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Cancer stigma

Rebecca Medhurst
Saturday, March 08, 2014

ALTHOUGH cancer mortality rates are decreasing, the Health Ministry and doctors across Fiji are still concerned about the lack of education and discussion of this disease.

Farzana Mastapha, a Fiji Cancer Society volunteer, told this newspaper about her experiences working with cancer patients.

"The biggest thing I've found is the lack of support for cancer patients," she said.

"Often the patient is abandoned by family and friends, because they worry that the disease in contagious and can be passed on to their children."

When asked why she thought this was, the university-educated mother-of-two spoke of the stigma that surrounds cancer, and the cultural inhibitions that prevent many patients, particularly women, from coming forward when they first experience symptoms.

"Even educated women in high-powered jobs have never had a pap smear, they are afraid when they hear about swabs," Ms Mastapha said, adding that for her and everyone else involved in the Fiji Cancer Society, education is key.

"Being involved is a good thing, I can learn information about the disease and pass it on to my friends," she added.

But often, it seems, information is not readily available, and when patients become too sick to ignore symptoms, the cancer is already terminal.

Ms Mastapha says a diagnosis of cancer, whether terminal or in the early stages, should not be the cause of a loss of support.

"Often all a patient needs is a cup of tea and to talk about how they are feeling, even a stranger can provide comfort to sufferers."

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