What does a cancer patient look like?

One of the first  things  I remember  my Macmillan nurse saying to me was. ‘It will be hard because you won’t look ill. You won’t look like everyone’s idea of a cancer patient; bald,thin,sick bowl in hand’

That appearance is the characature of the cancer patient. Google ‘what does a cancer patient look like’ and you will see image after image of bald women. It’s similar to the ‘mental patient’ Halloween costume a major supermarket had to pull from their shelves a couple of years ago.  Stereotypes are never good.

Cancer is not one beast. It’s over 200 creatures who each require different treatment, different medicines with different side effects.

It is rare for a cervical cancer patient to lose their hair. Surgery is often used with no need for radiotherapy or chemo.  If chemo is needed the chemo drug most commonly used to treat cervical cancer does not cause hair loss. Just as cancer has many varieties so does chemo.

Cervical cancer hits you on the inside. And it hits hard. Loss of fertility, continence, sexual functioning. All very common side effects of treatment. Not spoken about, not seen, but there, affecting your life permanently. Because none of these are on the outside it’s very easy for people to say, think and believe ‘You look so well’

The reason I write this is because a new campaign  has been launched to get women to attend their smears. The poster features that stereotypical cancer patient, bald and gaunt.  The image  of a cancer patient that very,very few cervical cancer patients will ever look like.

I hope it does its job of shocking women to take action. But I hope it is followed by a campaign highlighting that with cervical cancer losing your hair is the very least of your worries.

Here’s a picture of me, 3 weeks after my first major op. What you can’t see is the 12 inch scar across my belly. The catheter  bag attached to my thigh. You can’t see the fact that I could still hardly walk. You can’t see that I’ve lost any chance of having another child.

So please don’t fall for the stereotypical cancer patient.  Especially when it doesn’t fit.

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