Some cancer patients can find it hard to tell family and friends about their diagnosis: ‘You’re dealing with this all alone’


Ever since Anthony Bridges was diagnosed with prostate cancer six years ago, he hasn’t stopped talking about it. He told her about it Facebook friends at the same time.

Now, the 68-year-old man from Georgia spends most of his time working with others to encourage other men to talk to their doctor about getting tested.

Not everyone is willing to share, for cultural or privacy reasons – or because they don’t want to talk about it. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin kept his prostate cancer quiet, including President Joe Biden. And soon, Kate, Queen of Waleshe waited several weeks before publicly revealing his cancer.

Austin described his diagnosis as a “punch in the gut” and his instincts were to keep it a secret. In her video statement, Kate said it was “very shocking” and that she and her husband, Prince William, have been trying to “keep this private for the sake of our little family.”

What he did did not surprise the experts. Dr. Otis Brawley says he has met men who don’t even want to talk about their prostate cancer with their doctors.

Brawley, a professor of oncology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, recalled decades ago when cancer was unnamed, called the “Big C” instead.

The public discussion around prostate cancer has changed, he said, in the past Sen. Bob Dole he announced his diagnosis and spoke openly about erectile dysfunction, the results of treatment.

For breast cancer, it was first lady Betty Fordwho spoke openly about his surgery and treatment.

“That opened the floodgates. It was good to talk about cancer,” Brawley said.

In the US, cancer death rates have fallen over the years, largely due to progress against lung cancer, screening and better treatment. However, it is still the number 2 killer in the world, behind heart disease, and cases are increasing as the population grows and grows.

Elaine Smith, who counsels patients at City of Hope Cancer Center Atlanta, said a patient’s comfort level often depends on their personality. Some do not want to be known as cancer patients.

“Many of my patients say people talk to them differently,” Smith said. “‘They trust me differently, they look at me differently.’

Sometimes people worry about how their friends will react if they miss work so they can get help and support.

“Most of the time, we wouldn’t admit it, but …. who sometimes may have a part in how they are counted in their work,” said Dr. Bradley Carthon, from Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute.

Patients often share with their families, experts said, but even that can be difficult.

Kate noted that it took time to explain “everything to George, Charlotte and Louis in the right way for them and to reassure them that I will be fine.”

“They have additional problems with having young children,” said Dr. Christina Annunziata, an oncologist at the Inova Schar Cancer Institute in Fairfax, Virginia. “It’s hard to explain to friends and family, or co-workers. It’s hard to explain to young children.

The downside to keeping a secret is that “you’re doing it alone,” Carthon said.

Dr. Paul Monk, who supports cancer patients at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said it’s important for patients to bring a family member or other support to appointments.

He said: “I don’t think they hear anything I say.” “And when you bring another person to your doctor, that’s another set of ears and I think that’s really important.”

Bridges’ wife, Phyllis, ministered to him when he began treatment for prostate cancer in 2018. He said he had no symptoms and only went for tests at his insistence.

Bridges felt called to share his story with others, especially black men, and is now part of a program called Project Elevation. Working through local churches, the program’s goal is to eliminate the stigma associated with prostate cancer and raise awareness about screening.

“We have to change the mindset,” said the Albany, Georgia, resident. “We have to get rid of the fear.”

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