Are you affected by cancer but feel ambivalent about World Cancer Day?
It is not uncommon, and there is nothing right or wrong about it. People affected by cancer (including relatives and friends) can be ambivalent about a lot of things, including cancer. In that way we are no different to anyone else, who has a major issue or chronic illness affecting their lives.
On a good day, it doesn't matter to read or hear about cancer. On a good day, we may feel outspoken, passionate, alive, with a positive sense of presence and future, and then it is great to be part of a wider cause.
On a bad day we, like the rest of mankind, sometimes just don't want to know. We rather forget and not engage, because anger, frustration or fear may just become too much. On a bad day, there is little sense of presence or future. On a bad day it is often about what was, what life in the presence and in the future could and should have been like.
Then, even worthwhile fund and awareness raising activities do not automatically engage with their core audiences - eg those with cancer, relatives or friends. Indeed, many people with a chronic illness like cancer will have few, if any, relatives or friends wanting to be engaged in fund raising activities.
Cancer is about being alone and often about being lonely. No cancer is like the next, as much as no person with cancer is like another person with cancer. The illness, as much as the person with it, is unique. And in that sense, we are alone with our experience.
Major activities hitting the headlines are often a painful reminder of just how little connected, understood and supported we might feel.
- Imagine you pass a cancer fun run with families, friends or work colleagues taking part who carry the name of their loved on their shirt. Imagine what it might be like, on a bad or any other day, to witness that, when noone is there to care about you in the same way.
- Imagine that since diagnosis and treatment you have lost your job, your savings and financial security; you cannot afford to donate.
- Imagine that for the life-extending treatment you may need right now, you have to find £5k - privately - every month.
- Imagine you are told, this is it, nothing more can be done...
Cancer doesn't just attack the body. It is a traumatic and life-changing experience, even if you are lucky to survive (even for some years). Your finances, your job, your status, your relationships, your confidence - all that can take a huge knock. In many ways it can feel like starting all over again, or never being able to recover fully, physically, financially and emotionally.
The emotional world of cancer, before as well as after treatment as well as before death, is not often talked about. The themes of anxiety, hopelessness, loss, depression, anger, irritability, low self-worth, relationship issues and difficulties trusting yourself, your body and others are all too common. If not addressed this can lead to a destructive emotional cloud, which can damage quality of life (even after successful treatment) for people with cancer and those around them. It makes living and (dare I say) dying well near impossible.
Even less is said about what people can do to cope well with this emotional world. Examples of people that have managed to turn things around, found new purpose and energy, even when terminally ill, are not rare.
Emotional healing is worthwhile and important, even when there is no cure for the physical illness.
Need I say more? It is complex and complicated, but in some ways also very simply.
World Cancer Day matters, a lot. Fund raising for research is essential - surely we all agree. The statistics are shocking, and we don't need the spate of recent celebrity deaths from cancer to highlight the reality for all of us.
According to Cancer Research UK"1 in 2 people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime ... Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years." With some cancers the odds are better, with some they are lot worse.
Whether you have a good day or bad day, take heart that you are not alone in (sometimes) feeling alone.
If you have not (yet) been affected by cancer, then count your blessings and get stuck in on World Cancer Day.
Psychotherapist, MA, Reg. MBACP (Accred)