Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Fear

It's been a cancer week this week. Not people who have it, but people who are terrified that they might. Three patients on three consecutive days, each agonizing that their headache might mean a brain tumour, their indigestion could be stomach cancer or their mole, a skin cancer. And then it was my turn. For half an hour on Sunday I had cancer, or at least I thought I might.

So I've been wondering, what is it that makes this particular disease so utterly terrifying?

It can't simply be the fear of dying, as there are plenty of illnesses with the potential to end this way that don't give us the shivers quite like cancer does. The knowledge that the illness process is sometimes painful and debilitating perhaps explains it partly, but then what about a stroke? For me, it's the few tragic stories of healthy people being told they have 8 weeks to live - that sense that it could happen to anyone at any time and that you might not know about it until it was too late.

One thing I strongly believe though, is that the horror with which we regard this disease is unhelpful. I'd never want to underestimate the suffering that cancer can cause, but the stigma that we've attached to it only adds to this. What a difference it would make if we could remove the cloud of dread that envelops it and learn to accept it for what it is.

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