Family secrets

During a recent outing, Edwina told me that her auntie, her mother’s sister, had just passed away from breast cancer. According to Edwina, “the service was real nice,” but she was surprised to learn that her auntie had been suffering from the disease since 2000.

“I thought she just found out she had breast cancer,” Edwina said, still a bit in shock from her discovery.

“Why do you think she never told you?” I asked her. After all, Edwina’s aunt lived in Fairfield right here in Jefferson County, not much of a drive for Edwina and brother Joe-Joe when the car they share is running,

“I don’t know. She just never talk about it.”

I started thinking about the secrets families keep, especially when it comes to diagnoses (confirmed or suspected) of diseases that carry a stigma. Even though there’s been a lot of progress over the past few decades in ridding cancer of some of its shameful associations, that fear of talking about a family member afflicted with the disease is still a reality in many African American communities–at least in this part of the country.

When I visited Nepal a few years back, I met several families who were actively keeping news about a family member’s illness from the individual suffering from a disease that might very well lead to death. It reminded me of a time in the U.S. when a patient might grow weaker and weaker without ever knowing the truth of his/her circumstances.

While Edwina’s auntie clearly knew she’d had cancer for well over a decade, the news wasn’t for public consumption. Not even for family.


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