We cancer patients and cancer survivors have a lot to deal with on a regular basis. For many of us, handling cancer stereotypes may also represent a challenge.

As defined by Discovery Canada Education: “A stereotype represents a generalized picture of a person. Created without taking the whole person into account to make such a generalization.  When we stereotype a group of people, we depict all of the individuals within that group as having the same characteristics.”

Why may stereotyping be harmful? According to Taylor’s College:

Stereotypes shape our perceptions of ourselves and those around us. When you define a person solely by the stereotype automatically attached to them, you don’t see the person’s individuality beyond their ‘label.’ Nor allow them to be individuals by their own right. In doing this, you rob them of other aspects of their identity and self. It may not be intentional at most times. However it creates paths of self-doubt and identity turbulence. After all, how will you really forge your identity when you constantly battle the stereotypes thrown at you? 

A very common example relates to body types. Regardless of your body sizes they often result in generalizations. Which imply something gone ‘wrong’ with how you consume food. This potentially leads to development of eating disorders and/or heightened self-consciousness when in truth, lots of factors contribute to the state of body mass, and not just dietary habits.

Once people find out that we have cancer, they may perceive us and treat us differently than before. Many people treat us well. Nonetheless, the first things that may come to their minds they hear our names? Or run into us? [Note: Typically these stereotypes are thought, not actually articulated to us.] “Poor Joel. He’s had PC and his life will be quite short.” “You must be quite weak. Thus, we won’t ask if you want to be involved in an activity.” “You might be contagious. So, I’ll avoid you.” “I don’t like to see you too often. Seeing you makes me sad. And think of our own mortality.”


The Complexities Involved with Handling Cancer Stereotypes


Marti Bennett, a student at Nova Southern University, makes some excellent observations:

Imagine two scenarios involving a cancer patient: the patient is either labeled a “survivor” despite his or her constant fatigue and discrimination in the workplace. Or called “weak” and “fragile.” Despite their desire to be stronger and treated akin to everyone else. Either way, cancer stereotyping is a serious issue that requires attention.

At one World Cancer Day, they provoked a conversation on whether or not cancer stereotypes exist. Consider the first word that comes to mind when thinking about cancer patients. It most likely includes something along the lines of their strength or sorrow. As cancer patients undergo extreme emotional and physical stress, it is understandable that their struggles influence their identity. But hardship should not be the defining factor in describing the individual. Cancer patients are more than their disease.

TV shows such as “The Red Band Society” explore and defy the stereotype that kids with cancer face a completely miserable life. Although fighting cancer is never an easy process, this show stresses the idea that those battling the disease can still experience the fundamentals of life like relationships and laughter.

Additionally, cancer stereotypes do not only pertain to kids. They are relevant to adults as well. Despite efforts by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to fight cancer discrimination in the workplace, affected adults still face stereotypes daily. According to BBC News, “One-fifth of cancer patients face work discrimination,” a worrying statistic. Furthermore, many employers may have reservations about allowing their employees to return to work after cancer treatment. This is due to stereotypes that cancer patients are fragile and cannot handle stressful environments. Though these actions infringe on The Equalities Act, many are not aware of the rights they obtain.

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Handling Cancer Stereotypes

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