Insights into the onkos…

I have been reading The Emperor of All Maladies, a Biography of Cancer, by Siddharta Mukherjee.

This is an excellent book for anyone who is interested in the medical history of cancer. I was impressed by Mukherjee’s discussion of the derivation of the word ‘oncology’. It comes from the ancient Greek theatrical mask, the onkos – ‘a tragic mask that was often “burdened” with an unwieldy conical weight on its head to denote the psychic load carried by its wearer’.

There is therefore an implication in the etymology of the word ‘oncology’ that there is a connection between the emotional burdens and the physical masses carried by the person with cancer.

This is particularly interesting to me, given that so much of my work is involved in helping people to unburden themselves of their ‘psychic load’, as part of a return to health. I would not like to suggest in any way that emotional issues cause cancer – that would be naive, simplistic and inaccurate. However, I have noticed that there is a pattern in many people that a significant emotional issue occurred some 18 months to 2 years before the initial diagnosis; and that it may well be helpful to explore this as part of a therapeutic plan.

Representations of theatrical masks, such as the onkos, were often carved on sarcophagi, to frighten off and deter grave robbers. There is an excellent collection of sarcophagi in the Antalya Museum, Turkey.