How do you tell someone you have cancer? When is the best time? I’ve done a few difficult things in my life, this ranks right up there with most of them.
Outside of my family, my initial group of friends knew that I was waiting on the pathology report, knew that is was taking significantly longer than we’d anticipated, knew I’d been scouring the internet researching the worst. Those were the first calls I made and the mere fact that I was calling and didn’t text…they knew the news wasn’t good. It was easy to tell almost all of them…they allowed me to cry and talk through what I knew. And I think I told each of them “I’m so sorry I had to tell you this, I know it’s a lot to take in.” Each of them said, this isn’t about me, it’s about you…you need to take care of yourself and not worry if I’m okay. “What can I do?” was the most common question I was asked by each of them. For the most part, they didn’t cry on the phone, and to this day, I don’t think I’ve seen one of them cry in front of me…that was one request I had for each of them…if I saw them cry, I knew I would too. And yes, I cry…on my on time, in my own way.
The hardest part was yet to come, when and how would I tell Olivia and Jaxson. How do you tell a too wise for her age 7-year-old girl that her mother has cancer when she knows that “Grandpa Kamman” (my grandfather) has cancer and is dying, that the doctors will not be able to make him better, and not have her think the same thing is going to happen to you? You see, I’d contemplated not telling them, but when I found out I was going to lose my hair, there wasn’t going to be a way to hide this from them. I had 3 days until my next surgery, if you remember.
First thing I did was contact both of my children’s schools and make appointments with their teachers. I needed to know that the people who spend as much time with my children, if not more during the week, knew what was going on in order to know why Olivia and Jaxson may be acting out or have a change in behavior. They were understanding, had resources for me to use when telling the children and had agreed that if they saw anything out of the norm, they’d reach out to me immediately. I told them when surgery was and when I anticipated telling them – two weeks after surgery, one week before I’d start chemotherapy.
If you haven’t realized by now, my children have a two family household, their dad and I are divorced. In determining what would be best for the children, I knew this was something I needed to include their father and his girlfriend in, they needed to know what was going on and hear the words I was using with the children. They needed to be a part of this process so we could communicate about any concerns Olivia or Jaxson may have. For example, Olivia is struggling with the fear of people making fun of me because I’ve lost my hair – she is worried I will get my feelings hurt. Had I not told her dad she asked me to wear my wig to a school poetry night, he would have never asked her why she wanted me to wear it and I would have never known those thoughts were going through her head. Co-parenting with an ex is by no means easy, but had I not done so, that concern would have never been discussed and I wouldn’t have been able to reassure her that people aren’t going to have that type of reaction, that it’s a “brave” thing and shows I’m “fighting”.
The evening we told them, Olivia was sitting next to me, my parents were there as well, along with Chad and his girlfriend. As soon as the word cancer came out of my mouth her eyes almost popped out of her head and she looked at my parents to see if there was anything to be concerned about. We reassured her and Jaxson the doctors were going to help me get better and I was going to be okay. I think I repeated I was going to be okay at least 10 times. I told them I was going to get really sick from the medicine they’d be giving me and my hair was going to fall out, but I was going to be okay.
For several days after they’d ask me to explain to them what cancer is, how I got sick and would they get sick as well, over and over, which I’d expected. To this day, they still ask me questions, but now it’s more specific as to what’s going on in respect to me being tired, not feeling well, or something like that.
Here’s the thing – there is never a good time to tell someone you have cancer, it’s up to you to determine how, when and how much you’re going to tell people. It doesn’t get easier…people with any ounce of emotion will be shocked and possibly not know what to say, some will cry (that is the hardest part for me). Some people need time to process your diagnosis, some people may never be able to process it, may never know what to say…give them time. It may be the first time that person has ever had anything like this happen to someone they care about….if they truly want to be a part of the journey you’re on, they will be. When there are children involved, try to determine what is best for the children, limit the information to what their little brains can comprehend and have a support group in place for them so you can be made aware of things happen outside of the home.
Below are a few resources for telling people, along with a couple of books that help with telling children (I read them more for myself, so I’d know what words to use and how to explain it in simplified terms)
Telling Others About Your Cancer – https://www.cancer.org/treatment/understanding-your-diagnosis/talking-about-cancer/telling-others-about-your-cancer.html
Helping Children When a Family Member has Cancer – https://www.cancer.org/treatment/children-and-cancer/when-a-family-member-has-cancer.html
Books for Children –