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Whether you are told you have cancer alone or with someone, getting over the initial shock is hard enough – but you then have to tell others of your diagnosis. This, much like the entire cancer process, must be done your way – there is no right or wrong thing to say or way to go about this.

I was told I had cancer alone in the doctor’s office – shocking, yet although I knew in my heart it was cancer, I still sat there in a stupor. Walking to my car, my best friend called me like any normal day and that’s when I said it out loud for the first time – “I have breast cancer.” It was almost like getting over that hurdle once you said it, for the first time. I ran into another friend before I even left the parking lot, and saying it again made it more real.

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Going home to my father watching my son was definitely the hardest to discuss – that conversation was face-to-face. Saying the words for the third time was like an axe cutting through me. My dad is a big softie and started to cry – so I yelled, “This is my cancer! if I am not crying you can’t either so stop now,” and he did. I believe that was my first mistake and I warn everyone that institutes a “no crying rule” like me. At first, it seemed like a great idea – but it negated that emotion to my family and me.

As much as our diagnosis is solely about us, as women, the reality is that every family member feels cancer. When I finally did have my major breakdown, they stood there not really knowing how to react and didn’t know if they could cry at that point. They were overwhelmed with the emotions we pushed away for so long and they were scared to see me so broken. I think it is important to let our family feel; it is their job to control it and let us guide them through these cancer emotions: the sadness, anger, even happiness we feel. Your family will clearly feel these emotions no matter what, and hiding does nothing but add additional tension you do not need. They cannot understand what we are going through unless they have been there, but they are trying to support us the best they can.

Telling each family member differs based on your relationship with them – I advise to handle it the way you feel they’ll best understand. Sometimes a group email is a great way because everyone can be in it, your thoughts can be written out and you can word it the way you want without letting their emotions distract you. When you have to tell someone in person, keep it simple – there is no reason to get into the entire cancer process in the aisles of Target. It will also take a while for them to process, and you want to give them time to ask questions and allow reality to hit them.

Personally, I found blogging to be the best. All info was there, my family could check it out when they had time and I wasn’t making 100,000 calls a day. Better than that, though, it was therapy for me – I connected with others, was able to release my emotions and felt such support from my family as they left comments they could think through. That is the hardest part; it is our nature to react to someone with emotions before we have a chance to speak. So telling your sisters, brothers, aunts and cousins is hard because each reacts different. Prepare yourself for that, but bigger than anything if you cannot deal let someone else be your spokesperson. Telling children you need to keep it simple, remember you really don’t know anything anyways so don’t scar them or you with the “ifs.” Let them know when you know something, then they will.

There is no set or rules for cancer–that is the nature of this beast and what makes battling it overwhelming. It does its own thing and you cannot control what will happen. But telling your loved ones is one thing you can do your way, something cancer cannot control. Take it over and find the best way to deal with everyone for you!



A Personal Story By Ann Marie Otis

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