I chose to keep my cancer diagnosis semi-private at the beginning because, otherwise, it would have been too much drama for me to handle all at once. I didn’t want to dramatize my cancer. This was not easy, but to the degree I could, I wanted to control who knew. Taking charge of the situation — doing things my way — helped me focus and in some way helped me feel I was in control.
I am familiar with the emotional toll it can take on a person after finding out someone they love has been diagnosed with cancer. When my grandmother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I did not know how to act or hide my emotions. I’m not sure anyone does.
But, I’ve realized that — when dealing with emotions such as sadness, fear, anger and melancholia — I often do better when I’m alone. And with my diagnosis, I needed to build the right environment for me to recover. I needed to create MY comfort zone.
I wanted to take charge of my environment.
If you don’t take charge of creating your own support situation, people might try to build the environment for you. They might call other people they know who have been through cancer so they can reach out to you — which you may or may not want. Some people might bring their own belief systems into the mix, which might not be compatible with yours. Others might try to get too involved and counsel you to take care of unfinished personal business “for your own good,” or even try to take care of it for you! I did not welcome these things, even while I understood why my loved ones were motivated to do these things.
Of course, in excluding some peoples’ attention, I wasn’t completely alone. I carefully chose my support group — people who I felt knew me well enough to know how to approach me. Some had already experienced cancer through their love ones so they had some familiarity about the illness and the patient’s expectations.
I felt I could be myself around my support group. I didn’t have to worry about acting strong all the time so not to worry them. And as it turned out, I handled the emotional part of this experience pretty well.
Too much of the wrong attention.
Having too much attention scared me more than the actual cancer, at times. In a way, having to tell the world about my diagnoses would have forced me to acknowledge more completely that reality. The attention was going to be a constant reminder of what I was going through. I wouldn’t be able to pretend to feel normal sometimes. Having to deal with my illness with a small group of people allowed me to hide at times. It allowed me to feel more normal.
I didn’t want to deal with the difficulty of pushing people away.
Once people knew about my diagnosis, it would have been hard for me to exclude them if they became too intrusive. Plus I wouldn’t have had the energy to do so. I did not want to completely disregard people’s good intentions, but cutting them off would have created a stressful situation for me that could have led to misunderstandings or potentially ended my relationship(s).
Denial is a form of coping.
As I mentioned above, too much attention can be a constant reminder of what I was going through. I was never in actual denial about my cancer – not even before my diagnosis due to my family history – but I believed in my heart I was going to be OK, that it wasn’t my time to die, yet. Being surrounded with only certain family members and closer friends and cancer survivors helped me to go to that one place where I felt I was safe. There were times when I forgot I was “fighting” for my life. This was a healthy situation for me.
Exposure to the wrong information.
You want to believe people’s intentions are good, that they really care about you and your well-being. And I believe most people mean well.
However, most people are uneducated when it comes to cancer. Or, they have a lot of wrong information, based on honest ignorance, fear, superstition, religion, etc. — and they will frequently want to share it with you, even with those good intentions. Being surrounded by many of them would increase the chances of hearing something that might not be productive to listen to: wrong information about your type of cancer or your treatment, confused statistics, stories about other people who died from cancer (with details), bad info about survival rates, for example.
When people hear the word cancer they automatically think it’s a death sentence. I was not a statistic and I certainly didn’t want to be preached at regarding how I should deal with my cancer, especially from someone who didn’t have any credentials.
Pity is not a helpful contribution.
I don’t know about you, but I can identify pity right away. People really do not know how to act around you. They might feel very vulnerable in the face of your situation and their actions might come across as pity, even if unintentionally.
I cannot handle pity very well. I didn’t want people to “feel sorry” for me. I needed someone to act normal with me and to allow me to be self-sufficient, which I was.
I didn’t want to be talked about.
Fact is, bad news travel fast. And some people are always going to gossip. “Hey, did you hear? Such and such has cancer.” While I wanted empathy, prayers and love, I also wanted people to believe I would be OK, not that I was going to die from my cancer. Adding to the difficulty, I also understand that some people who care about, and who I’ve trusted with confidential information, might need emotional support too, and will be inclined to reach out to other people, including people who I might not want to share the information with.
To protect others.
I am aware of how emotionally sensitive some of my friends and family members are. I wanted to protect them. I have one cousin who I told one year later. When she visited me, she cried for a long time and this was long after I was done with my treatments! Imagine how she would have acted if she saw me looking underweight and bald. But that was the right time for me to handle her reaction not while I was sick.
I was scared to face real emotions from others because it reminded me of death.
In my case, it became weird to me to see people act differently around me. People are scared they will lose you so they try to show you how they feel about you. I am not saying this is bad but I felt it was the wrong time.
I also wasn’t emotionally ready to let people face their own fears of death and letting me know about them.
You only know how you would handle cancer and come to understand why we do what we do when you face it. I didn’t expect people to understand why I kept my diagnosis semi-private. I only wanted my wishes to be respected. And to me, that’s a helpful contribution on its own.
I simply wanted to feel I had some level of control in a situation where I knew I really had no control over.
Why am I coming out of the closet about my cancer diagnosis now [on this blog]?
Because now is when I feel ready to do so.
I also want to bring awareness. I found my cancer myself and was determined to confirm if it was despite Doctors telling me “I was too young for breast cancer.” Some Doctors tend to treat your age instead of treating you.
Because now, I feel emotionally stronger.