Looking Beyond The ‘Cancer Label’

One of the great things about the work I do is that I get to meet so many wonderful people from around the world. Of course social media has been an incredible tool for me, so distance is no longer a barrier. A regular part of my life now is ‘Skyping’ with people in some far flung places, and we are all talking about the issues surrounding cancer. Of course many of these are common, wherever we live, so it is wonderful to be part of the global movement that is working to improve the lives of people living with cancer.

One of those wonderful people I referred to earlier is Chloé, who writes about the issues of being ‘labeled,’ and the negativity that this can create. I don’t know why, but as a society we have become very keen to try and fit people into hypothetical boxes and stereotypes. Of course as cancer is becoming more common in all of our lives, it is becoming more of an issue, so Chloé and I have decided to bring it more out into the open.

We now live in a very fast moving world, where we get fed so much information wherever we go, that our brain gets so little time to make up its mind. cancer-label-1So it seems that we very quickly make snap judgements about people based on little real information. What a person looks like, how they behave, what they wear, their religion or colour are all labels we readily use to instantly form our opinions of someone. When I was young I was told “never judge a book by its cover,” never really understanding those pearls of wisdom until later in life, and how true are those words?

I was talking to my wife and friends recently about my thoughts of getting a tattoo, yes me! With no exception everyone laughed and told me it was a ridiculous idea, immediately seeing me as some sort of ex prisoner. They all had their ideas about people who have body art. Not remembering that both my boys have tattoos and have high flying jobs! This is just a quick example of labels.

Having dealt with people my entire life, what I do know is that we are all unique, and if you ask people to describe something you will get so many different ideas of the same thing.cancer-label-2 So what does having cancer mean to you? I’m sure that if you have it, it will mean something different to those who don’t. But aren’t we all just humans, doing our best? In my opinion we are all affected by cancer in one way or another, and as it is getting more common we need to find better ways of understanding how it can impact on us.

One of the most difficult things to understand about cancer is more the psychological issues than the physical ones. For many of us the scars are more emotional and last our lifetime. Because there is nothing to see, does not mean that everything is ok. Our lives have been changed forever. But we are not looking for sympathy, just to get on with life the best way we can. However, society makes that very difficult, as wherever we go we also face discrimination. Work, banks, insurance companies to name but a few. How can we pick up our lives with our health issues and all the other things added to the mix?

Why do we face such lack of understanding in this day and age? Of course not that long ago, cancer was perceived as a ‘death sentence,’ but we have come a long way since then. More of us are living with it than dying from it, bringing a unique set of problems. Many of these institutions are happy to just put us in the ‘affected by cancer list,’ which has almost become a black list! As I mentioned earlier we are all unique but why are we treated the same, and so negatively?

There is so much stigma attached to the labels that society creates, and I remember it well from my early school days. Anyone who appeared different to most was targeted. Overweight, ginger hair, freckles, glasses and the list goes on. But once I got through those years I thought the issues would disappear in adulthood, little realising that they would become more apparent. Now religion and race seem to be two of the most common labels we find today. Everyone judged by the few images we see daily on our communication devices.

This is an issue that is becoming more important wherever we live in the world. How can we expect positive results with so much negativity around how we view others. With so many people being affected by cancer we cannot let this continue. We need to stop the stereotyping of people and take a little more time to see what goes on beneath the surface. Who knows you may be pleasantly surprised!

I am delighted to be collaborating with Chloé on this important issue and have done my own video. If you would like to join us with this campaign we would love you to share yours. Anything between 2-8 mins, it’s easy to do, then upload it to the site. Please take a look to see the incredible work that is being done with the subject of labels in general.



  1. Hi Chris, exactly one week after my father died (he was 74) I had a large dragon tattooed on my upper left arm. It’s the dragon Dad bore on his upper left arm, a modest tattoo he’d had done for his 60th birthday. He’d wanted a tattoo at 16 but had never gone ahead until he decided if he couldn’t do something ‘crazy’ at 60 then when could he. Seeing his tattoo, bright against his pale skin not many days before he died, I knew that I would have my moment of crazy at 55. I went to the same tattoo parlour and asked for the same dragon in the same colours. What the tattoo artist,John, drew out for me that day was far larger – and ended up much brighter – than Dad’s original. I don’t regret my tattoo but, in hindsight, perhaps I should have been braver and had it done before Dad died! It’s my tribute to him. This summer I had my hair shaved off to raise money for a womb cancer support group. With my shaved head and my tattoo visible I occasionally slowed traffic – only a small number of male drivers reacted. In stores there were a small number of male shoppers whose eyes would follow me round, transfixed by my shaved hair. The vast majority of people didn’t bat an eyelid. Not that I cared. I now keep my hair as short as I can while remaining within a professional dress code for work – where I also have to keep my tattoo covered – and I’m considering what, if anything, I might try next. I was the last person anyone expected to get a tattoo, now I keep them all guessing! Thanks as always for yet another interesting blog piece. Photo(s) please if you do get one! Deb xx

