How to manage your narrative (and sanity) when telling others you have cancer

By Ariel E Pollock, MD, Radiation Oncologist

By Ariel E Pollock, Inspire Radiation Oncologist

How to manage your narrative (and sanity) when telling others you have cancer

You just found out that you have cancer.

Maybe you just found out the results of a biopsy. Maybe you just had surgery, and it was found then. Maybe you have new imaging that is highly suggestive of malignancy, and a biopsy doesn’t need to be done.

There are thousands of things running through your mind; you probably only processed 30% of what your doctor just told you.

Maybe you were previously told that you have cancer. You’re meeting with your medical oncologist and/or radiation oncologist and learning what treatment will entail.

You still have so many things running through your mind and you are probably still slowly processing.

Naturally, you may be wondering who do I tell? How do I tell them? Do I tell my parents, my siblings, my kids, my friends? Do I tell my employer, my coworker, or my neighbor?

I obviously can’t answer this for you. Google won’t be able to answer this for you. Siri and Alexa won’t be able to answer this for you.

Make sure to take time to understand your situation

But what I can tell you is that there is no right answer, and you are not alone. You should do what feels right to you. If that means telling your friends and co-workers, then you can do that. If that means only telling your close family members, then you can do that. But what I will say is that you shouldn’t be processing this entirely by yourself. There should be someone who knows what is happening and who can help you. You may be entirely independent before treatment, during treatment, and after treatment. That may not change! But it does help to have support, even if it just means someone who will spend time with you while you await scan results or biopsy results.

Expect unexpected reactions to your news

If you choose to share your new diagnosis and the reactions of your friends or family are not what you expect, try not to be offended. While cancer is increasingly common, there are many people who have never had to personally experience this themselves or with a loved one, and they may not know how to respond. Or there are people who have been through it and choose to share many details about their experiences. Sometimes this is helpful, and sometimes it isn’t. If you find that someone’s input is too much, you might consider kindly letting them know.

Everyone’s experience is personal and unique. You have to do what is right for you!

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