On July 4, 2013 I came across an essay that was featured in The New York Times Health section – Well Blog written by Mikkail A Sekeres, M.D. entitled “Keeping Cancer a Secret”. In the essay the doctor tells of his relationship with his patient that he has treated for two years with myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of bone marrow cancer. During the course of the examination the doctor learns that the patient has not told his children or his grandchildren about his diagnosis because he didn’t want to burden them. He didn’t tell his employees because he didn’t want them to worry that the boss was sick. The doctor then postulates on why people keep cancer a secret: it’s personal business, a fear of professional discrimination, or altruistic i.e. not wanting others to bear the emotional weight of knowing. He goes on to say “Keeping such a diagnosis hushed, a secret from those who love and care for us, is an unfair burden we shouldn’t allow cancer to dictate, too”. Reading this article disturbed me and I believe points to a much bigger problem in our society – the stigma and shame still associated with a diagnosis of cancer.
(Source: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/04/keeping-cancer-a-secret/?_r=0 )
Back in the Old Days – The Origin of Wrong Thinking!
In 1913 fifteen prominent physicians and business leaders in New York City founded the American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC). At that time, a cancer diagnosis amounted to near certain death. Rarely mentioned in public, this taboo disease was steeped in fear and denial. Physicians sometimes did not tell their patients they had cancer, and patients often did not tell their friends and families if they had been diagnosed. The ASCC set about writing educational articles for popular magazines and professional journals; publishing Campaign Notes, a monthly bulletin of cancer information; and recruiting physicians throughout the country to help educate the public about the warning signs of cancer. This was the first concerted effort to bring cancer out of the shadows.
In 1936, Marjorie G. Illig, an ASCC field representative and chair of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Committee on Public Health proposed creating a legion of volunteers whose sole purpose was to wage war on cancer. They called themselves the Women’s Field Army, its’ recruits donned khaki uniforms, complete with insignia of rank and achievement. They went out into the streets to raise money and educate the public.
In 1935, there were 15,000 people active in ‘cancer control’ throughout the United States. At the close of 1938, there were 150,000. In 1945, the ASCC was reorganized as the American Cancer Society (ACS). According to the ACS website, after WWII “the nation could at last focus its attention on the public health enemy at home”. In 1946, philanthropist Mary Lasker and her colleagues raised more than $4 million for the Society – $1 million of which was used to establish and fund the Society’s cancer research program. In 1947, they began their famous ‘cancer signals’ campaign, a public education effort about the signs and symptoms of cancer.
(Excerpted from Source: http://www.cancer.org/aboutus/whoweare/our-history )
My Family History
As a child I learned my grandmother died in the mid 1950’s of cancer before I was born but no one talked about it so we didn’t know what type of cancer she had. I understand it was common at the time not to keep good records or even disclose this information within families. When I was older I surmised that my grandmother probably had some form of pelvic cancer since I learned that she had radium implants inserted through her vagina. That’s all I knew. Was it bladder, uterine, ovarian? Nobody talked about it. People diagnosed with cancer and succumbing to the disease often had ‘natural causes’ reported on their death certificates. So I was curious — when did doctors begin to document a cancer diagnosis?
The History of Cancer Registries
- 1926 — First hospital registry at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, CT
- 1935 & 1946 — First central cancer registries (Connecticut and California)
- 1956 — American College of Surgeons requires a cancer registry for approved cancer programs
- 1971 — National Cancer Act budgets monies to the National Cancer Institute for research, detection and treatment of cancer
- 1973— Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program of NCI establishes the first national cancer registry
- 1992—Congress establishes a National Program of Cancer Registries (Public Law 102-515)
- 1993 — State laws make cancer a reportable disease
The Big ‘C’ Continue Reading…