It is an absolute fact that cancer is not contagious. That means cancer does not spread from one person to another.
As a medical student in the early 1990s, I first came across patients with cancer in the wards of the large government hospital where we were posted. One of them was a dignified elderly man, with a large sore involving his entire right foot. He had Marjolin’s ulcer, a skin cancer that can develop in long-standing scars – in his case the scar of a snake bite in childhood.
Over the course of his stay in the hospital, I observed his “prepping” for surgery, the surgery itself (an amputation of his leg just below the knee), and subsequent recovery, which took about a week. He was provided with a pair of wooden crutches, and planned for a prosthetic leg – a low-cost “Jaipur foot.”
General hospitals at that time were a beehive of social activity, with throngs of people visiting sick relatives. But not for this man – apart from the mandatory presence of a relative during the day of surgery, he had absolutely no visitors.
The day before his discharge, I struck up a conversation with him. It turned out he was a widower, but had four adult children and several grandchildren. I asked him who was going to help him till he adapted to his prosthetic leg. Very matter-of-factly he told me, “That’s the difficult part – because I have cancer.”
I did not understand. I asked him “What does that mean?”
“I have cancer – so they are afraid.”
“Afraid of what? Don’t they know that cancer is not contagious?”
His response was a smile – as if I was too young and naive to understand.
Nearly 30 years later, despite many advances in society, this phenomenon is still distressingly common.
Why do people, even loved ones, sometimes shun a person with cancer? Is it because they believe that they could contract the disease? Nothing is farther from the truth. Or is it simply because they are afraid of a disease that they don’t understand?
People with cancer are physically and emotionally vulnerable. It is a societal failure if they are denied empathy and support when most needed.