Last year, my wife died of triple-negative breast cancer that was caused by a genetic mutation. If her family risk was discussed more openly, she — and many others with an inherited predisposition to cancer — may still be here today.
As National Cancer Prevention Month draws to a close, I’m baffled and angered at how the subject of cancer is not honestly and openly talked about like it should be. It feels like if you don’t discuss it, it will go away and no one will ever get it again. And when it is talked about, it is usually in whispers and hushed tones.
When I was my late wife’s cancer caregiver, I watched as friends avoided the subject of cancer. They would talk about anything else to avoid the reality of what was going on, and starting a conversation on cancer prevention would have them heading for the nearest exit.
In my wife’s family, despite a devastating history of cancer deaths, everyone pretended like the word “cancer” didn’t exist. It was like everything was completely normal in the family and that cancer was best left not talked about at family gatherings.
In public, I watched in dismay as people would avoid looking at my wife when she would wear her cancer cap instead of her wig. On walks, people would glance up and suddenly walk out of their way as if her cancer cap was a warning sign that she carried a disease that would make them instantly drop dead.Did anybody stop and share a kind word or want to engage in an honest conversation about the devastating effects of cancer treatment or offer any empathy? No. My wife wrote about some of this on CURE® a couple years ago.
Acquaintances who had survived cancer, people who should have had the compassion and courage to talk about the realities of cancer and advocate for prevention and better care, would pretend like they never had cancer. As if it magically disappears from your life if you don’t ever mention it.
And her gynecologist/primary care doctor?Prior to my wife’s diagnosis, proper screening and a serious discussion about family cancer history never ever happened. Wasn’t that his job to talk about it?
In June 2021, my wife of 40 years died in my arms from metastatic triple-negative breast cancer due to an inherited pathogenic mutation in a BRCA2 gene. My wife’s cancer was preventable, but nobody spoke up about the mutation when it mattered the most. Relatives acutely aware of a germline BRCA2 mutation for many years never sat down and openly and honestly talked about the hereditary cancer risk or shared gene sequencing info before my wife’s diagnosis. And besides my wife, there were numerous other blood relatives at risk for hereditary cancer, but the need for urgent genetic counseling was never expressly discussed with any of them until my wife talked to them after her cancer was found.
Given the number of new cancer cases that are diagnosed each year, there needs to be more serious, in-your-face discussions about cancer – bluntly honest talks about how unimaginably awful it can be to have cancer or how intensely painful it is to watch helplessly as a loved one dies from it, but how it can be prevented in many cases.
Speaking the truth about cancer can save lives. So why is talking about cancer so damn hard?
My name is Mark, I'm a hereditary cancer widower and solo parent of a BRCA2 previvor. And I’m showing up and speaking out about cancer prevention. I believe nobody should die of a preventable cancer. Nobody!
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