Every woman handles the early days after her breast cancer diagnosis and prognosis a little differently. Some women want to rush out and tell the world. For these women, just telling anyone makes the load seem a little lighter. Somehow when they share their troubles, it almost feels as though the recipient seems to take on a little bit of the burden. On the other hand, there are also those women who need to be able to process serious information carefully while spending some time alone in quiet contemplation or prayer. Then, of course, there are women who need a balanced life with some quiet time mixed in with bouts of solitude. Whatever type of woman you are, there will be times when you are ready to (or need to) tell others.
Decide on What You Need and Ask for It
What do you need from others? If you have spent the majority of your adult life taking care of others, you may have never stopped to ask yourself this question. The answer will be an important guide as you navigate through the early stages of sharing your prognosis with others. It is crucial that you spend at least a moment alone contemplating on what you need to receive from those you tell. Do you need your spouse to be with you through every step of your recovery? Do you need your kids to spend as much time with you or to bring the grandkids by as much as possible? Do you need your best friends to be a comedic source of distracting relief? Whatever your personality is and your needs are, be sure that you know exactly what you are asking for before you ask.
Once you know what you need, ask for it up front as you share your news. Regardless of whether you are sharing your initial diagnosis news with loved ones or if you are updating them on some recently found prognosis information, it will be important for you to ask them right upfront for what you need the moment you tell them. Being straightforward will ensure that they know what you need from them, even if they can’t provide it right away through their initial shock or digestion of information.
Be patient with your spouse, children, friends, or other loved ones. Just as there were no guidelines that told you exactly how you should have responded to the news the first time you heard it, you can’t expect others to know the exact correct response to you. Allow them their initial response with grace and patience and give them a moment to digest the information before you continue on to ask for what you need.
Everyone goes through different emotions during a crisis, and though the feelings are often similar, they are not always the same for everyone. Have compassion on others (and yourself) while they sort through their shock, denial, confusion, anxiety, anger, and grief.
If your spouse has been with you since the early testing phase, then you won’t need to worry much about this section. If, however, you chose to go through the testing alone and wanted to wait to tell your spouse until you were certain, then you might need a little help with this first stop in your sharing process. Your spouse has probably been just as exhausted and worried as you have been. He or she has lived with you through an extremely stressful period in both of your lives. There have been many testimonies in which women or men who had both experienced their own cancer at one time and then the cancer of loved ones at a later time who stated that their own cancer was much easier to deal with than that of their loved ones.
This may be due to the shock or the fighting mindset that someone who has cancer must go through or the feelings of helplessness when you have to watch someone you love go through it. Whatever the reason may be, this time, as trying as it is for you, is equally or more difficult for your spouse.
As you tell your spouse, help them deal with any strong feelings he may be experiencing. He may be angry that this has happened to you, to him, and to your family. He may also feel somehow that he is to blame for “letting” this horribly intrusive disease affects you. Perhaps he feels disconnected from you by something that he does not understand and cannot help you with.
Most spouses feel that it is their duty to protect you, and this cancer has tested their capacity to do so. You have both undoubtedly been forced to acknowledge how much of this disease is out of your control and that some problems cannot just be hugged away. You will need your spouse to help you through the worst of days and in order for him to remain strong, his needs will be important too. Remember to take time for him to be with you in other activities outside of your regular cancer treatment and maintenance. Go on plenty of dates and plan a good and relaxing trip together that gives you both time to just be together and enjoy life outside of cancer.
As a mother, your mind most likely went straight to your children the moment you first got your diagnosis and later on when got your prognosis. As parents, we expect to be there throughout our kids’ childhoods. We feel we must be available to shield and protect them, love and nurture them, and guide them religiously until they safely reach adulthood. When something arises that makes us question whether we will be there for them, it can be terrifying and painful to experience. Nonetheless, it is important to speak openly with our children in a manner that is true to their maturity level, comprehension capacity, and personality type.
For younger, or less mature children, details may be spared. A young child does not need to be directly exposed to the gravity and possible detrimental outcome of a cancer which has not yet shown its exact path. With all cancer, even stage IV, there is a chance for survival and there is no reason to excessively worry young children with ideas they cannot comprehend. Simply letting them know that you are sick and a little tired may be enough to explain your lessening presence. If you choose to do so, you may allow your children to tell you what they are ready to handle based on their own questions to you.
Middle-aged and older children will probably have a lot of questions. You may wish to consult with a cancer care specialist on how to answer their questions. All children, regardless of age, will want to know one basic thing: will they be okay and taken care of? Let your children know that even on the worst of days, you still love them even if you can’t be around as much or as active as you were before the cancer treatment and illness struck. You might need or want to pull in the support of adults in your life to help distract and nurture your younger children through this confusing and scary time.
As you focus on helping your spouse and children through this difficult time, don’t forget about your parents. While parents who have themselves survived their own cancer may be a great source of hope for you, parents who have never had to face cancer before may have a particularly difficult time dealing with the cancer of their adult child.
It is excruciating for any parent to have to deal with the possible loss of a child, and this pain does not cease when your child is grown up. Part of their pain may also be from the fear they feel for your own children. No parent should have to face such a situation, but if yours do, then be extra compassionate when you tell them. Many parents instantly go into parenting mode when their adult children reveal their sickness to them, while some parents may feel so much shock that they seem indifferent or cold to the news. If your parent’s style is to instantly become emotionally void and jump into action mode, dictating to you what you should do or what you shouldn’t have done, try to give them some time to digest the news before you admonish them too much.
Regardless of whether you are planning on telling your closest family members or some distant co-workers, never forget that you will need all different types of personalities in your corner to help you through your fight. Although you will probably need your closest loved ones to help you directly through treatment and illness, you may also feel the need for that one quirky co-worker to lighten your load and help distract you from your troubles. If you are patient and compassionate towards everyone that you tell, you will probably be surprised at how much your loved ones help you through this. The more people you have in your corner, the easier this fight will be.