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The “Stigma” of Cancer

Cancer Stigma Why are you ashamed…?!!

One of the major barriers to “Cancer” diagnosis and treatment is stigma. In many developed and developing countries such as South Africa, stigma is a barrier that can lead to late diagnosis and, in turn, death.

To most South African Blacks, (in the South African context; Black, Coloured and Indian) the word “Cancer” is said to be a White Man’s disease or, the word itself means death… We are all too quick to associate “Cancer” with death but we forget that because of our silence, Cancer does become death… we allow it, and it does not have to be that way at all.

More often than most, Patients are ashamed of their illness and feel humiliated during and as a result of their treatment(s). In South Africa, Cancer is also very much a cultural matter, as it is regarded as a bad omen and that your forefathers were not happy with you therefore you were given the disease, the other is that you might be bewitched.

Most regard their illness as a sign of weakness, and then have to expose themselves physically and psychologically to their physicians, this is particularly the case with most men. With such attitudes, Patients often delay seeking treatment or withhold vital information from their physician. Cancer patients are at particular risk for suffering from these emotions.

We commonly use the word malignant which, in itself, is offensive. Patients may be blamed for being ill, on account of their state of mind or because of what they eat. Manifestations of this disease as well as treatment are often disfiguring and otherwise difficult for patients and their families to bear (ileostomies, mastectomies, throat and facial surgery, loss of hair, loss of ovarian function). Even obituaries talk about the “battle” in which the patients are the losers so a lot of people choose to remain silent.

Some of you may have lost the support of family, friends and co-workers during the experience. It seems that we are at a critical point in time between the days when the word “Cancer” was not used in everyday conversation, to a future day when the word is followed by support, love and care. I have hope that with additional awareness, education, science and technology; the Cancer stigma will be no more.

So my fellow Cancer survivors, friends, family and colleagues, don’t ever be ashamed of what it is you have, be positive, stop the silence because you “Can-Sir-Vive”….

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