A cancer diagnosis inevitably comes with an avalanche of challenges – personal, medical, financial and more. But for some patients, the type of cancer they have adds an extra layer of difficulty, because it’s one that may difficult to discuss.
Annie Miller, the practical support manager at Cancer Council NSW says there are a few cancers that some people, depending on the individual, may find difficult to be open about. These include breast cancer for men, anal cancer, vulval cancer in women and lung cancer, particularly if the person diagnosed has never smoked. She stresses, though, that people’s responses can be varied.
“When it comes to something like vulval cancer, some people worry that the community or even friends and family could judge them because they assume the person is promiscuous,” she says. “Testicular cancer may be an issue for some men who may think they’re less masculine because they may only have one testicle. Then for others, it could be that they aren’t concerned about what people think.
“Some patients who have been diagnosed with lung cancer and have small children have shown concern that others will judge them and their children at school for being a smoker.
“In other cases, it’s the side effects that cause the stigma, such as potential loss of libido that can come with treatment for any cancer, or sexual dysfunction that is can be a side effect of any cancer and not just a gynecological cancer.”
The important thing to remember is your journey is yours alone, and it’s entirely up to you how you want to move forward with telling others about your cancer. Share only what you want to share, with those you want to share it with.
Some tips for handling a ‘stigma’ cancer
Remember that the only person going through this journey is you, and you have the right to tell people as much or as little as you like, even your employers. You can request a private meeting with the HR department of your company to explain your circumstances and they are legally obliged not to pass on anything but the details you wish to disclose to your manager.
It can be difficult to remember, but medical professionals are unlikely to judge you for any of the circumstances surrounding your cancer. However you have the right to compassionate care and to change providers if you feel it’s lacking.
Don’t put off getting checked out because you have something worrying you in an area of your body that makes you feel embarrassed. Early intervention is critical.
Try to resist pretending you have a different “more acceptable” cancer than the one you have. It can be difficult if you are then asked questions you can’t answer. Remember, you have every right to say nothing or to keep things vague.
If it’s the right choice for you, “own” your cancer and be upfront about it. Being honest can be empowering – but only if that’s something you’re comfortable with.
Carrying extra angst and stress around stigma can impact on your recovery process. A counsellor can help you express the things you may feel you’re unable to say to other people and will keep your feelings confidential.
Peer support can assist you through this time and Cancer Council have a Connect program which can match you with someone who has had the same or a similar cancer and could assist you through this time