Living with cancer blog

Tips for handling the cancer stigma

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. September 11, 2010

Many of you who have written to this blog over the past few months are dealing with the cancer stigma, the negative aspects of a cancer diagnosis. Some words that you have used are "isolated," "lonely," "shunned," "weary" and "abandoned."

Some of you have mentioned losing 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 education, science and technology; the cancer stigma will be no more.

Some ideas that might help you as you talk with others and deal with the aspects of a diagnosis of cancer.

  • As you choose to share information with others; give them the facts and then let them know what might help you at the moment. For example, you might say: "I was just diagnosed with stage II breast cancer and will be having surgery next week. What would really help me is if you could do my grocery shopping for me for a few weeks while I recover."
  • Keep doing the things you love to do.  For example, an exercise routine (modified if needed), relaxing hobbies and time with friends. The more you are open to others, the more support you will find.
  • Seek out support and resources for your cancer type.  This could be through a support group, online blog or other resource. Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Be well informed.  Ask questions about your treatment, side effects, long term effects and prognosis. Be honest with those around you if they have questions. It is usually a good idea to give information to those who love you. In this manner, they can know what to expect and how to give you support along the way.

Today, there are so many ways to communicate news and progress between family and friends. Social media tools such as Caring Bridge, blogs (such as this one), and online support groups are also helpful. Please feel free to share your thoughts on how to positively deal with the stigma of cancer.


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Sept. 11, 2010