These days it seems that every cause has a special day/week/month during the year, and this week Macmillan Cancer Support have Cancer Talk Week. Don’t we talk enough about cancer I hear you ask? Unfortunately not, would be my reply to that, although in my own case I probably do! Of course we don’t need a special week to talk about cancer, but it means that there is a lot more coordinated work being done, and it is not cancer specific. In previous years I have seen many interesting subjects being talked about prompted by this particular week, and in this blog I would like to talk about some of my recent experiences of talking to people about cancer. All very different settings and very different audiences, and how despite my own personal experience of both cancer and public speaking, it is still a very difficult subject to tackle.
Since cancer entered my own life, back in 2007 I don’t think there has been a day go past when I am not talking about cancer, nowdays more in the public arena than in my hospital, as my disease settles down. My work now takes me into most cancer environments both private and public, and recently I delivered a training session to some key staff members of a health insurance company. This was a smallish group in a relatively relaxed environment and I started my session by asking for a show of hands of how many people had experience of cancer in their lives, and at least half the audience had. We spent two hours discussing many aspect of the effects of cancer in our lives, which must have been difficult for many of the participants. After the session I received several emails from people thanking me for how I had delivered the content and helping them understand more about cancer. One person in particular observed how difficult it must be to communicate regularly about cancer, and how I helped them with their own situation.
Before Christmas I was invited to Stockholm to do a presentation for some of Europe’s finest stem cell transplant clinicians. Here I was talking to people who had incredible cancer knowledge, but wanted to understand more about things from a patient perspective. Obviously I could use cancer jargon and it would be understood, and there would be nothing that I would be talking about that could shock them. However if I’m honest, on recounting my own experiences in at times quite graphic detail, I think I shocked myself!
Two regular fixtures on my speaking calendar are when I am invited to talk to the new intake of interns at Macmillan, which happens twice a year. This is done as part of their induction day, to enable them to understand a little about the impact of living with cancer. It is something I was keen to see introduced, when I was a volunteer there, and has now been included as part of the process which I am thrilled about, as I understand it’s value to those people and the charity. The audience for these events is generally younger, with many graduates who are experiencing a work environment for the first time. I have done these for about three years now, and always receive enthusiastic feedback from the audience, however I am constantly changing the way I deliver that session as I realise that not everyone is as comfortable talking about cancer as I am.
The fact that I have to think long and hard before I deliver every presentation, may help you to understand the difficulties of talking about cancer. Every audience is different, and each presentation is received uniquely. What is good for one audience may not be right for another one. So the same things apply to us in our everyday lives. Is it easier to talk to someone we know well about their illness, or more difficult? Maybe you are talking at the wrong time for them, possibly they have just received some bad news.? For me I often wonder what is going through the mind of my audience as I recount my own experiences. My own way of dealing with my illness was to communicate with everyone and be as open as I possibly could. However I now have many friends who have also had their own cancer experience, and I tend not to talk too much about what is happening for me, as I understand it brings back their own memories.
Cancer Talk Week gives us a great reason to bring out into the open some of the less discussed issues surrounding cancer or maybe some of the real topical things. Possibly it will encourage some people to talk who haven’t felt able to previously? For me it is a refreshing week which is not slanted to any one cancer, or used as a marketing tool, but can help all of us be more comfortable when talking about cancer. As part of this special week I am delighted to have been invited by Macmillan as a guest on their Twitter a/c for two hours on Thursday 29th January between 11am to 1pm. So if there is anything related to my personal experience and the work I do please feel free to get in touch @macmillancancer #CTWchat and I will look forward to hearing from you then.
How do you feel about talking about cancer? As always I would love to hear your views and experiences, which you can share below.