Tuesday, September 10, 2013

#BloodCancerAwarenessMonth Q&A: "How and when do I share my cancer diagnosis with my family?"

Over the years, I've received thousands of emails about Bald in the Land of Big Hair, a memoir about my experience with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A cancer diagnosis brings a firestorm of questions, and as a survivor, I can sympathize, but I'm not an expert; many times I just don't have the answers. So this year during Blood Cancer Awareness Month, I've asked Ashley Rodgers (Masters in Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling), to respond to some FAQs about the emotional and psychological aspects of the cancer journey. 

Q: At what point am I obligated to share info about my cancer diagnosis with my extended family? 

Ashley says: When it comes to sharing your diagnosis with extended family and others in your social circle, the timing is up to you. Depending on the dynamic you have with each family member or friend, they may notice something is weighing on your mind and they may ask you for the information. Others might not notice and you might be feeling the urge to share in order to connect and gain encouragement. Social support is a great source of encouragement and strength especially when you have been diagnosed with cancer. Research shows that social support improves mental and physical well being. It allows you to learn and utilize more positive coping skills, which eases the level of stress comparatively.

It may be tough trying to start this conversation with your loved ones but here are a few tips on how to approach the topic:

Give your family member(s) a heads up that you want to meet and talk with them. Maybe you want to meet that afternoon, or a few days from now. Asking for the time to talk allows the family member to prepare to set aside the time and to also be aware that you have something you want to share with them. This gives them time to be available to receive what you have to say, rather than being in the middle of picking up kids from school or on a lunch break when they are rushing back to the office, etc.

Start by saying you have something important you want to share with them and let them know what the diagnosis is, and what that means. Sharing what to expect helps provide comfort in knowing. Fear and anxiety more often follow the unknown. Try to provide as much information as you can and if you do not have an answer to a question, tell them you will find out together. 

And finally, be available to answer questions and stay connected with them. Talk about what's working now and what could be better moving forward. Social interaction and support helps combat depression and keeps you going stronger than when you are on your own. If you are looking for more social connections to help you through this, look for a support group in your area. 

For more information, check out this article: The Impact of Social Support on Cancer.

We welcome your questions and comments.

*No part of this blog or the book Bald in the Land of Big Hair should be misconstrued as or substituted for medical advice.

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