Telling friends and family about a cancer diagnosis can be gut wrenching. Here’s how I did it.
Everyone has a different family and friend dynamic. Some are close and keep in regular communication, others may connect only occasionally or uniquely via social media, and still others may be estranged and not communicate at all. Regardless of which category a relationship falls into, when someone is diagnosed with cancer, decisions must be made as to who needs to know and how they are going to find out.
When my daughter Adrienne was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27, I knew she would have enough to manage just telling her sisters, and with her permission, it fell to me to somehow find a way to spread the news that this girl who was so loved was going to be in for a very difficult time.
My extended family is separated geographically, but we are very close all the same. When my girls were little, a sister came to visit, and Adrienne ran down the street as she drove away asking her not to go. The connections with my brothers became especially strong as my children grew older. One of their uncles provided them with summer jobs to save for post-secondary and another opened his home to them when they first left to go to university. As a former military family, we have made connections with many people over the years and some of those connections had shared significant life moments with my family and a few are friends forever.
There were a lot of people who I knew would want to hear the news before it went public, which we knew was going to happen because the financial implications of some of her treatment plan meant a GoFundMe campaign needed to be created.
When I first heard the words “Mom…it’s cancer,” it was over a long-distance phone line, so the first call I needed to make was to Adrienne’s dad. I never called him at work unless it was very important (a leftover habit from his military days) and so if I called and left a message, he knew that it was something big. I couldn’t hold back the tears when after the beep I said, “Call me back…please call me back” and as soon as he heard my voice he walked out of an important meeting, called me back and once I told him the news he came right home.
Then I threw up.
The next calls I made were to my two brothers, both of whom burst into tears on the phone. The next was to my best friend who was silenced by the shock. After that, I knew I couldn’t do that over and over again, so I wrote a message to send to everyone else over different social media channels. After Adrienne had a chance to read it, I sent it off.
And still I missed some people who were shocked by the news when the GoFundMe went live.
I knew from how hard it was for me to manage the first reactions that I would not be able to keep so many people updated on an individual basis, so at the advice of a friend I started to write down what was going on and post it for everyone to read. And that became the thing that let me keep putting one foot in front of the other, let me keep my emotions at bay when my daughter would look at me in tears and tell me she didn’t think she could do it anymore. It was a way for me to process what was happening in real time and to spread the news without having to hold space for anyone’s feelings about it but my own and my girl’s.
I hope as time goes on that I will be able to continue to share good news, like when I got to tell everyone who loves Adrienne that the treatment matched her cancer and that her status was now no evidence of disease. I called my husband at work that day, too. It was amazing to leave him a message with a joyful voice that it was important enough to ask him to call me back. Once again, he walked out of a meeting but this time he walked back in with a big grin on his face.
And of course, I threw up.My stomach just doesn’t give me a break!
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