Talking about Cancer this World Cancer Day

Tomorrow the world will be acknowledging the impact cancer has on people suffering from the disease as well as their families and friends. Cancer is still the leading cause of death in Australia – 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women are diagnosed with cancer before the age of 85.

What are the most common types of cancer?

The most common cancers in Australia (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) are prostate, colorectal (bowel), breast, melanoma and lung cancer.

What is the survival rate for cancer?

The good news is that the overall five-year survival rate for cancer has increased from 47 per cent (1982-1987) to 66 per cent (2006-2010), and many common cancers have improved survival rates across this timespan.

The increase in survival rate for people diagnosed with cancer really highlights the need for us, as a community, to expand and develop our approach of coping with cancer.

How to reduce stigma and myths about cancer

This World Cancer Day, the focus is on Target 5 of the World Cancer Declaration: Reduce stigma and dispel myths about cancer. We have an opportunity today to help start to “Debunk the mythsof cancer by continuing our discussions on education and common misconceptions of cancer as outlined below.

                        (Image copied from: http://www.worldcancerday.org/)

Over the next 4 days we will be publishing a blog everyday, aimed at how psychological intervention can help to “Debunk the myths” with particular focus on:  Myth 01 “We don’t need to talk about cancer” .  These blogs have been put together by our very own Psychologist, Catherine Waight, whom has a special interest in Health Psychology.

Myth 01 regarding Cancer Support: “We don’t need to talk about cancer”

As a psychologist who has worked with people with chronic illnesses such as cancer and as a person who has watched loved ones suffer with cancer, I can attest that this way of thinking that ‘we don’t need to talk about cancer’ is unfortunately a very common myth.

Why do we have problems talking about cancer?

  • Reluctance or inability to start the conversation of ‘the Big C’. Even within highly educated communities, there is a sense of reservation in actually stopping and talking to your loved one about cancer. A common coping mechanism within Australian culture is humour and a mentality of ‘you’ll be right mate’. Whilst humour is an essential part of treatment for many chronic illnesses, the act of talking about the impact of cancer on the person’s life is often missed.

  • Feelings of embarrassment related to certain cancer types, for example,  testicular, prostate, colorectal.

  • Feelings of being a burden: it is common for many people with cancer to not want to be a burden on their loved ones and hide how they’re actually coping (or not) with cancer. Common thoughts which feed this myth include “I don’t want to burden my family or friends with my fears of cancer”, “It is my illness, I should be able to fight it myself” or “What’s the point in talking about cancer? Talking is not going to change my illness so I would rather avoid thinking about it”.

  • Feelings of ‘protection’. This is very common with parents with cancer who avoid the discussion of cancer with their kids to ‘protect them’. However, nondisclosure of the facts often worsens the situation as children who are very astute may ‘catastrophise’ the situation.

 

How can a psychologist help debunk this myth and offer cancer support?

Psychologist are unbiased, non-judgemental professionals to help you and your family through the phases of illness. Possible illness phases* include:

Phase

Psychological Intervention Target

Diagnosis Coping with intense and immediate emotional reaction related to the diagnosis
Treatment Coping with the symptoms of the illness and medication and the impact on your quality of life
End of Acute Treatment Coping with the ‘waiting’ and common feelings of vulnerability
Survivorship Coping with the reconstruction of your identity and living with uncertainty and fear. Lifestyle Changes and Modifications
Recurrence Coping with the realisation of fear
Terminal Coping with the inevitability of death

*Note. Not all stages are relevant to every cancer sufferer. The progression through the stages may depend on time of diagnosis, type of cancer, severity/stage of cancer, and treatment type.

Do you know someone with cancer?

So if you know someone with cancer, or someone whom is the mother, father, sister, brother, friend or carer of someone with cancer, why not give them a call today, or better still,  ask if you can pop in for a visit, and start the conversation.  Tomorrow we will be looking more specifically at the Diagnosis and Treatment stages.

Do you need help talking about cancer?

If you need help talking about cancer—as a sufferer or a loved one of a sufferer—contact The Psych Professionals today.

References

1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Australasian Association of Cancer Registries 2012. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2012. Cancer series no. 74. Cat. no. CAN 70. Canberra: AIHW.

2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. Cancer incidence projections: Australia, 2011 to 2020. Cancer Series no. 66. Cat. No. CAN 62. Canberra: AIHW.

3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. Cancer survival and prevalence in Australia: period estimates from 1982 to 2010. Cancer Series no. 69. Cat. no. CAN 65. Canberra: AIHW