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Should you tell others that you have cancer? - (5/12/2020)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

Jim was in the pharmacy to get a pneumococcal vaccine. “Relax your arm,” the pharmacist said before he injected the juice that would protect Jim from getting one of the many types of pneumonia that could threaten the life of the 65-year old. “What did you say, doc? Your voice sounds hoarse.” “It’s just my mask,” the pharmacist replied. “Well, it still sounds scratchy. Do you have a cold?” Jim asked. 

“I have cancer,” the pharmacist thought to himself as he slid the needle into Jim’s arm. Cancer. A scary and polarizing word. Why is it polarizing? The world is divided into people who have cancer and those who do not. Those who do not have cancer are curious to know how those who got it acquired it. In the case of the pharmacist, his physician diagnosed him with throat cancer. Several factors can cause throat cancer. Excessive alcohol and/or tobacco use, the common sexually transmitted disease HPV (human papillomavirus), exposure to asbestos, poor nutrition, and several other factors are culprits. But, once you have cancer, does it really matter how you got it? The Snoopy McSnoopertons of the world will want to know. Why? They want to rule out any possibility of getting it themselves (“Well, I don’t smoke, so I won’t get it.”). People who are not your friends will grab onto anything salacious about which they can gossip (“HPV? I thought the pharmacist was happily married.“). The pharmacist does not want others to judge him that way.

However, as treatment continues, one’s physical appearance may prompt more questions. When you weigh 200 pounds, and you lose 25, it can be noticeable. When you had a full head of hair, but it now clogs the shower drain, it can be noticeable. Your occasional absences from work because the radiation has drained you will raise questions. “That other pharmacist, is he OK?” Now the carcinoma cat is out of the bag! Before you know it, people want to throw you spaghetti dinners at the American Legion hall.

Telling others you have cancer is a deal bigger than the massive tumor growing out of your forehead. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, whether to share the news you have cancer is a highly delicate decision. You are probably not even sure how much detail to disclose. Some individuals do not care to share their diagnosis. These hesitations vary. 1) They are not ready to talk about it. 2) They are afraid to scare others. 3) They think other people may want to avoid them. 4) Actually saying the words makes the disease more real. 5) They do not want others to pity them or change how they treat them.
Some people with cancer opt to tell only their loved ones; others let people with whom they come in regular contact know about their diagnosis. When a person chooses to spill the beans, he or she may do so for different reasons. 1) Cancer is too life-changing to deal with alone. 2) It allows other people to offer support. 3) It gives friends and family the chance to convey their feelings. Talking about your own cancer can be difficult, advises the American Cancer Society. However, it can be beneficial to vent and to get your emotional distress like anxiety, anger, and sadness out in the open. If anything, the person with cancer needs time to think, plan, and prepare. Negative words or tales about how someone’s dear aunt died of breast cancer after a long, arduous, and morphine-soaked journey are not helpful.

After his vaccination, Jim said to the pharmacist, “Whatever is wrong with your throat, I hope it clears up.” "It's just a new chapter in my life," the pharmacist thought to himself.
 
Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com.


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