Saturday 20 January 2018

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Coping with Breast Cancer New Stories

How does hearing about cancer in the news impact on us?

In our weekly discussion, we thought about how we cope with news stories and information on (social) media about breast cancer.

Our varied responses generally fell somewhere on a continuum between two positions - on the one hand was 'avoidance', where we cope by completely avoiding any information relating to cancer. At the other extreme is what we might call 'immersion' - where we cope by seeking out as much information as possible - leaflets from the hospital, BBC news, (Breast) Cancer research, charities, websites upon websites. If we can achievie a middle ground, by gaining an understanding of our situation, we can empower ourselves to understand some of the complexities we face - such as the 'scientific' basis for risk-reducing surgery - but, we risk being flooded with information if we aren't careful.

It's in our nature as human beings to search for explanations, for answers and information to help us make sense of what has happened to us. It's not surprising then that we try to find out possible ‘causes’ for breast cancer and we can become bombarded about risk factors, diet, exercise, etc, etc and we can find ourselves drowning in an ocean of mixed information, opinions and facts released by different sites.

Whether we have primary or secondary breast cancer, we are particularly sensitive for (any) information relating to the causes and prevention of breast cancer as well as factors aiding and prolonging survival. The headline, "I had alcohol-related breast cancer. Here’s why I still drink", for instance, carries the implication there was something we did, or didn't do that led us to develop cancer. We ask ourselves 'could I have done anything to prevent it?' We feel responsible.

We need our families and the wider community to understand how sensitive we are to information and the way that breast cancer is portrayed in the media, the way it creates unhelpful stereotypes, unrealistic expectations and misleading headlines. Very many of us are distressed by well-meaning but highly emotive adverts by the big charities - ironically the very organisations seeking to raise awareness and offer us support! Likewise, some of us felt ambushed by the prevalence of cancer - from the topical 'cancer story-line' in our favourite soap opera, or film.

Our psychological vulnerability increases our sensitivity, and given that our fear of recurrence and fear of progression of disease loom high, we are vigilant for any detail we can use to our advantage, to help us survive. Our fear can drive us to grab with both hands any new developments, whether in progress or substantiated - they mean a lot to us. Friends, family, and colleagues are keen to convey their information and social media has a cunning way of portraying the best (this 'know your lemons campaign') and the worst (fake news and pointless awareness raising games )

So, how can we work around these issues so important to our survival, yet that come with such mixed messages?

Naz told us that science is not always exact, it comes with a margin of error. She explained that problems with replicability and the reliability of trials are not unknown. Alot of people have lost their faith in medicine, because its growth is slow, and its effectiveness questionable - though Naz pointed out that 'proper' science grows slowly and steadily. In these circumstances, in an ever more complex world, we must learn to navigate the vast sea of information, choices and options open to us while trying not to get ourselves into an anxious, overwhelmed state of mind where fear and apprehension follows.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a diagnosis of breast cancer and you would like to join our private group, please contact is by facebook message


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