One of the hardest things following my cancer diagnosis was telling people about it. The hardest was telling the people I love the most.
Before Dan and I went to the Marsden for my results, I’d asked if we could drive to my parents if it was cancer. When it turned out it was cancer, I wasn’t sure it warranted the drive – perhaps I should call and tell them? Dan insisted we should tell them face to face.
As we drove the long journey home, a text from a friend popped up and I sent back a jolly reply. I took a work-related call and said I’d send the info they needed over tomorrow.
As we neared home, I picked up some flowers for my mum, hoping the petals might soften the blow.
When we got there, my mum, sisters and nieces were home and were so surprised to see us. Mum thanked me for the flowers but said I shouldn’t have. I hadn’t anticipated how happy they’d be to see us – how silly of me – I was turning up unannounced on a Monday – of course they’d be surprised! I felt like a fraud.
I hadn’t thought about how to tell them; I hadn’t even told them I’d found a lump – I hadn’t wanted to worry them unnecessarily but I wish I’d involved them earlier. I knew I was about to cause upset. How do you give this kind of news?
My sisters and nieces left and my mum, Dan and I sat chatting. My palms were sticky and my heart racing. I was waiting for an appropriate time to say the words, whatever those words might be.
I often think about the moments that followed. Telling mum I had breast cancer.
That day I spoke with my dad, sisters and brothers before driving back to London.
The next day I spoke to my work colleagues – those who needed to know. I hadn’t anticipated the emotional response I’d receive – ‘I’ll be fine, please don’t worry about it’ I said, ‘it’s been caught early’ I lied, ‘I’m so sorry’ I repeated.
The following weekend we had a date with some good friends. I waited until the end of the trip to tell them, partly because I wanted everything to be normal and partly because I was scared. I didn’t want to afflict myself on them, I didn’t want to make them feel awkward and I didn’t want to have to say the words.
They were the words I would repeat in text messages to my closest friends over the coming weeks. I couldn’t bring myself to make calls. I know, I know but texting was what I could cope with.
This is now a distant memory for me and as time has gone on, I’ve found it’s easier to tell people that I had breast cancer. I feel talking about it in the past isn’t a luxury everyone can count on so I should talk about it. How people react still takes me by surprise; some are lovely and some say odd things; cancer is a heavy load for many people. I’m lucky in that I can now talk about it relatively easily – it’s a part of my history.
So, with this context in mind, here are my tips for telling your loved ones you have cancer:
- If you suspect cancer, if you find a lump and you’re going through the checks (mammograms etc), tell the people you love most. Then, if you’ve got the news you were hoping not to deliver, they can prepare themselves.
- Tell your loved ones face to face – you’ll find the words and they’ll want to be near you.
- Try to deliver the news gradually. Perhaps start with ‘I need to tell you something’ or ‘I went to the hospital today’. You could continue, ‘I spoke with a specialist and he/she had some difficult news’…
- Try not to feel guilt; it feels like your fault but it really isn’t.
- Try not to pressure yourself to get the words right or to keep it upbeat if that’s not how you’re feeling – you’ve got a lot going on and the people who love you will understand that.
- Tell the people you want to. I asked friends not to tell other friends as there was only so many people I could deal with at that time. Your family will help you with this too.
- If you don’t feel able to tell people face to face or over the phone, ask others to help or, if you feel you can, send them a text – good friends will understand you’ve got a lot going on.
- Prepare yourself for people’s responses – I was surprised by the emotional reactions but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to contain my tears if I was on the receiving end of the news.
- Try not to worry about silence or strange responses – the news will make some people feel awkward.
- Be true to yourself and say what comes naturally to you.
- Be honest – tell them what you know, most people will want to know the seriousness of the situation.
- Tell them you love them – love is all they need.
- Offer to involve them as much as possible (if you want to) – your family will feel helpless so the more you can include them in what’s going on, the better.
I hope this is useful and you are surrounded with the love and support of those who matter the most to you.
Big love, Becky