March 1, 2018

Your Cancer Diagnosis: To Tell…or Not to Tell?

It’s really hard to tell when it is the right time to inform your family, friends, and loved ones about your cancer diagnosis. This was especially difficult for a member of our team. Franky, who served as our intern last year and is now one of our staffers, weighed in on this subject for our March blog to share her experience and provide some advice:

"As a three-time cancer survivor of breast, cervical, and uterus cancer, it was hard for me to tell anyone, other than my husband, of my diagnosis. He had to know, because he was my best friend and I knew he would be there for me, no matter how ugly it got. Telling the rest of my family was hard because I didn’t want anyone to worry, or feel sorry for me. I’m the youngest child and everyone thinks I’m the strong one. I  didn’t want to disappoint anyone, so I kept my diagnosis  under wraps until I knew more about the type of cancer and my prognosis. I truly believe if the outcome was worse than it turned out to be, I would have not told them until I absolutely had to. Two years later, we were asking ourselves the very same question when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, and how he wanted to keep his multiple myeloma to himself – instead, telling everyone that he had acute renal failure (Franky and her husband are pictured below).

Over the years, I have supported my friends who have had to deal with a family member or loved one with cancer, and I’m thankful I could be there for them. For some people, it’s the last thing that’s on their mind.  For others, like myself, it was the first thing that came out of my mouth: 'how am I going to break this news to my family?' When I asked my doctor, he responded, “when you’re ready, you’ll tell them.”

But that didn’t answer the question that nagged at me: how will I know when I’m ready?

In doing research for this blog and tying in my own experience, I’ve found there are many tools to use in dealing with these hard-to-answer questions.

Decide if, when, and what you will tell others about your diagnosis or prognosis. If you’re not sure what to say to someone, ask a loved one, a friend or a social worker for help. In certain cases, you may want to ask someone else to tell others for you. Some important times to talk about your cancer would be when your diagnosis affects another person’s life, and when you begin to act differently, due to your treatment or weight changes. Another time you may need to share may be when you need help with day-to-day matters or financial assistance.

People with children find it hard to know when is  a good time to discuss cancer with your child or teen. They need to know that they’re not responsible for the illness or the healing, that they can’t catch or give cancer to another person, and that it’s okay to sometimes feel angry, sad or scared. Assure them they are loved and always will be.

Only you can be the one to know  when to tell your friends and family.  Most people are sad by the news of the big “c”, so there’s  really no perfect time to share this information.  That’s why you should make sure you’re comfortable with your decision.  Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you prepare to tell others:

  • What do I feel comfortable sharing about my diagnosis?
  • When do I want to tell each person?
  • How much personal information so I want to share?
  • How will telling others affect my employment situation?

There are some personalized cancer support websites that can help friends and loved ones when they ask what they can do to help.  Some of these websites help organize ways for people to get involved, such as ones that allow you to sign up to help with tasks like cooking, cleaning or transportation."

We want to thank Franky for sharing her story and providing some timely advice on how to broach what is understandably a challenging topic with friends and family.

Please know our team at CRFI is here to help you with any concerns, challenges, or assistance as you come to terms with your diagnosis – please reach out to us at 717-545-7600 or email our team at info@cancerrecovery.org.

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Cancer Recovery Foundation

P.O. Box 1
Hershey, PA 17033

Women’s Cancer Fund HOTLINE: 717-425-3942
Cancer Recovery Foundation HQ: 832-270-8300
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