Let me start this page by saying that, rationally, the greatest threat to my life is drivers making a left-hand turn through a pedestrian crossing -- they watch out for the cars coming towards them and not the pedestrians who might be in the crosswalk. Why do I say that? It seems I still do not want people to think me unwell.
Reading on various cancer networks, there is a lot of discussion about whether to tell others about having cancer. When I was a kid, back in rural Alberta, adults, in hushed voices, sometimes used the phrase “in the family way”. I remember asking what that meant and being told that I shouldn’t be listening. But “cancer” was an even more forbidden topic than anything to do with sex. I never heard the word “cancer.” I remember overhearing “as big as a gunny sack” after a relative had some operation but I was not meant to hear or to ask.
It seems being inhibited about having cancer is common. In his amazing book, (1), David Servan-Schrieber writes:
"The publication of Anticancer two years ago launched a new chapter in my journey. After having kept my illness a secret for fourteen years (emphasis mine)..."
so for me to try to keep mine a secret -- insofar as I could -- for over a year does not seem unusual.
But it was impossible to keep it all confidential. My secretiveness only lead to speculation. For example, a few days before my surgery, gossip circulated at a conference, where I was to give a plenary talk; the gossip, started by a person who shall remain nameless (I doubt that he meant harm), was that I was ill and would not be there. On my arrival at the conference, hearing the gossip was distressing. What had they been told? And why? The speculation among some people who heard the rumor was that I had a cold or the flu; the speculation of close friends who realized that I had been stressed was that perhaps I was seriously ill -- not at all what I wanted.
A year later, still inhibited about having it known I had cancer, I thought of using the term "for personal reasons" to explain some of my cancer-related issues. That raised the question in the mind of one individual as to whether I had some financial problems! Others were more perceptive. A former PhD student of mine, who taught a couple of my classes when I was recovering from surgery, had conjectured that my "personal reasons" for having to take a few days off were indeed to have surgery.
Once I let me colleagues know I lost my inhibitions (about writing, at least) about thyroid cancer.
It is estimated that 1/4 to 1/2 of the population will get cancer of some sort. (Thyroid cancer is increasing especially rapidly.) I wonder if it would help if we talked about cancer more. Maybe
then we would then know more about the effects of nutrition, exercise and stress and be more aware of how to lead anticancer lives.
(1) Servan-Schreiber, D. (2009) Anticancer; A new way of life," Penguin Group, New York Toronto, London, ...