When I was diagnosed with DCIS/stage 0 breast cancer, my initial reaction was “WTF!?” with a bit of “Well, here we go” resignation mixed in. It was shocking but not surprising, if that makes any sense.
The next thing that hit me was that I would have to tell my relatives and close friends what was going on. I spent a big chunk of that first weekend on the phone with my husband Bruce’s and my siblings. It wasn’t fun to make those calls, but it wasn’t horrible because my cancer was caught early.
Telling the people closest to you is a no-brainer. Where it gets interesting is when it comes to people you don’t know as well. It’s not quite elevator conversation.
“What’s new with you?”
“Oh, just a little bout with breast cancer. But hey, how about those Huskers?”
I told only a handful of people at work when I was first diagnosed. I told more people after the mastectomy. By that time, I was writing essays about my experience for the Omaha World-Herald and was “outing” myself to some extent anyway, but I was also more comfortable talking about it when the tough part was over.
I think part of is not wanting people to look at you differently or treat you like some kind of victim. The other part is that getting a cancer diagnosis isn’t going to change who you are. If you’re very open about your life, it’s doubtful you’ll suddenly become secretive. If you were private before your diagnosis, you still will be. I handled the news pretty much the way I handle everything. There are a few people I share the most personal things with, and the rest are “Fine, and you?”
You may encounter people I call the “All About Me’s.” It’s natural for our stories, including our cancer stories, to remind people of their own stories, but there’s something a bit different about this crowd. You’ll know, because they’ll manage to make you feel like a bit player in their movie; it’s all about their emotions and reactions. I’ve found with this group it’s best just to smile and say, “Thanks.”
The other thing I learned is that my cancer story didn’t just belong to me. If you have a partner, this is their story too and they need to be able to share it. I talked about how my diagnosis affected Bruce in an earlier post. He needed to be able to tell the colleagues he trusted, just like I did. And that was fine, except I’ve never had so many people hug me at his employer’s annual golf fund-raiser. Luckily they all calmed down by the Christmas party.
Just remember, this is your story. You have the right to share it with as few or as many people as you wish.