Day 22 – HOW DO I TALK TO PEOPLE ABOUT MY LUNG CANCER DIAGNOSIS?
“You have Lung Cancer.” Words no one wants to hear. Your world might feel disrupted, overwhelming or lonely. You may be angry, frightened or sad. How will you tell the ones you love, your friends and co-workers? How will you help them through this, and how will they help you? What will your conversation with your children, or parents, be like? …And when?
Thinking ahead about how much you want to share, and with whom, will help you plan your conversations. Do you want to speak with that person alone, or in a group? Will you bring your partner, friend, or advocate to support you and help answer questions?
Setting the tone for each conversation, in advance, may help you feel in control. People tend to mirror others: your tone of voice, reassurance or discomfort, positive or negative outlook, calm demeanor or anxiety, and all the ways that you communicate with your words and body language will set the tone for how you want others to act around you. You may feel comfortable showing much emotion around some, and be stoic around others. Maybe you find certain topics to be ‘trigger points’ for your emotions and you prefer to not discuss those topics with certain people. You may choose to have a loved one tell your extended family, or wait until you know more about your prognosis, treatment plans, and realistic care needs before telling your co-workers. It is okay to answer questions with ‘I don’t know the answer to that question yet, but I will try to find out’, or ‘I’d prefer not to talk about that yet; may we talk about something else’? It’s your cancer, your body, and your life – how and how much you tell people is your choice!
Telling children can be especially daunting. Using accurate and age appropriate words is important, and you might be surprised at the literal and very direct questions they ask in response! Reassurance is not the same as being untruthful about your prognosis; it is a way to instil confidence and help someone feel less worried. Your honest reassurance about your love for them, changing routines, types of therapies, why your hair is falling out, etc. will let them know that even though things in the family might change, your love for them never will.
People will want to help – considering what kind of support you think you will need, in advance, can rally individuals to help meet your needs. Might you need transportation to radiation therapy, two casseroles each week so you can focus on playing with your children instead of being in the kitchen, or a supportive hand at church? Do you want a ‘chemo buddy’ to help pass the hours on chemo days, or might you want to sleep or do sudokus? Can your young children help you with age-appropriate tasks such as bringing a lap blanket to you? Do you want people to call, stop in, and write, or do you want to take some time to yourself and reach out to them when you are ready? Can a friend be your walking partner, or get the groceries on your list? Do you need a friend’s shoulder to help get you through a teary 2am moment of fear for your future? …You may not even know what you need yet, and your needs may change over the course of your cancer journey. Ask for help when you need it, specifically and directly. My guess is that people will flock to provide. 🙂