Telling your story: How to tell people you have cancer.

Jennifer Anand

Telling your story: How to tell people you have cancer.

by Jennifer Anand January 10, 2019

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Meet Jen Anand. Every week Jen will be providing a new tip or two on approaching life during and after cancer to help inspire others. Jen was diagnosis with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January 2012, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments for 8 months. Jen is now a survivor and just celebrated her 5 year anniversary this year as cancer free!

You have cancer.

The three words you never want to hear.

But how about “I have cancer”. The three words you never want to say. But, somehow I have a feeling most of us have said those words, multiple times. It’s not easy to share with people.  Even now, five years out, sometimes I struggle with finding the right time and words to tell people how cancer has shaped my life. A few thoughts I had on telling people…

You control who you tell.

This is your story. You control who gets to know about it.  Even post treatment, sometimes I don’t tell people my story. I share my story with the people who I feel will support or encourage me.  There’s a person in my life who often brings up whatever I’ve said in a mocking-sarcastic way. I’ve never told her my story, though it is public and I’m sure she knows bits and pieces of it (and a Google search will probably tell her the rest of it).  I don’t feel safe telling her, so I haven’t. Even if you’re bald, or skinny, or physically show your cancer, you control who you tell. Just because someone is staring, doesn’t mean they’re owed an explanation. Cancer can take some things away from us, but it can’t take way our control of who gets to know about it.

You decide when to tell.

This is your story. Maybe it will take you a while to share it with your friends and close circle. One of my friends made a statement to the effect of “how can I expect other people to deal with my diagnosis when I haven’t dealt with it myself?” She’s so right. Sometimes we need to take time for ourselves, to process the information. Even now, I tell people when I’m comfortable, and ready to invite them into my story. Now, I don’t have the “cancer look” of baldness and general sickness.  Most people can’t see how cancer has left its lasting impact on my physically, so I can get away without people knowing. I was at an engineering breakfast last week, and the people at my table began speaking about oncology doctors and nurses, one of the most amazing groups of individuals I have ever met. And while the discussion wasn’t exactly negative, there really wasn’t any respect or awe that I feel is owed this group. I was really torn about shutting up a few loud-mouthed college kids, with the C-bomb, when I caught the eye of my friend across the table. She knew my past, and did not appreciate the conversation at all either.  But I realized this wasn’t when to tell these girls. They didn’t really care, as they weren’t curious or trying to learn or understand. Telling them would simply make them break out into the token “You’re so strong”, “I could never do that” that seems obligatory to respond when someone tells you they have cancer. In good time, they’ll learn my story, and hopefully how better to discuss cancer and its related issues. I’m happy about my decision, to share it only when it felt right and safe.

You choose what to tell.

This is your story. Not everyone needs to know your entire story, no matter how much they may prod and pry. I’ve had people dig for all the details. But they’re mine to share. And frankly the more you pry looking for a juicy story, the less I want to tell you anything. There are those that I’ve met, however, who I know have a genuine interest so they can be a better friend to me or to others with cancer. You can always pick those people out.  They ask questions like “what can I send”, or “I don’t know what to say. Do you have a suggestion”. They always open the conversation with a disclaimer that you don’t need to share if you don’t want to.

You don’t have to tell.

A bit redundant, but some people Do. Not. Deserve. a place in your story.  Someone said that people have to earn the right to your story. If you wouldn’t share it for a different part of your life (a family death, or divorcee, or move, or job) then why share it for this huge, life-altering diagnosis?

It’s your life. It’s your story. It’s your choice.