Following the sudden bullet of diagnosis, it seemed I had a few days to decide who to tell or not to tell, before arranging childcare and going into hospital for my operation. An onerous task and really, does it have to be this way?
Having been presented with a diagnosis and taken on board the information as best you can, you quickly find yourself with a new dilemma of who to tell and who not to tell that you have cancer. This is not the sort of news you wanted to hear and the prospect of telling anyone can be equally daunting. As a first time patient, I didn’t have the foresight to think this through and if I had I would have made different choices.
This is a private matter and you don’t have to tell everyone, or anyone straight away. Its personal choice and the choice is entirely yours. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
For myself, if I had known how it was going to pan out I wouldn’t have told anyone except my daughter and a friend whom I needed to look after her while I was in hospital and receiving treatment.
People’s reactions may not be what you expect or want them to be and this is a time when you should be concentrating your time and energy on looking after yourself. As it was, my boyfriend retreated completely for a time, seeming to pretend it wasn’t happening. My mother used my news as a source of gossip and to gain sympathy and attention for herself in her social circles. She did grudgingly pick up my daughter from school a couple of times during my radiotherapy which I had to travel some distance for, but spent most of the time complaining I was late back and she was going to miss her bus home.
One of my sisters was disbelieving, seeming to think some mistake must have been made, and the other said it was just a blip, which you could say turned out to be true in my case, but at a time when I was still waiting to find out if the tumour had spread, was scant consolation.
If your cancer is more advanced you may find that everyone ends up knowing, but even then I would offer a word of caution. Take your time and tell whichever people you choose to as much or as little as you want about what is happening to you, whenever you feel ready.
Peoples reactions after treatment is a whole other blog post but even then you will find people may behave differently towards you. I found that a short time after my treatment ended no-one ever asked about it anymore or referred to it ever again. It was as if it never happened, even though I had 5 years of follow-up including the dreaded Tamoxifen (another blog post..)
You may have a strong and supportive network of people and feel you want to tell everyone, family, friends, colleagues, and everyone in between. If you do, go for it. You will also usually find that if you tell one or two family members for example, your news will soon spread anyway, which may or may not suit you.
The main thing is, in the early stages especially, the choice is yours. It’s your life, your body and your experience and who you do and don’t choose to tell about it and when is up to you. Looking back, I wish I had chosen more wisely.