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How do you tell people you have cancer?

Posts: 11
Joined: Apr 2012

I was recently diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer, adenocarcinoma to be specific. I am 55 and a non-smoker, previously in good health, so this has naturally been quite a shock to me.

There is a nodule in the left lung, about 2.5cm, confirmed by CT and PT scans. I also had fluid drained from the pleura and malignancy was found there as well, which is why I have the Stage IV classification.

I tested negative for the EGFR mutation which means I'll be going on chemo soon, we are just waiting for the results of the biopsy.

I have said nothing to friends and colleagues yet, but knowing the side effects of chemo, it will likely be impossible to hide this. What is the best way to communicate my situation? I work for a very large corporation, in a dept. of 20 people, and supervise 5 of them. I've told my boss that I simply have been diagnosed with an illness and will require some time here and there for treatment and he was very supportive.

The only people who truly know my situation are my wife, son, sisters, a couple of cousins who work in the medical field, and a few very close friends.

I feel I need to begin communicating my situation to other friends, relatives, and colleagues so they don't get blindsided by seeing me with hair loss, etc. It also feels like it should come from me and not from others whispering about me.

Email and Facebook have been suggested and I guess they're possibilities but they do seem a bit impersonal. Still, calling up 20 people and telling them the same thing seems a little more than I can bear doing right now.

Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated and welcomed. Would like to know how others have handled this, what their experience has been, and (especially) things to avoid doing.

Thanks for your help.

catwink22's picture
Posts: 276
Joined: Sep 2009

Hi Booster,
I'm very sorry to hear of your diagnosis, but this is a good place to be to get information and support.

We are all very different about our privacy and what we want people to know, so you need to know what your comfort level is.

Personally I hate the whispering and side looks so I like to be upfront and truthful. I find this opens the door for communication because most people have not had to deal with this first hand, and they hear "cancer" and "chemo" and get scared because they don't know how to react or what to say. A lot of times the things people start guessing and gossiping about are way worse than what it really is, so I like to nip it and set the record straight.

An e-mail is probably the best way to reach the most people (and select people) all at once so there isn't that "wildfire" spread of gossip (Did you hear...?). It's not the most personal, but it can be depending on how it's worded and you can always say something like, "I would like to speak with each of you individually as opportunity arises to further discuss my plans." That sounded so corporate lol, but I think you get my meaning. You might be surprised at the rally of support you will receive and how much people truly care.

Remember that you are still dealing with this too, so you may not be able to say certain things out loud that you are not ready to face. You could release information a little at a time on a "need to know" basis.

Bottom line: there really is no easy way, you have to do what you are comfortable with.

Wish you the best!

palmyrafan's picture
Posts: 397
Joined: Mar 2011

Sorry to hear that you are on the boards but you have come to the right place.

I am a brain cancer patient (and survivor) and DH and I have been very careful who we have told. It's not that we don't want to tell people, but it's on a need-to-know basis. We don't like the stares, whispers, fingers pointing, pity, etc.

How we have told people is as we knew the information. As we would garner info, we would pass it on to my dad who was designated as the family spokesman who told the rest of the family, family friends, etc. That was almost 20 years ago, but that is still the same system we use. All of my family live out of state and it is easier to just tell my dad and have him relay the info as that takes all the burden off of us.

You will learn how you want to do this as you go along. There is no right or wrong. Do what feels most comfortable to you.

Hang in there sweetheart. You are not alone.

Posts: 3
Joined: Sep 2011

When I was diagnosed I first thought about who I NEEDED to tell. Then I thought about who needed to know first. I told those closest to me first and let some of them spread the word for me, for example I told my Aunt and she told my Uncle and cousins. We were somewhat set up for this since my Dad had passed away from prostate cancer 4 months before I was diagnosed. The information tree has been indispensable with spreading information. Those who were told by others understood that I didn't have the time or energy to tell everyone first hand. I found that no one was offended because they weren't told by me and those that I told were eager to help in anyway they could. It also helped with those that needed a delicate touch, such as my 85year old Grandmother. As far as work I told my boss then my coworkers individually, it helps that my department is small. Best of luck on your hopefully very long future.

Helen321's picture
Posts: 1346
Joined: May 2012

I did it like this . . . "I have cancer". It's not like we robbed a bank or stole someone's car. It's no different than saying to someone I have a heart condition or I broke my leg.

CivilMatt's picture
Posts: 4302
Joined: May 2012

Hi Booster24,

Tell those you want and forget about the rest, they will find out. For me, my wife ran into neighbor at the hospital and mentioned why I was there A few days at home and the rest of the neighborhood knew something wasn’t right. For family, it spread like a wild fire. The next thing I knew they were talking about me on the family site and Facebook. People I use to go to school with found out, don’t ask me how. There is very little control over this kind of information. To tell the truth, I don’t care anymore. The people that care about me still do and that’s what counts. If you think you can hide the side affects of treatments from coworkers, good luck. Don’t worry or waste too much time on this, you’ve got more important things to think about.



Posts: 1
Joined: Aug 2010

Well, speaking from experience, when I had been diagnosed with B/C, I told people myself.  It spread like wildfire to people who needed to know (and I don't care who new and didn't tell me they knew).  When my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer, after telling close family verbally, we used a very helpful website called CaringBridge, and sent an email to our friends and other family members with the link to the site.  Using that site to keep everyone updated - could say things only once and not have to repeat it too many times, which is exhausting.  And now.... well, I am in the middle of the testing for what I think is metasticed b/c, probably late stage, so now I have the same concern - how, not "how", but HOW do you break your loved one's hearts by sharing such painful news.  The thought of hurting them is hurting me so deeply. I don't want to tell them this is it.  I don't want them to hurt.  I'm searching for words....  I can't find the right ones. 

Posts: 1846
Joined: Aug 2010

About just such a thing, Lara.  That it may be reality is sad beyond words.

There is no easy way to be the bearer or the recipient of such news.

When I've had to hear such news I find myself wondering what I can do to help the person live the way they wish and prepare for what comes next.

I just want to know what I can do to help.

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