I felt pressured to tell people about my cancer diagnosis and I was not happy about it. I remember having an argument with a childhood friend who I wasn’t close to because she doesn’t live in the U.S. She found out about my diagnosis through a family member and was upset because I was keeping my diagnosis “a secret.” But I really wasn’t keeping it a secret. I was trying to have some level of control over my situation and one way of doing that was to carefully choose who I thought needed to know about my illness. And besides, this old friend and I hadn’t spoken in years. I felt it was inappropriate of her to demand I tell the whole world about my cancer diagnosis. She said “awareness” was important and I wasn’t doing the “right thing” to help other women.
There is no “right way” to do cancer. Patients are entitled to handle their cancer mess the way they wish to. One way to help a patient is to respect their wishes.
Finding out I had breast cancer was overwhelming for me. When you tell someone you have cancer, not only do you have to deal with your own emotional rollercoaster but you deal with people’s reactions too. As many of us know, these reactions can vary and some may have an effect on you that may not necessarily be helpful in your situation. In my case, I wanted to avoid those situations that might have interfered with my inner peace, and welcome those that helped with my recovery, which was my main focus at the time.
There are some people however, I thought needed to know.
I kept my family informed — but not everyone. Let’s be real, we all know some family members give you energy and others drain it. Some are not as grounded or understanding or cool-headed as others. For example, one of my relatives insinuated I was not “religious” enough, and that I was being taught a lesson in order to redirect my life to a better path. “Preparate!” he said, which translates to “get ready!” Did I have another choice?
My family lives outside the U.S. in a country where it’s more culturally acceptable to say such things to people who don’t follow “celestial” rules. And these are the kinds of people I tried to stay away from. I thought they would bring the wrong energy to my situation. Perhaps it was unrealistic of me to think I could pull this off with my family, to keep some of them uninformed. In a way it was also appropriate for them to know about my diagnosis because they had to learn about their possible cancer risks as well. And regardless of their beliefs and level of ignorance, I still wanted their support and prayers, which I received (and for that I am grateful). So, eventually everyone knew.
I informed my employer — but not everyone. I didn’t really have a choice. My plan was to continue to come into the office during treatments and try to “act normal.” However, after my second chemo infusion, I was not feeling well a lot of the times. But seriously, could I really have gotten away with not telling anyone, and simply show up to work one day with no facial hair and weighing 30 pounds less than what I was? Besides, I also needed their support, which I got.
The closest people I work with knew. My situation could have impacted their workload if I was not able to fully perform my responsibilities. Also, a few of these people were close friends.
Because of my long absence, co-workers started asking where I was, and eventually everyone found out I had cancer – it was expected.
I informed my friends—but not everyone. I have wonderful friends. Some are more sensitive than others. While I was waiting for my biopsy results I remember chatting with a couple of them. They were anxiously waiting for the results too. Once I got “the phone call,” I told them. “I am crying,” one said to me. I immediately signed off from chat without a response. Those who I informed knew me well enough that they knew how to act with me. They also knew when not to take my moods personally. And that was very comforting for me because they allowed me to be myself.
I alerted my doctors—but not everyone. My cancer hospital gave me the option of choosing which of my doctors they should keep informed about my health status. This took some of the burden off me. I let MSKCC inform the doctors I frequently saw for my care— GYN, PCP, and cardiologist. I thought it was important for them to know so they could follow-up and pay more attention to me, which they have been doing.
And friends, this was about all the communication I could handle about my diagnosis, at the time. It wasn’t until I was almost done with chemo that I started to talk to more and more people about my illness. It took me almost 3 years to finally publish my blog, which I started mostly because of my struggles with survivorship. Now I am at a place where I can share my story with everyone.
Some patients feel comfortable telling people about their cancer diagnosis right away and others don’t. Some patients just need time. These are acceptable behaviors because each patient copes differently. 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 meaningful sign of support.
Did you share your cancer diagnosis right away?
Who did you share it with?