I gave a copy of Breast Cancer Meets Mindfulness to my friend Lenore. A month later, she admitted she hadn’t been able to open the book because—she eventually realized—she felt she might get cancer if she read about cancer. She thought, irrationally, that cancer might be contagious.
When she shone the light of reason on that subterranean belief Cancer is contagious, Lenore was able to realize the ridiculousness of the thought that was driving her emotion of Hunh-unh. I don’t want any of that. Get me out of here. I don’t want to read about cancer. I don’t want to think about cancer.
She was able to relax enough to open the book, which she now thinks is a gem.
Lenore’s superstitious belief might explain why some of our friends drop off our radar screen when we receive the diagnosis of cancer. Those friends who don’t call, don’t write, or don’t visit may fear the “contamination” of a cancer diagnosis.
Shunning is an age-old practice of creating social distance for one reason or another. This distance really says more about the friend than about the person with the cancer diagnosis.
When friends drop back, this is our opportunity to practice self-compassion toward our self as we miss that dear friend. And it’s an opportunity to practice compassion for the friend who may superstitiously think that cancer is contagious.