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Old Bexley and Sidcup MP James Brokenshire says think before speaking to people with cancer

PUBLISHED: 07:00 06 November 2019

Lung cancer survivor James Brokenshire wants us all to think before we speak to those with the disease. Picture: Chris McAndrew

Lung cancer survivor James Brokenshire wants us all to think before we speak to those with the disease. Picture: Chris McAndrew

Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Old Bexley and Sidcup MP James Brokenshire is supporting a lung cancer charity after battling the condition himself.

The former secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, was treated for lung cancer and said: "I remember when I returned to work, a colleague turned round and said 'Oh, I didn't expect you to come back'.

"I know they didn't mean any offence, but it demonstrates the nihilistic perception there is around lung cancer and, therefore, the language associated with it.

"We need to find a better way to discuss cancer, to not be so afraid and uncomfortable about this perceived taboo and talk more openly and less awkwardly."

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is urging that everyone avoids making crass or hurtful comments.

Mr Brokenshire was Northern Ireland secretary until January 2018 when he stood down so he could have surgery. But he was back in Parliament within weeks.

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He said: "Yes, far too many people are still dying of lung cancer; and please note, they are dying, not losing their fight. However, we are now entering an era where more people are able to live with this illness for longer or, as in my case, survive it."

Among the most annoying comments, according to the foundation, is "I know someone who died of that", along with "I feel so sorry for you", closely followed by "you're so brave", "a victim" and "lost their fight".

Many also resent having their life-partner described as their "carer".

Foundation chief executive, Paula Chadwick, said: "We want people to think before speaking to someone with lung cancer. Some of the things people have said are just jaw-dropping.

"If someone tells you they have lung cancer, ask them how they are, not 'Did you smoke?' Ask them if they need anything, not 'How long have you got?'"

Every day in the UK 130 people are diagnosed with lung cancer and it is the most common cancer in the world.

Paula added: "People with lung cancer need sincerity, not platitudes."

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