The Media and Cancer Overkill: Suddenly, Having Cancer is "In"

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • While I was undergoing breast cancer treatment, I was not invited to a social event given by a friend’s wife because she did not want her happy event marred by a guest who looked visibly ill. While her behavior was extreme, and an unusual contrast to the barrage of support and love I received from so many friends, relatives and colleagues, obviously I haven’t forgotten about it. And I can’t help thinking about it, this week, as cancer seems to have become the newest hot media topic.

    I can’t watch the news, read the newspaper or a magazine, without someone else coming forward to discuss their experience living with cancer. I had to smile this morning, as I read about Elizabeth Edwards saying that she’s sick of reading about herself every time she opens the newspaper. Suddenly, having cancer is "in."
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    The examples abound. Last week, on NBC Nightly News, correspondent Anne Thompson revealed to viewers that she had a breast cancer diagnosis last year that she suddenly felt the need to share. Two out of the three newsweekly cover stories this week--Newsweek and US News-- are about staff members and their cancer diagnosis and treatments. Time’s cover is on global warning--didn’t anyone there have a brush with cancer?--but there is a three-pager on living with cancer. Both of the NY Times op-ed pages yesterday were devoted to the theme, “Humans vs. Cancer: Who’s Winning Now?"

    Don’t get me wrong—I’m not really complaining. What person who has experienced cancer doesn’t love to read these stories? I find most of them fascinating. I particularly recommend Jonathan Alter’s compelling Newsweek piece about his lymphoma. And I couldn’t agree more with Betty Rollin’s NY Times op-ed yesterday, about how when she had breast cancer and a recurrence--in 1975 and 1984--it was a time of whispers and lies and loneliness. Nobody discussed cancer, which made her miserable and lonely.

    Rollins is right: Even if cancer is a club that nobody wants to join, how much better it is, these days, for everyone, that there is a national conversation about living with cancer. And if the price we have to pay for that openness is several weeks or more of over-sharing--too many personal stories--I’ll take the overkill. There are probably still some people, like my friend’s wife, who don’t want cancer patients at their parties, but surely their numbers must be diminishing these days


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    Dear Elizabeth Edwards: Thoughts from Breast Cancer Patients, Survivors and Families


Published On: April 02, 2007