Not so long ago certain medical conditions were discussed in a low whisper.
You may recall when cancer was labeled “Big C” and pregnancy was labeled “familial.” In 2020 we are far from whispering about cancer or any number of mental health issues. But that doesn’t mean that some terms still don’t embarrass.
One such disease is anal cancer, which is on the rise in the US, especially among women over 50. When Charlie’s Angels star Farrah Fawcett was diagnosed with anal cancer in 2006, she spoke openly about her condition, which cost her three lives years later.
Another celebrity who spoke about her anal cancer was Marcia Cross of Desperate Housewives. Last June, Ms. Cross told CNN, “I know there are people who are ashamed,” she said. “You have cancer. Should you be ashamed of yourself, too, like you’ve done something bad because it settled in your anus?”
A compilation of data from various national databases found that the incidence of anal cancer in the United States increased from 2001 to 2016. Women made up 62.5% of the 91,679 reported cases during this period. Whites made up 86.7% and African Americans made up 10.9%. The annual percentage change was 2.1% in total and 2.8% for those over 50.
Anal cancer is a rare but preventable disease, according to researchers who forecast 8,590 new cases (5,900 women and 2,690 men) with 1,350 deaths related to anal cancer in 2020.
Living with a medical stigma
Ms. Fawcett filmed her medical journey with anal cancer, which was later turned into a documentary. She said she initially hated hearing her name and anal cancer in the same sentence, but wanted to destroy the stigma associated with the disease.
“When a person is ashamed of a medical diagnosis like anal cancer, it’s important to find a community of other people studying a similar diagnosis,” said licensed social worker Haley Neidich, who offers teletherapy to individuals in both Florida and Connecticut .
Facebook can be a great place to search, but doctors often suggest local support groups as well. “People who have been there have the deepest insight into communicating with others about your health and can provide a sense of support and normalization regarding the emotional experiences associated with the diagnosis,” Ms. Neidich told Medical Daily.
How to deal with an embarrassing diagnosis
Depending on your sensitivity, you can pause on any number of medical diagnoses, such as: B. with mental disorders, sexually transmitted infections like herpes or chlamydia and with more general problems like hemorrhoids and urinary incontinence.
“When people talk about problems with private parts, there are especially problems with shame and embarrassment,” wrote Dr. Toby Chai, chief urologist at Boston Medical Center, in a 2018 Yale Medicine Journal story about embarrassing health problems. “But there is no taboo subject,” he added.
Whether someone is ashamed depends on gender, age, upbringing, culture, and other factors. The patient may also feel angry, confident, ashamed, or shocked if they are diagnosed with an illness they deem to be embarrassing.
“People with new diagnoses should feel empowered to only pass on details about their condition to people who are close to them and do not judge,” said Ms. Neidich. “There is nothing wrong with indicating that you are dealing with a medical problem without disclosing additional details.”
Regardless of your diagnosis or emotional response, it’s important to remember that you are not powerless. There are steps you can take to manage your situation, alleviate your embarrassment, and navigate your medical journey without shame or fear. Some tips are:
- Choose the right support for you. Tell trusted close friends and family members first. Don’t go alone.
- Open up to your doctors. The people who care for you need to know the right information in order to treat you. So don’t let discomfort stop you from sharing with professionals.
- Join a support group. Sharing with other people who have the same disease-specific problems can make you feel less alone, whether in person or online.
- Practice your message. “A pat like” I’m not feeling well right now talking about the details “can be helpful in relieving anxiety,” said Ms. Neidich.
“Anyone with a new mental health or medical diagnosis, especially those with associated stigma, will benefit from editing the diagnosis and care plan with a licensed mental health advisor,” she said.