Should Cancer Be A Whisper Word? | Journey of Survivorship

Sometimes those around us avoid talking about the more difficult subjects in life. How can we help those dealing with cancer though, if we're not allowed to talk about it? How can we learn to go from being fighters to survivors if the word cancer seems too taboo to some?

Have you watched the scene in the classic 1980s movie St. Elmo's Fire, where a woman says, "Did you hear about Betty? Cancer." Where cancer is whispered across the table to the rest of the dinner guests seated there. These words which are "too horrible to utter" are whispered throughout the entire movie dialogue.

A few months ago, I attended the Working Women's Expo in Central Illinois where I showcased my very new website, Lacuna Loft. I told people who entered into my booth all about this new resource and how it was geared specifically towards young adults who were dealing with cancer or long-term illness. Again and again, people were visibly startled by the mention of cancer. The way their body language and nonchalant nodding abruptly changed was shocking to me. Calm glances towards the inside of my booth evolving into wide eyes and rigid postures like I had physically shaken them or cursed.

Maybe I should have tried whispering "cancer" instead.

What is it about this word that causes such discomfort? The fear and apprehension that I saw over and over, communicated a distinct problem to me. If we can't talk about cancer, in people or in young adults, than how can we hope to help make the experience of having cancer easier?

At family functions, no one really talks about my cancer diagnosis or responds very much when I talk about it myself. I receive a lot of polite nodding whenever cancer is mentioned. Except my grandmother, who recently said in a pitiful tone, when she heard that I had a cold, "I hope it's not that cancer coming back." But that is another story all together I suppose.

One evening I asked a friend if I should just stop bringing up all hints of cancer in my life all together. She looked me right in the eyes and said, "Mallory, by talking about your cancer, you are doing exactly what people try to avoid...talking about the bad stuff in life." In a world full of so many ways to communicate the very best that is happening in each of our lives, we still try and hide everything that is scary and ugly. Between shared online photos, words, and communication, we openly share the best and privately hide the worst. How can we learn from one another if we cannot bring ourselves to talk about our most frightening moments?

So what do we do about it?

How do we, a generation of proud fighters, survivors, and caretakers change this epidemic of whispered conversations?

Recently I interviewed a fellow young adult cancer survivor for my website's blog. In her emailed responses to my questions, she capitalized the word Cancer each time. In every single sentence, Cancer was capitalized. It was obvious to me that this woman does not go around worrying about whether or not to whisper the word Cancer in polite conversation. She does not feel ashamed by something that is so obviously affecting her life. This, in my opinion, is the solution. I've decided to walk around talking about my cancer diagnosis and survivorship in a candid and truthful manner, without regarding our usual discomfort with discomfort. Gone should be the need to whisper the difficult words and gone should be the shame we feel when others think we are speaking too loudly about something "too horrible to utter."

How do you think cancer should be spoken of? Should it be a whisper word or should it be said with a sense of pride and awareness? Share your comments below. .

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(Image courtesy of the author)