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How to Discuss Colon Cancer during the Holidays without Being a Debbie Downer

Jessica Francis

Colon Cancer

My husband and I don’t really share similar tastes in television shows, but one show we can always agree on is Saturday Night Live. Over the years, we’ve picked up characters and skits that are personal favorites, and no matter how many times we watch them, they always bring out the laughs. One personal favorite we both share is Debbie Downer. Debbie is the ultimate pessimist who interjects lighthearted conversation with negative topics and depressing facts. Did you get a new kitten? Debbie will be the first to remind you that feline AIDS is the number one killer of domestic cats. Did you cook your stuffing inside the Thanksgiving turkey? Debbie will anxiously inform you about the risk of foodborne illnesses. Debbie is the kind of friend no one wants to have around for the holidays, or any other day, for that matter!

When you gather with your loved ones to celebrate the holiday season, you have the perfect opportunity to talk with them about family health history and the importance of colon cancer screening, but how do you do this without sounding like a Debbie Downer? After all, wouldn’t most people rather stick to cheerful topics like personal accomplishments and favorite holiday memories?

Broaching a heavy subject like colon cancer can be difficult, but it is so crucial to the health and well-being of your loved ones. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 40% of individuals over the age of 50 are not current with colon cancer screenings. There’s a very good chance that one of these people could be your grandparent, parent, aunt, uncle, cousin or sibling. What if this one discussion inspired a loved one to take that first step to schedule a life-saving procedure? Wouldn’t that be worth the risk?

There’s no easy way to talk about colon cancer over the holidays, but with a little preparation and the right approach, you can make the conversation easier. Here are some tips to help spark a meaningful conversation that can have a profound impact on the health of your family members:

Stay positive – Debbie Downer would be quick to point out that 1 in 20 individuals will be affected by colon cancer, but you don’t have to take the negative approach to get your point across. Keep the conversation positive by letting your family members know that routine screening makes colon cancer one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer. When discovered in its early stages, colon cancer has a 90% chance of being cured.

Ask questions – Everyone has a story to share, so give them an opportunity to share it! Ask your grandmother how her health has been this year, or ask your uncle if he knows of any health conditions that run in the family. Chances are, they will be more than happy to share their experiences with you, and you can use this information to piece together a complete picture of your family’s health history.

Use humor – Laughter truly is the best medicine, especially when discussing an uncomfortable topic like colon cancer! Search the internet for a good joke, meme or YouTube video to lighten the mood and get your family laughing. Conversation will flow much more freely when everyone feels relaxed and cheerful.

Share prevention information – Routine screening is a crucial part of preventing colon cancer, but so is a healthy lifestyle. Talk to your relatives about healthy lifestyle changes they can make to lower their cancer risk, such as:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Eating a high-fiber, low-fat diet
  • Avoiding red meats and meats that have been processed, smoked or cured
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Giving up tobacco

Offer hope and encouragement – Perhaps your loved ones know they aren’t current with colon cancer screening because fear of the procedure or concerns about costs are preventing them from moving forward. Use this opportunity to clear up any confusion and offer solutions to get them back on track. For example, you can remind them that many insurance policies fully cover screening colonoscopies and anesthesia costs under the Affordable Care Act. Assure them that they will experience minimal discomfort with this procedure, and if all goes well, it won’t need to be repeated for another 10 years. You can even volunteer to help them schedule an appointment or offer to be their designated driver on exam day.

Discussing colon cancer at your family get-together is arguably one of the most difficult situations you will face this holiday season, but it is also one of the most important. Do your part to make sure your loved ones are here for many more holiday seasons to come by encouraging them to stay current with colon cancer screenings. It’s one gift you can give them that will truly last a lifetime.



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