One of the hardest parts of the cancer journey is telling your loved ones that you have cancer. It’s scary for you, it’s scary for them. There is never a “good” kind of cancer, but there are varying degrees of severity. The more severe the diagnosis, the more difficult it is to share the news. You know you’re about to put a grenade with its pin pulled in someone’s lap and watch them react – in real time. I have been on both sides of the scenario and through my experiences I’d like to share what I’ve learned.
Outside of those closest to you who you’ll call right out of the doctor’s office, it’s helpful to have a little bit of knowledge about your diagnosis so you can answer what's sure to come up.
What kind of cancer do you have? What stage?
Do you have to have chemotherapy? What’s your treatment plan?
Did anyone in your family have cancer?
Are you scared? How are you feeling?
How is your family dealing with the diagnosis?
How can I help?
These are common questions in response to sharing a cancer diagnosis, so it doesn’t hurt to have an idea of how you’re going to respond. Questions (and answers) like these also keep the conversation moving, something I’ve learned is key. Long pauses can allow for swells of emotions and awkwardness in an already painful conversation. Some people can handle the curveballs and silence real time – I am not one of those people. Having a few dialogue options in my back pocket helped me feel more comfortable and prepared.
Give Them Space
Again, outside of those closest to you, I found it’s best to share your diagnosis for the first time when they have time to process. Send a thoughtful email or text. Leave a voicemail during a time they will most likely not answer.
Forcing a little space grants them the freedom to work through their feelings unfettered. A little composure goes a long way here, so give them the chance to gather their thoughts.
Hopefully, you surround yourself with a loving and supportive network. They want what’s best for you and genuinely wish you well. However, someone will inevitably say something insensitive and jarring. Sometimes it’s out of shock. Sometimes it’s out of lack of awareness. And sometimes it’s just plain ignorance.
I know someone who had that. They died.
At least you’ll get a new set of boobs.
We’re really hoping you make it.
Do you think it’s because you ___________ (fill in the blank)
You get the picture. Having a general, canned response ready can diffuse awkward situations and allow you to either move the conversation forward or make a powerful statement.
“Right now I’m just looking forward and focusing on the best way for me to heal."
“That comment isn’t helpful for me right now, so let’s focus on the positive.”
“I know you’re trying to be helpful, but right now I just need you to listen.”
This conversation is a tightrope walk for both parties. I always tried to give grace to everyone involved – which can be easier said than done!
The Bottom Line
The most important thing to remember is it’s your decision who you share your diagnosis with and how. This is your healing journey. Who you choose to share it with is entirely up to you.