“Sometimes when you least expect it, life throws you a curveball. I have recently been diagnosed with high-grade cancer that has metastised, which we frankly did not see coming.” my hands were shaking as I was going through the twitter feed of Sonali Bendre, a famous Bollywood actress, who had just shared on the news of her metastatic cancer.
And, within a fraction of second, my mind wandered itself to remember the saddening letter of Irfan Khan (another actor), which was recently published. I sat in my chair, my head in my hands, going through the crazy ride of emotions where thoughts look so real that you feel the pain so clearly. You must be thinking it is natural to feel pain for someone, who just shared the news of having cancer. I do feel that pain, but that pain stays for a couple of minutes.
There is another long-lasting pain – The one that comes out of the fear – the fear of What if?
What if I have cancer?
What will happen to my two little ones?
Who will look after them? I won’t be able to see them going through college.
How will my husband handle the loneliness? Who will ask him about his day, about his stress and about his medicines?
How will my parents take the news?
And, on some dark days, my thoughts don’t stop. They are difficult to tame and they know no boundaries. They go to another extreme of imagining losing someone very dear to cancer. Cancer doesn’t only attempt to kill an individual, it attempts for a mass murder – it kills family members and close friends emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually. I shared these fears with my husband and mother. And, both of them discarded my fearful thoughts as meaningless and baseless.
So, I stopped sharing it with anyone.
Recently, my childhood friend came from California after 5 years. So, we decided to have a night out to catch up on what happened in the last few years. We bitched a lot about Trump and his racist policies. And, then I don’t know how but the discussion got intense when we started speaking about our deepest fears. And, as I was light-headed, I told her about my fear of having cancer. But, it took me a second to realize what I said. And then I added, I know it’s not real.
She looked into my eyes and said No, it is real!
She introduced me to the term Carcinophobia, commonly known as Cancer phobia. She told me Carcinophobia, usually affects those who either suffered through the disease or their close friends or family members have suffered through it. And she understood within a fraction of minute why I have it.
In past 2 years, I have lost 3 of my close people in my life to cancer – my grandmother was taken away by breast cancer, a colleague succumbed to lung cancer and a bright young soul (son of my close friend) couldn’t win the battle against brain cancer.
She also mentioned that these days, we can see CANCER everywhere. Be it news reports, medical articles (that feature how environmental factors or exposure to particular ingredients can lead to cancer). Moreover, media magazines also keep cancer in the public eye by discussing celebrities’ cancer diagnosis and treatments. It feels almost impossible to live a day without using something that’s expected to cause cancer. It’s no wonder that we are always thinking and fearing cancer.
Sadly, Carcinophobia is worse than most of the fears.
If you don’t agree with me, let me explain it with the fear of water. If you have fear of water, you will avoid water. You won’t go to a pool. But, people suffering from carcinophobia, carries their fear within them. A single mole or lump on the body is taken as a warning of cancer. It takes them down the memory lane of what their family members went through – painful treatments, financial expenses, loss of hair, relapse of cancer and death.
The good news is that this fear of getting cancer, like any other phobia is treatable.
In case you or someone you know suffers from it, and it has started affecting various aspects of work, social or personal life, please seek professional help. For me, it was critical as I started feeling my expiry date was near-by. The phobia sucked life out of my existence. So, I sought professional help. Professional help supported me in becoming aware of my unreasonable thoughts and fears and helped me view the situation more realistically.
The reason behind sharing my story on this platform is to make people aware of Carcinophobia. Our society has mastered the art of shutting down voices of victims suffering from any mental illness. Sadly, the truth is a mental illness is as common as a cough or flu but we don’t want to recognize it. Why? Because they don’t sound logical or reasonable to us.
So, next time when you discount someone’s fear of having cancer, please remember it is as real as cancer itself. Do empathize with them and help them overcome this phobia. It is a battle that can’t be won alone!
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