Finding out you have cancer is overwhelming and brings a range of emotions. Each patient’s experience and response are different, reflecting individual personalities, values, and cultures. For some, the first instinct is to share their diagnosis with those closest to them. Others may choose to keep their diagnosis private, perhaps until they feel ready to share it with others. Telling family, friends, and colleagues about a cancer diagnosis is never easy, but it provides an opportunity to build a support system, which is an important part of the journey.
Hit the pause button.
If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer, taking time to process and reflect can help you make better decisions about how to move forward. Just as no two cancers are exactly alike, each patient has different emotions and unique needs. Processing this information can help you in many ways, including thinking about next steps, navigating treatment options, and simply taking time to carefully consider how your diagnosis will impact your life. Take time to focus on taking care of yourself and aim to better understand what your diagnosis will mean for you.
Tell your story. On your terms.
Once you’ve had time to process your diagnosis, think about how, when, and with whom you want to share this information. Do you need to tell your extended family or children immediately, or would you feel more comfortable sharing the news after you’ve asked your care team more questions about your diagnosis? Should you tell your boss and your colleagues? If so, when is the right time and how much information should you share? How you tell your family will be different than how you approach this topic with friends and colleagues. It’s truly a personal decision. You don’t have to tell everyone you know, but it’s wise to consider whether it would be helpful for people you interact with regularly to know about your diagnosis.
Cue the Q&A. No matter how you decide to tell those around you, remember they care about you and chances are they will have questions. You’re not expected to know all the answers. But you can try to anticipate their concerns. Those closest to you may want to know more about treatment options, while coworkers may want to know if you plan to take an extended time away from work. Sometimes the questions may be difficult to hear and answer.
While you can’t anticipate how those around you will respond to hearing the news you can be prepared for them to ask questions.
Good help is not hard to find. Sometimes, a patient may not know what to say or how to tell certain people in their lives that they have cancer. Your care team can help you consider the best ways to share your news, and may be able to help you prepare answers to questions you may be asked. Your loved ones will respond in different ways, and telling them about your diagnosis is certain to be an emotional experience. Asking for help – from your care team or a trusted friend – is completely normal and even expected. Never shy away from getting the support you need as you prepare to tell others about your diagnosis.
Ultimately, sharing the news of your cancer diagnosis is a personal decision. However emotionally challenging, it often is an important moment when patients see a caring community of support emerge – people who will be a source of strength and help by your side.
Billie J. Marek, M.D., FACP, Texas Oncology is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–McAllen, 1901 South 2nd Street in McAllen, Texas.
To learn more about exciting advancements in cancer treatment, visit www.TexasOncology.com or call 1-888-864-I CAN (4226).