What's the point in talking about cancer?
Even if you have never been affected by cancer, you may also question the value of talking about the experience. Talking does not help save lives, or does it?
It's not like talking can help get rid of or slow down the progress of the disease. And when one is lucky enough to finish with treatment and able to return to life the way it was before, then what's the point in dwelling on what might have been difficult, on what might have been or what might yet come?!
Often people affected by cancer (including family, friends and health professionals) regard talking about their experience as too painful or self-indulging or a waste of time, since talking is not mightier than drugs in the fight against cancer.
Could it be that this attitude is fueled by a potent combination of fear, trauma, hopelessness, helplessness and resignation? Or could it be a lack of awareness of what talking in a therapeutic and counselling setting can actually achieve?
Often the experience of cancer as well as cancer treatment and its physical side-effects can be traumatic. Diagnosis and treatment rarely extend to raising awareness of what emotional impact to expect and what to do when it happens. And so you get on with it, the best way you can, while all aspects of your life are at best disrupted and at worst destroyed: health, work, relationships, financial security, the future, trust in your body, trust in your values, beliefs or religion, in others and in yourself. Everything is uncertain and you have little control. What's the point in talking about emotions then? Surely, this is fiddling around the edges when Rome is burning. Or is it?
In my experience, anyone not acknowledging and dealing with the emotional impact of cancer is taking a risk with their emotional and overall well being. And again you might ask, in the scheme of things, what's the big deal?
Anyone who has experienced shattering feelings of fear, depression, anger, loneliness (to mention a few) knows just how paralysing these can be, sucking away physical and mental energy and not leaving room for motivation, hope, self confidence and the energy to take charge, even of what may be an awfully bleak experience.
Talking about it, can help identify, treat and starting to heal the pain and turmoil caused by these experiences and feelings. Talking about it can help create some mental and emotional space inside to be able to consider what to do next - irrespective or even despite of what the diagnosis might be.
Cancer like other chronic diseases is about loss and grieving for what has been and for what might have been but never will - like getting a successful career, getting married (or divorced), having children, seeing those children grow up, becoming grandparents, enjoying retirement and more. What would you miss most? Lives are changed and will never be the same again. If we do not recognise and attend to this loss and reality sooner than later, then there will be little room to actively live in the now and tomorrow.
Talking can make the difference between passively collapsing under the weight of overwhelming emotions, and actively taken charge and facing up to what is happening.
In that sense talking has a valuable contribution to make to an integrated approach to a cancer experience and journey, which attends to body, mind and soul.
Talking is not self-indulging or a weakness. It takes courage; yes, and energy, and it is the smart thing to do.
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About Karin Sieger
Karin Sieger is a registered and BACP accredited psychotherapist with a private practice in Richmond (Surrey). She specialises in working with people affected by cancer (incl family, friends and health professionals) and other chronic diseases.