When it Comes to Cancer, 'You Never Know What Someone is Going Through'


The death of actor Chadwick Boseman from colorectal cancer has brought to light that many people with cancer fight their battles quietly, and how even oncologists need to be considerate of a patient’s struggles despite how they appear.

Actor Chadwick Boseman’s choice to keep his colorectal cancer diagnosis and treatment private has brought to light a fact of which many in the cancer space are well aware: We can never be fully aware of what an individual is going through just by looking at them.

In an interview with CURE®, Dr. Mark Lewis, an oncologist with Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah, recalled his father’s experience with cancer and noted how it contrasted with Boseman’s private journey. He discussed why it’s important to be considerate of others' privacy, because “not all cancer and chemo is visible.”


One myth I'd like to dispel is that all patients with cancer are visibly sick, or that chemo is conspicuous and has side effects.

So, the reason I got into this field is my father was diagnosed with cancer in 1987. His chemotherapy was extremely hard on him, and it was very visible in its toxicity. So, the classic sort of stereotype of chemo, it made his hair fall out. He was very ill. He was hospitalized with nearly every treatment and his immune system was decimated. And I often tell my patients that depending on the chemo I give them, maybe none of those things are likely to happen. And so, the example of Chadwick Boseman is perfect.

You know, he went through, basically for years, making movies while on treatment, and in the last year, this is tragic, but he apparently took some criticism on social media because he was losing some weight. He wasn't as muscular as he used to be as a superhero. But frankly, the level he was at before is what's truly commendable. And that kind of criticism, especially now, seems extremely short sighted and cruel.

But to answer your question, yes, not all cancer and not all chemo is visible. And one of the lessons to take away from this is you never know what someone else is going through, physically or certainly psychologically. And you know, the internet can be pretty toxic, especially for someone famous, but we really all should be wary of criticizing other people, because we really don't understand their situation.

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