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Telling Your Friends

Posted 1/18/2014

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  Telling your friends, breaking the news of your cancer diagnosis is always difficult. Some women spill it out to everyone: close friends, neighbors, the person behind them in line at the bank. As they look back upon those moments, there is often a bit of chagrin, but at the time, it could not be contained, and it seemed vital to tell the grocery store cashier what was happening in one's life. At the other extreme are women who barely tell anyone, hold the news very close, and only reluctantly and gradually share it on a "need to know" basis. Like everything else in Cancer World, there is definitely not a right or wrong here. There is only what feels best or just possible to you.

  Rarely a week passes when I don't have at least one conversation about this. Over this past week, there were two newly diagnosed women who wanted to talk with me about the need to share the news. One works in an office of not so supportive men, and is very reluctant to talk about something so private. She is aware that she will need to say something to her supervisor about needed time off, and that her co-workers will surely wonder and perhaps gossip about her absence. The second woman is hoping not to have to tell her elderly mother who lives far from Boston. She knows that her mother believes cancer=death, and will be terribly worried about her.

  For all of us, there are surprises as the news comes out: people who vanish and people who come close. Generally the positive responses and support outweigh the negative ones, but, sadly, not always. Here is an email from a woman about "friends'" reactions:

that I also told a friend (Tacky 1) who then told someone else I didn't want to know (Tacky 2) who then also told someone else (Tacky 3) whose business it was absolutely none of, even though Tacky 2 decided that it was.  It's too long a story to tell here, but it is worth saying that I dealt with Tacky 2 by flipping my wig off at her, with a swish that was worth of the Three Musketeers, in the lobby of the Citi Center -- before a crowded ballet.
Ironically I ran into both Tacky 1, who apologized at the time, and Tacky 2, who never apologized, last weekend and enjoyed talking with Tacky 2 more -- about hair, of all things (she's stopped dyeing hers).  Tacky 1 gave me the brush off.  I'm better off without both of them in my life, and I've moved on, as they say.
But hey, how many otherwise private people can say that they flipped their wig at someone in the lobby of the largest theater in Boston before a ballet?  My only "regret" is that the impact may have been lessened by the fact that I had half-inch hair at the time, but ironically it gave me the courage to ditch my wig much sooner than I thought I would have otherwise.  Having done that in the lobby, I took my wig off after the lights went down at the ballet because I was warm, and from there it wasn't that big a step to take it off with lights on the following week.

  Her delightful email was stimulated by this blog from Living Beyond Breast Cancer:

Coming Out” with Cancer – Breaking It To Your Friends    

by Nikki Black

When I received the phone call from my doctor, I knew immediately she was
about to give me the Bad News. Her long sigh and tight voice over the phone
told me long before her actual words that I had tested positive for breast cancer.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “It’s hard, when the patient is so young.” Tell me about it.
As a young woman dealing with breast cancer, it can be difficult to break the news to your friends for a number of reasons – not the least of which is reliving the shock and sadness that comes with that diagnosis with every new phone call you make. I worried about how people would react and who was appropriate to tell. I worried that people would be upset with
me for not telling them sooner, or telling them after I had told another person. I added anxiety on top of anxiety on top of that diagnosis during a time when I should have been focused on accepting the news myself.
So, if I can, I’d like to spare anyone this anxiety and share what I’ve personally learned about “coming out” with cancer to your friends.
You don’t owe this news to anyone. There is no rulebook that says you absolutely have to let everyone in your life know everything (or anything) that is going on with you health wise.


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