There is not just one cause for cancer, because there are many different types. Some cancers are genetic and some aren’t. Some are so serious that the patient has days to live, whereas others get years.

Because there are so many causes, there cannot be one cure. Maybe, in the future, we can find cures for certain cancers, but there will not be one magical cure that will work for every cancer.

Websites and blogs devoted to diets, exercise routines and breathing exercises that are supposed to prevent cancer are rubbish. These articles lead people to think that cancer is preventable, which is hopelessly wrong.

Cancer consumes lives, and not just for the patient, but also for family and friends. This is partially due to a lack of understanding.

When my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last fall, I was devastated. I thought it was a death sentence. In some cases, it is. In my mom’s case, it was not.

But there was a long period of time where my mother needed constant care and supervision. She needed help with basic tasks like showering and getting dressed.

On top of this, there was constant worry that the chemotherapy wasn’t working. We were lucky that it did.

During this time, the way people treated my mother and family was different. They would either awkwardly skirt the subject or it would consume the conversation. Neither option was helpful.

People also always managed to say strange things like, “I had a cat once that died of cancer,” or “I heard cancer is due to inbreeding.”

As fascinating as those facts are, I would rather have a conversation about how school is going.

Thankfully, my mom finished chemotherapy and no longer needs constant attention; she can run errands on her own and doesn’t need my help.

But in public, people always ask her if she needs help or give her a reassuring smile. Yes, it is sweet, but my mother is at her wits end with people treating her differently.

She just wants to get back to normal life. No more cancer.

While your intentions are great, there are ways you can help out that don’t make survivors feel like they are non-capable beings.

Begin by educating yourself. Understand that there are more cancers than just breast and lung cancer, and the different treatments depend on the patient.

When you are interacting with patients, follow this simple guideline: Don’t act like it isn’t a problem. It is, so address it.

But don’t let it consume the conversation. It already consumes the entirety of the patient’s life.

If they are out shopping, they don’t need help. If they did, they would have brought some, or they will ask.

Lastly, they are going through a lot. Cancer is scary. Give them a little more love without overdoing it. They need it.