- Julian Quick, 28, helps create illustrated memes highlighting bizarre comments said to him after his cancer diagnosis.
- He wants to promote open and honest conversation and discourage people from dodging the topic or using inflated language when talking to someone with cancer.
- The memes show what people living with cancer want you to know about how (not) to ‘speak cancer’.
1 December 2016 – Julian Quick, 28, lives with a rare form of bone cancer and was so dismayed by some of his friends’, family members’ and colleagues’ unwillingness and inability to speak frankly to him about his condition that he has helped create a suite of memes to help show people how (not) to ‘speak cancer’.
Julian, a keen sportsman from Weymouth, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma when he was 26. A University of Exeter sports science graduate and captain of his local rugby team, his cancer was diagnosed in 2014 after having an MRI scan for shoulder pain he suspected was due to a rugby injury. But it turned out to be a tumour. Julian has since been undergoing chemotherapy – and has noticed a change in the way some people speak to him.
Julian comments: “Many people think that speaking to someone living with cancer will be difficult or awkward and therefore either try to avoid the subject or offer overly-dramatic ‘fighting talk’ encouragement. While my friends and family have been incredibly supportive in various different ways, some initially responded to the news of my diagnosis with silence and discomfort, and by sharing some of the stranger comments I have received, I want to help change people’s perspectives so others in my situation aren’t faced with unhelpful reactions. There’s definitely a stigma associated with talking about cancer, and when people say something they later regret, it’s often because they are trying so hard to avoid stepping on eggshells, they trip themselves up in the process. I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences, I can encourage people to try to speak more openly about cancer.”
To help spread the word, Julian has been working with AXA PPP healthcare’s Dedicated Cancer Nurses and others living with cancer to create vintage-style memes that illustrate a range of awkward situations in which they have found themselves. They include comments such as:
- “It’s lucky you didn’t have one of those ‘proper’ cancers…”
- “The chemo must have saved you a fortune on hair products…” and
- “My sister had your cancer and she just ran a marathon…”
Julian adds: “Despite good intentions, even ‘normal’, everyday conversations about sport or nights out can be awkward and peppered by inappropriate comments about my cancer. Working to recover from my cancer is the main focus in my life at the moment, so I appreciate that striking up a conversation can sometimes be difficult for friends, family and colleagues who have never experienced it before and are keen to talk about work, relationships, holiday and sport. People sometimes worry about what to say and so don’t say anything, whereas others try a more humorous approach, which could cause offence in the wrong situation. Trust me when I say that a frank, down-to-earth conversation is all that’s needed.”
AXA PPP healthcare’s research of people who have or have had cancer and returned to work* backs up Julian’s call for tackling the stigma around talking about cancer. When asked how they preferred people to talk to them about their cancer outside work, 44 per cent of those who have or have had cancer and returned to work say they’d prefer people to be frank and open about it. Twenty-two per cent say they’d like people to be empathetic and sensitive to their feelings. But in practice only 42 per cent of respondents say that people try to be frank and open when they talk to them about their cancer.
Denise Dallender, a Dedicated Cancer Nurse for AXA PPP healthcare, comments: “Talking about cancer with loved ones affected by the disease can be hard but avoiding talking about what they’re going through can leave them feeling isolated or unsupported. Everyone’s experience of living with cancer is different so it’s not surprising that many of them don’t want to hear that ‘someone I know had that’ or that they don’t feel comforted or boosted by fighting talk. Instead, just ask them how they are and encourage them to open up – they’re still the same person they were before being diagnosed with cancer.”
Julian’s experience has also inspired the healthcare company to publish a new guide called ‘Let’s Speak Cancer’ which offers practical tips to those with cancer on how to talk about it. To read or download it visit www.axappphealthcare.co.uk/speakcancer and join the conversation using #LetsSpeakCancer.
*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from OnePoll. Total sample size was 500 adults who suffer/have suffered with cancer and returned to work. Fieldwork was undertaken in September 2016.