Cancer: Who to Tell and How
Who to Tell: A Love Letter to My Followers
So, you have cancer. Who should you tell? Everyone. I’m kidding, but only kind of. It’s obviously a super personal thing, and it’s up to every individual to decide who to open up to. I’m only one person, but I am a huge proponent of being as honest with everyone as you can. If you are reading this and you aren’t sure if you should tell your friends, acquaintances or random strangers at the grocery store about your diagnosis, I am here to give you that push towards YES.
I personally not only told my close family members, but also told all of Facebook and Instagram almost immediately upon finding out about my diagnosis. For me, it was an impulse. I didn’t really think about it. It’s not even in my nature. I’ve been trained by social media to try to put my best face forward, and cancer is definitely not an achievement or milestone, but for some reason I decided to share it. In hindsight, I am so glad I did it.
First, “I have cancer” is not a conversation you want to have many times over in the span of a week or so. Even if you want your extended family or your close friends to know, it’s a huge chore to have to sit down with each of them individually and deal with several different reactions and conversations. As an extreme introvert, it may seem like sharing publicly on social media is the antithesis of my very being, but it actually served the purpose of sharing my news with everyone in my life without the hassle of having to have separate conversations with many people. It’s the lazy gal’s way, and I’m a lazy gal.
Secondly, cancer is obviously a hard pill to swallow. It’s even harder to do it alone or with little support. If you come from a small family, or a family that isn’t particularly close, like mine, reaching out to other outlets for a support system can be a huge relief. It might seem shallow or like an empty gesture, but all of those friends, acquaintances, and internet strangers leaving you comments of support and reaching out through texts really makes the burden less cumbersome. The fact that someone, anyone, would go out of their way, for even a second, to send a good vibe or to be a shoulder to cry on, would melt even the blackest of hearts. Even I, a pessimist at heart, one who hates thoughts and prayers, was warmed by all of the well wishes and good vibes. Not only that, but the more you share, the more you open yourself up to meeting new people.
It wasn’t until I started becoming vocal on Instagram that I found a pretty prolific community of young survivors like myself. Through Instagram, more than any other social platform or face-to-face support group, I was able to follow and talk to a ton women in my age range going through the same treatments as I was. They would comment on my pictures with advice and support. I would leave comments congratulating them on their hair growth or the end of their chemo. Eventually, after following each others’ journeys for a while, it became natural to send a private message here and there with a question or word of encouragement. I wanted to know more about how they dealt with things like hair loss, cancer in the workplace, dating post cancer, or any other random thought or question I might have. I became super close to some of these women. Honestly, the internet played a huge part in me feeling less alienated and alone during my recovery process.
When you open yourself up, other people might reach out to you, sometimes just to say that something you are going through resonates with them or that they can relate to a post, and other times, women who are in the beginning stages of their own cancer diagnosis might reach out asking for advice. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to help out another person who is in your position. It’s why I have this blog! I love hearing from other people that they can relate to something I said or that I could be of any help to them. I like listening to other people’s stories and being able to commiserate or give a bit of advice. Even though I am not a particularly social creature, nor am I an extrovert, there is something really satisfying about being part of a community and being able to contribute anything, however big or small.
Being open about your diagnosis isn’t always sunshine and daisies. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t talk about the negative, which, by the way, I think is minuscule compared to how much positive there is to sharing. The only real negative is that you are going to get a range of opinions and advice that you didn’t particularly ask for. For the most part, my friends and family just showed support without a lot of input, but there is always going to be that online stranger or that one family member who wants to tell you what you should be doing to combat the disease. They’ll want to tell you about that one friend they had once who’s sister’s cousin somehow beat cancer through eating only one raw garlic clove for a year. They will ask you invasive questions or they will imply that you should be more positive about the situation. They will say something to piss you off. It’s inevitable. It’s going to be garbage. You are going to want roll your eyes, maybe you will want to argue, just know that for the most part, people leave you alone. The amount of tone deaf people I encountered wasn’t really enough to deter me from being open about my cancer diagnosis. Of course, it’s a personal decision, and if you are particularly sensitive or short on patience, the sharing route might not be for you.
While there are some drawbacks to being open about your diagnosis, I still highly recommend talking about it. I know that, for me, its been a life changing experience that really helped me through tough times. I love the facebook groups; they give me immediate advice when I can’t call to ask my doctor about something right away because she isn’t available or it’s the middle of the night. I love all of the people in my life who reached out, some I haven’t even spoken to in over five years. I love all of the strangers who I formed bonds with through shared experiences. Most of all, I love being able to help others who are lost and scared and in the same position I was in during the beginning stages of my treatment.
How to Say It: A Text Message Will Suffice
How to tell someone that you have cancer is subjective. It honestly depends on the person, your relationship with that person, and your personality. I’m not sure I went about it in the best way, but it felt like the best way for me and I don’t think I’d change anything about it.
This is going to sound crazy, but I told my mom over text message. I have my reasons! Hear me out! First of all, my mom lived an hour and fifteen minutes away from me in NJ at the time. I didn’t have a car; I didn’t need one in NYC. It wasn’t like I could pick up and go visit easily. Secondly, I had to stay in the hospital for further testing, making it even harder to pick up and go to NJ. Thirdly, she already knew I was going in to hear the results. If I ignored her calls and texts until and “appropriate” time, one where I could visit her or call, she would just be sitting around extremely agitated and nervous probably calling me every five minutes until I eventually picked up. To me, it felt more considerate to just tell her right away. It also felt better to tell her via text because I didn’t want her to hear the fear in my voice or listen to me crying. I was pretty hysterical at the time, alone, in a lab, waiting to get my blood drawn. Calling was going to make an already stressful situation more dramatic. I know that texting seems impersonal and even cold, and maybe it is, but in my situation I think it made sense.
As for the rest of my family and friends I told them in a Facebook post. I didn’t want to have a bunch of separate conversations with a ton of different people. I was already too emotionally exhausted, so I wrote a Facebook post. I made it a little humorous. I baked a cake, and decorated it with the words “I have cancer.” It sounds insane, but it worked. It got the job done, and though I did receive texts from family members and friends, it was easier because, again, speaking to them one on one or over the phone was just going make me cry. Via text, I could decide when to respond, how to respond, and it didn’t make me break down in a fit of tears.
I think the important thing to remember is that it’s okay to be selfish. Forget about what “the right” thing to do socially is. Instead, do what is right for you. You already have so much on your plate. The first few weeks of any cancer diagnosis is quite possibly the worst part of the entire journey. You have to go through a battery of tests. It can take weeks to find out the results and know how bad your diagnosis is. You most likely know very little about cancer if anything at all, so you will have so many questions and such little information to go on. You will have enough on your plate. Do what feels right for you and your family and friends will understand.
PS. the best part about making a cake to share your news is that you get to eat it afterwards.