Cancer treatment is still widely misunderstood.

Source:@Tima Miroshnichenko

Taking away the stigma of talking about cancer will improve the wellbeing of cancer patients, according to Birmingham palliative care experts.

According to Cancer Research UK, 1 in 2 people in the UK born after 1960 will get a cancer diagnosis in the span of their life.

However, misconceptions about cancer research and treatment create a ‘fear factor’ according to volunteers at St Mary’s Hospice in Birmingham.

“Cancer is still associated with dying, but I think that is a wider problem in western society, we don’t talk about death. People are afraid of death and dying,” said Mike Newbold, hospice worker.

He volunteers for St Mary’s Hospice in Birmingham, because of the ‘excellent’ and ‘personal care’ given to his wife whilst she was terminally ill.

Mike and Maggie Newbold on their Ruby wedding in 2010(photo by Mike Newbold)

Mary Mulkeen, a retired registered nurse in Birmingham agreed.

She said: “When people talk about cancer, they think about dying and pain but that’s not the case, there’s so much medication to help people… A palliative care unit is not a depressing place.”

A doctor of palliative care in the West Midlands, who cannot be named due to patient confidentiality, addressed another misunderstanding in palliative care: “One misconception is that palliative care is just about dying, it’s about symptom control, even providing support after death.”

Similarly, to Newbold, the doctor recognised that talking more about death is a way of raising awareness.

The Palliative care doctor said: “One interesting idea is a death cafe. It is a non-profit get together, the purpose is to discuss death and dying… I know it sounds morbid but it’s one of the ways to get conversations going and raise awareness.”

Talking openly about death, with communities like BrumYodo, helps to overcome the stigma of not discussing terminal illness.

Their ethos is to create space to think and talk about death and dying, or Dying Matters which Mike is a member of.

Yet cancer is not always a death sentence. That is another misconception, said retired Leigh-on-Sea-based radiographer Kim Richards.

“Treatments are advancing. Life with cancer can be fulfilling and enjoyed. It does not always mean death is imminent,” Richards said.

Cancer research is funded by donations, volunteer Mr Newbold said that most who have donated to the hospice for example had experienced a loved one having cancer.

“I think people need to be aware of what’s available to them and what could be done if there was more money for research,” he said.

“The more research we do the higher the chance better treatment will be found.”


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