A cancer diagnosis is the culmination of tests, doctors, fears and time. The words I have some unfortunate news never bodes well. I can relate with the blank space that takes over your brain as you synthesize what that means exactly. You become aware of the tight knot in your stomach followed by the urge to rearrange your facial expression to display a stoic I can handle this news just fine.
And I am doing just fine until I get down into the bowels of the parking garage. I slide in my car and promptly burst into tears. Funny though, it is not me in my mind’s eye I see but my children. I am already thinking of how to tell them. That is my number one thought followed by how do I manage my work over the next while.
Two of the highest priorities in your life…your family and your work…will feel the effect of your diagnosis and your plan for care. That could be a plan for active wellness or enjoyment of your life, all dependent on the prognosis.
Today I am sharing thoughts on what to consider as you prepare to tell your family members.
Be Real About You And Your Family
Appreciating your family dynamics are key. You may be tempted to daydream some romantic scenarios but you need to approach this with reality in hand. Any family issues are not going to miraculously disappear.
If your family is scattered or draws its strength from individual relationships you may choose to deal with each person separately. This can work well when you have a desire and the strength to tailor your sharing to meet individual needs. Private people often appreciate not having to curate their response in any public way. This approach can be more exhausting with larger families as you will need to cover the same ground more than once.
Family gatherings are effective if you are able to coordinate a get-together either in person or virtually. Often it is comforting to see people.
There are a wide range of personalities included in families so you need to be prepared for people to process the difficult news differently. It will prove helpful in group settings where the stronger can mentor and support those who may fall apart. It can also be a source of annoyance if your family is full of dominant personalities.
Each person will need to absorb and deal with the shock and sadness in their own way. Appreciation and respect for each other’s needs are key.
You may decide you don’t want anyone to know. An acquaintance passed away with her daughter not knowing she had cancer. If that is your choice, you are to be commended on knowing what works for you personally. A word of caution though, it can be a lonely road. Consider drawing in your healthcare professionals early on so they can support you in navigating this scenario.
Find The Right Tool Or Place
When distance is involved, skype is useful. Seeing each others can be a source of comfort.
Telephone calls, especially with older folks, cuts out struggles with technology.
A location with some privacy allows people to be free to show emotion but some families will benefit from being together in a public space helping keep fractitious emotions in check.
Your doctors’ office, a hospice or hospital meeting room or your family church are all options that include third-party support you can draw on.
You have had time to absorb, research and talk to your healthcare professionals. Your audience has not and so be prepared to answer questions. Let them know you will answer as truthfully as you can. Be prepared to feel overwhelmed, fragile and mortal.
It is helpful to have a list of the most common questions you had with answers on hand. You may want to draw on someone close to you to help you communicate information during this stressful time.
Having brochures about the topic allows loved ones to redirect their focus as they absorb the news and provides something tactile to review later.
Set A Time: Start and Finish
Have a defined time period set in advance. This helps to end the discussion and provides you with an exit strategy. Be prepared to share your grief and sadness too. End on a positive note…your time together is important…you are intent on feeling happy and positive. You will probably be extremely drained and so plan a quiet time after to rest.
Control Your Narrative
Have you defined an approach with some objectives on how you want to handle your journey through this illness? You are an amazing person in charge of the narrative from this point on. You will not feel well but you will be living your most opportune days.
Adopt a slogan by picking a key inspiration or thought that lifts you up. Think of six dynamic action words you can use. Then set out some short scripts to use to reply to common questions. Now own it, share it, encourage others and yourself with that narrative. This will help you establish positive thinking as a habit to instinctively fall back on when you face difficult times.
Finally, remember there is no right or wrong way. Trust your insticts. You have got this.