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Talking About My Diagnosis

Cancer affects you deeply, and it also impacts those around you: family, friends, coworkers, and even acquaintances. There may be times when strangers approach you to discuss their own experiences. While you are dealing with your own reaction to your diagnosis – shock, disbelief, fear, and anger – you must now share this information with others. Most people need to talk to someone, and friends and family can provide the perspective, support, and love you will need in your fight against cancer.

Just as you reacted in your own way to your cancer diagnosis, others will too. Some will become awkward and distant; others may act overly anxious and try to be helpful. Some will say nothing, afraid of saying something wrong. A few will treat you the same as always. Whatever the reactions, try to understand that those you care about – and who care about you – are simply trying to cope with this new reality. In time, most will become more comfortable with the situation and treat you with compassion, love, and friendship. It is a difficult time for all.
So, what do you say? Moreover, how – and to whom – do you say it? Below are some tips that may help:

  • Start the conversation in a place that is comfortable for you, at a time when you are not likely to be interrupted. Be prepared for their reaction – shock, disbelief, fear, anger – and understand they are reacting to your diagnosis, not to you.
  • Be as open as you are comfortable about your diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. If a question makes you uncomfortable, say so or simply state, “I’m not ready to talk about that right now,” and be prepared to change the subject.
  • Set boundaries. It is okay to say, “You know, I know that you are concerned for me, but I am just not ready to talk about this yet.”
  • Think about responses that might make you upset or angry and plan a response for them ahead of time.
  • Choose a family member or friend to be a spokesperson for you for times when you do not want to talk about your cancer or its treatment. Prompt them ahead of time as to what, and how much, to tell others.
  • Family and friends will want to help. Let them. You need to focus on your own health and they need to feel like they are helping you. You both win.
  • Keep life as normal as your health permits. Remind your family and friends that you still enjoy the same activities and stay involved. If you are having a bad day, say so.

Talking with children and teens can be especially difficult.

  • Give children information that is appropriate for their age and maturity level.
  • Be open and honest. Even if they are not told about your diagnosis, they will sense something is wrong. Without the right information, what they imagine may be far worse than the truth.
  • Give them time to ask questions and express their feelings. Children may better express their thoughts or feelings through drawing or puppets.
  • Let them be involved as their age or coping skills allow.
  • Children see the world as it relates to them. Reassure them that they are loved and will be cared for.
  • Keep life as normal as possible. Try to keep children’s daily routines.
  • If your child begins acting out, consider enrolling them in counseling or a support group or set up a meeting with a member of the clergy.

We can all agree that life sometimes presents us with uninvited challenges. We each have different ways of facing our fears and dealing with the unexpected. Many cancer patients and their loved ones cope best with all that cancer involves when they face it together. Open lines of communication and respect for personal wishes and needs can help you all through this difficult time. Dealing with cancer is a journey, and talking openly with family and friends about your cancer can make every difference in how you look at and feel about each step.