    • Thanks for sharing that Deb. those sort of thoughts are going through my head right now, and I’m so pleased what you did brought you joy. I really do get that, btw I think you look fab with both the tat and the short hair 🙂

      Like you, not much bothers me about what people think, particularly about what I wear etc. as you know there is a strange sort of empowerment about our situation now. Having mentioned it a few times and receiving many comments since writing this piece I think I will eventually do it. I don’t have work issues like you either. I am feeling to run some sort of sponsorship for Your simPal and possibly get in done on TV, with the story etc. If I could do it like that it will be a real win, and I would have ‘rebelled’ for once in my life!!! Chris xxxx

  2. How sad (but how true) that we are labeled for our differences. Shouldn’t we be celebrating our uniqueness, our life stories? Looking for commonalities instead trying to force conformity? Has “modern” life become so shallow that judging and categorizing people is more satisfying than real engagement and understanding?

    Don’t judge a book by its cover, indeed! I’ll take the beat up book in the corner any day. I like the creases and tears; the stains; the dog eared pages. They tell an imperfect story–a story I have much more in common with than the shiny bauble du jour that’s here today and gone tomorrow, leaving nothing of value in its wake.

    • It is indeed very sad Pat. I agree totally, that amongst our uniqueness we should be looking at commonalities. We are humans and never be forced into little boxes, like society seems to want to do now days.

      I certainly feel like the beaten up book you describe, but always have a story to tell. Don’t we just love being human!!

  3. Am intrigued by the idea of your tattoo…what and where? Am having a similar dilemma..do I go for a belly button piercing,a tattoo or dying my hair any colour but blonde? I’d say go for it Chris!!If you can’t do something crazy after what you’ve been through I don’t know when you can! As long as you’re not harming anybody I’d still say go for it!!

  4. I’d say the same to you Margaret. Mines really mad, but I thought a picture of the grim reaper with my foot up his backside, on my arm 🙂 Just fancied doing something crazy but all around me think I’m sad 🙁 xx (midlife crisis)
    Tu!! I will tell Mrs L 🙂 I was thinking of getting it done on the TV programme Tattoo Fixers, if they would take me?

  5. Fantastic campaign,Chris. Completely agree we are all too quick to label people. Our work at Jo Divine is exactly about changing this. People get dismissed for wanting to continue having a good sex life, especially after cancer treatment which can impact upon your sexual function in many ways, even a long time after your treatment has ended.I get frustrated when people are told they are lucky to be alive and should just put up with having a less than satisfactory sex life or give up on sexual intimacy completely just because they’ve had cancer.For many people having a good sex life is the one normal thing in their life when coping with cancer and there are so many things people can do to enjoy sex and have fun when sexual function is impaired.
    We are making some progress with some of the healthcare professionals I work with but many still struggle with their own personal attitudes towards enjoying good sexual intimacy and pleasure.Making someone wait for sex therapy for 6 months or more after they’ve had treatment which affects their sex life is not acceptable when suggesting they try different positions, take medication at different times of the day or try sex toys and lubricant in the meantime can make all the difference and they may not need sex therapy when their appointment eventually arrives. It also makes the HCPs seem like a human too.
    The same goes for older people too, our oldest customer is 95 🙂
    Keep up the brilliant work and we will get together in the New Year to do a video.

  6. You are so right Sam! There is still such an incredible stigma around sex, particularly once a serious illness is involved. In many respects we have come a long way with what we view on a daily basis, but it is still a subject that has so much taboo surrounding it. I found exactly the same on my diagnosis, when talking about the impact of chemotherapy. The nurse seemed shocked that I wanted to talk about the sexual side of my life.

    I think the work you do is fantastic, because as you point out sex is so important to many of us. There is indeed a hesitation to broach the subject, which there shouldn’t really be. The peripheral services around cancer are where we really struggle, and these are the things that will make a real difference to those living with and beyond cancer.

    It can be very frustrating for us out there raising awareness but we must continue that work as only then will things begin to change. Thank you for all you do, and I have some ideas for collaboration in 2017 🙂

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