Is it time to re-think the cancer narrative?

Photography: Samara Clifford

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You only need to search the words “hate” and “cancer”, “cancer sucks”, and “f*ck cancer” on the internet, to see how much hatred there is for this disease –  there are countless memes, quotes, articles and songs.

With 9.6 million cancer deaths worldwide in 2018 [1], and cancer being the second leading cause of death worldwide [2], this is understandable.

It’s easy to hate cancer, for the heartbreak and pain it causes when it takes the lives of those we love, not to mention the angst and fear it instils in those of us who are diagnosed. I’m sure each of us has a story to tell – it is a disease that touches us all.

I resented cancer for casting an unwelcome shadow over my 30th birthday – a time I should have felt joy, hope and optimism for my future.  Instead, I was reeling in shock, trying to comprehend life after my diagnosis. That resentment intensified when my Mum too was diagnosed, one month after me.

I hated cancer for turning my world upside down, yet again, on my two-year breast cancer anniversary, when I received the news of my melanoma diagnosis.  

I hated cancer for taking away my life-long friend, Nikki, one year after her dream of becoming a mother had come true; and I hated it for taking the lives of three other young women I knew growing up.

This week I’m celebrating six years of being breast cancer free, and four years’ melanoma free.

After much reflection, and taking into consideration all the things I have learned about cancer and its causes, I don’t hate it anymore.

I don’t think cancer itself is the enemy. Nor is hating and blaming it going to help us solve the problem

Let’s look at what the statistics tell us….

  • According to the Australian Cancer Council, an estimated 145,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Australia in 2019 (up from 138,000 in 2018), with that number set to rise to 150,000 by 2020.
  • Nearly 50,000 deaths from cancer are estimated in Australia for 2019 [3].
  • One in two Australian men and women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85 [4].  Staggering, isn’t it, to think that 50% of the population will be affected?
  • Worldwide there will be 27.5 million new cases of cancer each year by 2040 – that’s a 62% increase on the 17 million new cases in 2018 [5].

Governments around the world are pouring billions of dollars into cancer research to find a cure, and research is absolutely needed, but we know that prevention can be better than cure, and not nearly enough is being done to prevent cancer.

Between 30 to 50% of all cancer cases are preventable, according to the World Health Organisation [6], by controlling risk factors, such as:
–  diet
–  smoking
–  alcohol
–  physical exercise
–  reducing our exposure to carcinogens

The latter is where I think government efforts are falling short and where regulation is needed to protect us from known carcinogens.

At the moment these are in our food, cleaning and personal care products, cookware, toys, and pesticides that are sprayed in our parks and gardens, not to mention wireless radiation which is classified as a 2b probable carcinogen by the World Health Organisation (you can read more about the health effects of wireless technology in my article “is wireless technology harmful to our health?”).

Cancer is an easy scapegoat.


News headlines about “fighting cancer” and “the battle against cancer” detract from a much bigger set of problems that are being put in the ‘too hard’ basket by those with the power to implement changes that would save lives.

I was at a luncheon last year at which I heard a senior government health minister say:

All the governments in the world combined cannot solve the cancer problem.

I strongly disagree.

Our words become our reality.

Do we want the current narrative on cancer to be our reality?

Do we want to accept that the disease itself is the enemy, and a problem that can only be fixed if we find a cure?

Or is it perhaps time to re-frame the way we think and talk about cancer, and re-focus our efforts on the things that are within our control, that could give us a real shot at improving the cancer statistics?

Of course, it’s not just up to governments, it’s up to us as well and we mustn’t under estimate the power each of us has, to educate ourselves and take control of our own health, and vote with our hip pocket to send a message (loud and clear) to businesses that aren’t doing the right thing, that this is no longer acceptable.

I am grateful for all that cancer has taught me, and the courage it has given me to live my life in a way I wouldn’t have had done otherwise.

There is so much power in letting go of the hate and negativity, enabling us to focus on things we can all do to bring about changes that can save lives.

If you’d like to help bring about one of these changes, head to www.change.org/glyphosate and sign my petition to restrict the use of glyphosate (the key ingredient in Monsanto’s weedkiller, Roundup) in public spaces.

If you’re interested in learning more about the link between environmental toxins and illnesses like cancer, check out my article “Understanding the link between our environment and our genes”.

I’d love to hear any thoughts you may have on the ideas I’ve shared in this article comments below.If they resonate with you, please help me spread the message further by sharing this article, as it’s only by collectively shifting our thinking that we have a chance at creating changes that could save lives, on a massive scale


Article sources

[1] https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cancer

[2] https://www.who.int/cancer/en/

[3] https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/what-is-cancer/facts-and-figures.html

[4] https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/what-is-cancer/facts-and-figures.html

[5] https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/worldwide-cancer#heading-Zero

[6] [https://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/en/


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Zara is a healthy home consultant, author and keynote speaker on a mission to empower 1 million people to takes steps towards a healthier home. Zara learned about the link between our homes and our health after going through two different types of cancer. Zara is passionate about shining the spotlight on what she believes to be the least understood health challenges of our time, and sharing the things she wishes she had known, that could have prevented the illnesses she has been through. Recognised as one of Australia’s leading health influencers, Zara was a finalist in the 2014 Bupa Health Influencer of the Year Awards. She has appeared on TEN News, Today Show and The Project, been featured in the Herald Sun, I Quit Sugar, and contributed Medibank’s Be. Magazine and Fairfax health online publications. Zara contributed to the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s first comprehensive report on breast cancer in young women in Australia.

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