12 June 2015 – Telling People (Cancer and Me 32)

1st August 2015 0 By Andy Burrows

One of the things that struck me this time round is how stressful it is telling people the news. In some ways it’s easier telling people who are close to you. I say that hesitantly, though.

We told the kids in the evening on the day I got the biopsy result. Originally we had planned to wait until today, after Joe’s GCSE exams were over. But it was too much to keep secret. There were tears, obviously. It’s not great having to tell them for the third time in five and a half years.

Heidi made sure she told the headteacher at school before they came home, so that the teachers would be aware of the situation.

We told our parents, and asked them to tell our brothers and sisters.

The people it is most stressful telling after that are the wider circle – people at work, at church, at school, etc. I used to think it didn’t bother me talking about my illness, and it doesn’t generally. But hitting people with the news is difficult.

Take, for example, the situation at work. I was off work two days ago to attend the appointment to get the biopsy results. It coincided with one of the most significant workshop sessions at this point in the integration programme. I should have been there. I felt that I would have been missed. I always have something to say in those kinds of sessions. I couldn’t tell anyone beforehand what was so important that I had to miss the meeting. And then when I went in the office yesterday morning, I was bizarrely almost petrified thinking someone was going to say, “did you have a nice day yesterday?” What would I say then? Would I have to be honest? If I said, “no, I found out I have cancer – again,” what would they say? Would they then ask questions about the treatment? I’d have to tell them I need intensive treatment. What if they asked what was going to happen at work, on the project, who was going to take over, was I going to have to leave, when…? I wasn’t ready for those questions. I had no answers. My fears were probably irrational anyway. People are generally sensitive and at the very least well-meaning. But I still left the office midway through the day after speaking with my boss.

The easiest way seems to be to let someone else do the hard part, to get the news out. Once that’s done, it gets round to people who need to know. In the meantime you take a step away and gather your thoughts, and then in a few days you have a few more answers to the questions you were dreading.

It’s worth saying that Heidi and I have tried to tell close friends personally, either face to face, by phone or by email or text. Close friends know to offer sympathy and not be pushy with lots of questions. They know to be there when needed, to give space and be sensitive. And they’re often willing to share the news with others in your shared circle to save you the stress.

So the news is being disseminated to those who need to know at work, and giving the expectation that I won’t be seen in the office while I have treatment. If I do make it in one day before treatment starts, I’ll be ready knowing that most people already know, and being able to answer some of the questions I couldn’t have answered yesterday.

There is so much to emotionally cope with when you have cancer, digesting the treatment plan, the impact on work, the impact on social life and family life, the impact on the kids, the fears for the future, and so on. You really don’t need to added pressure of telling the story over and over again.