My C-cup overflows

Courage, compassion, comfort and challenges all form part of the C-cup of cancer. Sr Rowan Robinson emotively explains this.


The big C

The phrase that no one wants to hear as a diagnosis and yet we know that worldwide the frequency of cancer is increasing. The big C seems to trivialise the disease, or perhaps make it sound less real, less threatening. 

There is still a stigma associated with the diagnosis of cancer and an incorrect assumption that cancer equals death. At a time when a person is at their most vulnerable facing this life-changing disease, they may end up feeling isolated, frightened for the future, and often confused. 

Confronting the facts

There are more than 200 different types of cancer and all of them have one thing in common: abnormal and uncontrolled cell growth. Each cancer is named according to the tissue in which it first originates.

It’s widely known that cancer is a chronic, mostly treatable and sometimes preventable, disease. It’s a chronic disease because more and more people are living with cancer, with the number of people surviving cancer increasing every year. 

It’s comforting to know that this statement is supported by evidence. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) provides a database, called GLOBOCAN, that reports on various types of cancer from more than 180 different countries. These results give an overview on the cancer burden in the world. According to IARC, South African men and women have a 21% chance of developing cancer in their lifetime, with a 12% risk of dying from the disease within a 75-year lifespan.

Is it realistic to say that cancer could be prevented? The experts suggest that by promoting and adopting healthy lifestyle choices that could reduce known risk factors for the disease, such as alcohol and tobacco use, unhealthy diets, obesity and inactive lifestyles, the probability exists that certain cancers could be prevented. 

So, perhaps we should include another C-word into the big C mix: caution.

All the C words 

It’s clear that a huge portion of courage is needed to face cancer as well as to commit to treatment. There are a few more Cs that relate to the goals of treatment. It would be wonderful if there were a cure option for all cancer patients. 

However, the reality is that certain cancers (especially those in an advanced state) may not yet have a curative option. Then the realistic goal of treatment may have to move to containment or control of the disease, to buy time until hopefully a curative option becomes available, or shift the focus to comfort and care, ensuring quality of life and management of any distressing symptoms.

Unfortunately, a new challenge has emerged into our homes and hospitals this year: COVID-19. This adds yet another level of anxiety. Your doctor and healthcare team will be able to provide answers to most questions you have and therefore communication is key. Speak to your doctor, cancer nurse, radiation therapist or navigator to find out what to expect before your next appointment. 

As a people that value the concept of uBuntu (the essential virtues of humanity and compassion), we are still faced with a multitude of challenges. Do we have enough physical, emotional, financial and spiritual resource to see us through this global pandemic? 

It’s clear that cancer and COVID are forcing us to learn new and often creative ways of connecting with each other. How we adjust to this new way of interacting with one another may well determine our futures. 

We are community

As a nurse, I’m used to holding my patients; communicating through words as well as facial expressions. However, now my mask, visor and gloves create an uncomfortable but necessary barrier between us and I can only hold you in my heart and let my eyes and tone of voice reassure you that we remain committed to your care. 

As we all adjust to this new way of life, I pray that your C-cup overflows with calm, compassionate care, and that you find the courage to confront your personal challenges. May you find comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone, that we are community.

Sr. Rowan Robinson is an oncology/haematology nurse and educator with over 20 years’ experience. She currently leads a team of oncology nurse navigators at the Cancer Care Division of Netcare Ltd. She is passionate about caring for patients with cancer and finding ways to improve their journey within the healthcare system.

MEET THE EXPERT – Sr Rowan Robinson

Sr. Rowan Robinson is an oncology/haematology nurse and educator with over 20 years’ experience. She currently leads a team of oncology nurse navigators at the Cancer Care Division of Netcare Ltd. She is passionate about caring for patients with cancer and finding ways to improve their journey within the healthcare system.


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