Friday 28 Jan 2022
Secrecy, stigma and shame are deadly – snuffing out hope, confidence and joy. I know that from personal experience. It is time to ditch the culture of silence.
By now you might have received your shocking invitation to the club that no one ever signs up voluntarily for.
Whether you are a patient or a loved one, the chaos of a cancer diagnosis is shocking, jarring you into confronting your mortality in ways that you previously might not have done.
Medical professionals are very good at what they do, providing you with lots of information about what to expect through treatment and beyond.
As you are reeling in shock, it takes time for the reality to sink in. You might begin to sense that life as you knew it would never be the same again.
For over three decades, I have worn the shoes of both patients and loved ones. I can totally relate to the sense of feeling out of control in this new normal in which you now live. I was a teenager, living in Nigeria when my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and I became her carer.
Living with cancer was bad enough, but in an atmosphere of secrecy, stigma and shame, the burden of pain is indescribable.
My mum eventually died at the age of 46 when I was 17. That was a devastating loss that changed my life forever.
As I grew into adulthood and returned to the UK, I realised that these issues were not restricted to the West African culture but cut across ethnic minority communities. I have seen the damage of not speaking up. I have resolved to change that narrative.
Ten years ago, my big sister was diagnosed. To say that I was shocked was an understatement.
I knew that I would need a safe space to talk and get psychological support but I didn’t have any idea how that would happen.
Thanks to the Cancer Genetics counsellor, I was introduced to Maggie’s Swansea.
As soon as I walked in, I felt like someone had handed me a beam of light in an otherwise dark tunnel. Lost and without a map, this support became vital as I navigated through my own breast cancer diagnosis as well as the loss of my big sister.
The design of the building at Maggie’s, as well as the interiors, were so reassuring and calming – the exact opposite of hospital with the fear associated with those clinical surroundings.
The warmth and understanding from staff and volunteers alike is a balm to your soul – giving you space to breathe, cry or do whatever else you need to do.
The intentionality of structure and design goes a long way to soothe, whilst you can ask questions of the experts and meet fellow sojourners on the cancer landscape.
In these spaces, you are not alone. Knowing this is especially important when you come from a community where cancer is not discussed at all for many reasons.
I have a lot of respect for all medical professionals involved in cancer care. But the truth is that with limited resources, they are unable to support your mental and psychological well-being, which are as vital as the physical.
Having someone to hold your hand through the process and answer the questions you forgot to ask in the clinic – that’s priceless.
No matter the dictates of culture, a cancer diagnosis is a traumatic experience for all involved, patients and loved ones alike. Having worn both shoes, I can honestly say that the support that I have had from Maggie’s over the years has made a world of difference.
Instead of going through the motions, I am thriving and living well despite the side effects of medication resulting in other health issues.
Maggie’s is for everyone, no matter how long ago the diagnosis was. Maggie’s offers you those in beautiful, restorative spaces as often as you need. As a centre ambassador, I’m determined to support others through such challenging times and start more healing conversations.
If you or someone you love has cancer, we are here with you.
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