You’re leaving your doctor’s office. He or she has just given you the results of your biopsy. You have cancer!
You feel light-headed. Tiny beads of sweat begin breaking out across your brow as a terrible churning starts in the pit of your stomach. You’re making your way out the door trying to wear a calm expression as your mind is a whorl of confusing thoughts. At the same time your heart, beating at a frantic pace, is pushed to and fro by huge gusts of emotion blowing from every which way. There’s such cacophony within, it feels almost impossible to lift your feet and put one in front of the other. Yet somehow you manage.
Outside, it’s a beautiful spring day. The sun is brighter than you ever remember it being. Birds are singing loudly, buds on the trees are almost popping with bright green and pink. Clumps of happy people pass by chattering and laughing. Everything is bursting with joy and life. Everything, that is, but you.
Suddenly, one clear thought pierces the hubbub in your mind. You have to tell someone! You have to share this incomprehensible news. But with whom? Who do you trust with your new diagnosis?
The First Person is Easy to Identify
For most of us, that’s true. Almost a no-brainer. It’s your husband, wife, partner, significant other: the person with whom you share your life and heart. Or it’ll be the person closest to you: a best friend, a family member.
And Then What?
Who next? Ah, there’s the rub!
First, let me say I believe the decision who to share your diagnosis with is yours and yours alone. You have a right to feel comfortable and protected about who knows and who doesn’t. Don’t let anyone push or cajole you into telling anybody. I know that can be difficult, but unlike so many other things in our lives, this is ALL ABOUT YOU. That’s right! Nobody else but you!
Your Support System
The people you’ll probably need to tell early in your cancer journey will be those who’ll be an important part of your support system. And you will need a support system. This isn’t a hang nail. Even the supposedly easy cancers (indolent, slow-growing, chronic diseases) bring real challenges and definite changes. Those of us with aggressive cancers will probably face more in the challenges and changes department.
You don’t have to recruit an army, and the network doesn’t have to be fully formed in a day. Rome and all that, you know. I didn’t tell a lot of people early on. I basically just told my partner. When I had to undergo radiation treatment which affected my work schedule, I told one person at the office. Period. That’s changed now, of course.
A Few Thoughts
Having dealt with this for over five years, I have some additional thoughts on the matter. I’ll share them, and as with everything I post, you can do with them what you like. Again, I’m just another patient.
The Secret is Never Complete – Don’t expect anyone you tell to keep your diagnosis a complete secret. I’m serious – don’t expect AN-Y-BO-DY to keep the secret. You can ask them to; I did. You can hope they’ll keep their promise. Again, as I did. That will significantly reduce the number of people who hear about it through the grapevine.
But, remember, the news is a shock to your loved ones, too. Your spouse, for instance, may need their own support network to help them deal with the situation so they can, in turn, help you the way they want to. Don’t make this secret a litmus test for your relationship.
Trust Your Gut – If you feel it appropriate, even desirable, to share the news with someone, trust your instincts about people. That goes the other way, too. If you don’t feel it’s right to tell someone immediately – even a close friend or family member – don’t feel guilty.
There will likely come a point at which you can’t escape telling someone who’s very near, but the timing is in your hands.
Too Much is Too Much – Personally, I think sharing the news judiciously, especially early on, is often the best course. Obviously, your situation – disease and stage – will have a bearing on the urgency. Even so, don’t be surprised if some take it as a burden rather than an honor to be told something so consequential. You’ll probably be able to see it in their eyes. LOL
We All Have Different Talents – What I mean by that is some people can’t handle difficulty or illness well. For whatever reason, it just isn’t in their wheelhouse. Others, on the other hand, rise to the occasion. People will likely surprise you on both sides of that equation.
Don’t be too angry with somebody close whose talent doesn’t lie in support and succor. No doubt they still love you but aren’t gifted with the abilities you need right now. It will do no one any good to demand it.
I have a couple of anecdotes about that last one I’ll share another time. This post is already getting too long.
Before I wrap up, let me clarify one thing. All the above pertains to your loved ones, family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, social acquaintances, etc. Finding a patient support group is another matter entirely. I say go! Find your fellow patients and share!
That said, I’ll finish on this note.
It’s Your News
There’s really no single right way to go about sharing this news. It truly does depend on what makes you feel comfortable. You want to play your cards close to your vest? Keep your diagnosis to a small inner circle? So be it. You want to tell everyone? Grab a megaphone and announce it in the town square on market day? It’s yours to share.