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  • Madeleine Cowey

The 'C' Word

You bring the 'C' word up at the dinner table, and you will raise some eyebrows. Particularly if it is an issue close-to-home. It has connotations of illness, sadness and death - not exactly a cheerful conversation starter to say the least.

It certainly took me a long time to use the 'C' word' in reference to myself. It's often one of those words whispered, said underneath one's breathe just so nobody overhears. Or more often it will be called 'it' or ' know...' it's just that bad thing that I have... I'll often reference my experiences as 'everything that's happened'.

Why? Why not just say cancer?

I understand it's not an easy topic, but I do think that if we talk more openly about it then we'll probably be more likely to make swifter progress in regards to diagnosis, and also make cancer patients feel less like sympathy cases. If people thought of cancer more like a common disease (which it is! 1 in 2 of us will get cancer in our lives!) then I think we'd all be a bit more comfortable, and happy.

I have cancer!

Sometimes I can forget that cancer actually is what I have, perhaps because I feel well at the moment. Don't get me wrong - I think about it every single day, but I do dissociate from the 'cancer' bit quite often; at times I remind myself, and every time I do, it hits me quite hard, like "really? me?", it just seems so implausible. When things like scans come around, or a doctor gives me some bad news, it becomes all the more real, and it is scary, but I don't want to be afraid of it, or the word.

Although I am evidently fairly comfortable with it now, when the word 'cancer' was first used to me in the context of my diagnosis, I pushed it to the back of my mind and I couldn't bring myself to say it. I visited the doctors with the aim of getting a cancer referral but because I couldn't say the word, my diagnosis ended up being delayed (a story for another post). For a good long while after my diagnosis and surgery I avoided talking about it, and found it hard to even think about; I pushed it to the back of my mind and concentrated on being a happy, normal student. I told people I wanted to be treated as 'normal', which was basically my way of ignoring the fact that I had gone through a lot and was living with a disease. I certainly did live as a normal student (drinking, napping, 'studying'...), but there came a point where I really did want to talk about my cancer and had no idea how to because I'd told everybody I didn't want to. I started to think nobody cared, or were too scared to ask me how I was, or that if I brought it up they'd see me differently or feel uncomfortable, so I didn't bring it up, for a long time. The C word was scary, and unpredictable, and still is!

A while has passed since, and I have eased myself into it. After bringing it up into conversation a few times with friends, I found out that they do care, but often worry about upsetting me. I now bring it up all the time and it's probably quite irritating, they all know now that if they ever want to ask how I am I will thoroughly appreciate it - I won't bite their head off. I wouldn't say I'm quite desensitized to the word 'cancer', it still terrifies me, but I think that I'm comfortable enough around it, and actually find it incredibly interesting to talk about, and am more than happy to receive questions about it. It's a huge part of my life, why shouldn't I talk about it, and why should I shy away from using that word, no matter how horrible it is?

N.B. (Of course, this is definitely not so for all cancer patients. Not everybody wants to or can talk about their issues, or wants to talk about their disease. I 100% respect that, this is just the way I'm dealing with it at the moment! This could also change.)

I definitely don't talk about cancer as much as I think about it, or would like to, because I think that could cause some issues. I still fear upsetting people, making them uncomfortable, or just putting a downer on things. For me though, cancer is a part of my life, I can't escape it no matter how much I want to, so I think it is incredibly important for me to be able to talk about it openly if and when I want to. I mean, talk therapy is a thing, right?

I think it's just finding the right times to use the 'c' word. When someone I haven't seen for a while asks me

How are you?

I just don't know whether to respond honestly,

Well actually, my cancer has come back!

Or be socially acceptable with a,

Fine thanks, and you?

It's all about balance, and getting to know when things are appropriate and which conversations are appropriate with whom. That's life I suppose. I know my parents have a very similar feeling when speaking with friends or family, because as soon as you throw 'cancer' into the mundane daily niceties you've instantly trumped anyone else's misgivings and probably made them feel terrible for ever complaining about their life. That may be an exaggeration but you catch my drift (I hope).

Story Time

One night, a rather drunken one at that, I was out with my brother and some friends, and I told him that I hate how taboo the word 'cancer' is. People don't want to hear as they are going about their daily life about an 18 year old girl with cancer, or that child who has a brain tumour - it's all far too depressing and we are far too polite and awkward to have conversations like that. I felt like I was wrong in some way, and it's upsetting to feel like that. So we decided that it wasn't going to be a taboo anymore. Picture us, on the Northern line, shouting 'I HAVE SECONDARY CANCER! I HAVE A SARCOMA!', rather loudly, and hysterically. Man it was cathartic. We made a fool of ourselves and everyone around us feel uncomfortable, but it felt good.

I will shout it from the rooftops, if not for my own mental well-being, then for others - to raise awareness, let everybody know what sarcoma is. Early diagnosis, research, donations are absolutely key and until everybody knows that I will not shut up about it.

Sorry. :P

M x

- A link to an appeal for a young girl, suffering with cancer. Not my inspiration for this video but it gets the message across.


Please sponsor my veg pledge for CancerResearch UK by clicking on this link! I'm giving up meat and chocolate this month to try and raise money. See my Fundraising post or visit this page for more information. :)

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