Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bringer of Good Cheer

Getting past telling The Progeny was a milestone. Now Wonderful Wife and I can talk openly around the house. The next step: tell other people.

The main times I cried during this period are when I contemplated telling other individual people. On the surface, it feels like I'm burdening them. Making them sad. Ruining their day. But going a bit deeper, I think the reason is that telling someone else means acknowledging reality a bit more myself each time.

Because, while I'm optimistic, the truth is this could kill me.

Friend Britt knew right away. She is a Nurse Practitioner and a very close friend. I tell her everything medical that happens with me because she's curious and then we both learn stuff and we also joke about it. Globus was just the kind of thing to discuss with her. So she was along for the ride when I got sent for a CT scan and then got the diagnosis.

I had told a couple of other friends because they happened to ask how I was.

But then came the hardest part: telling my parents and sisters.

I wanted to wait until the pathology confirmed the diagnosis so that I could at least tell them specifically what type of cancer I had. I didn't want them slogging through the same mucky uncertainty in which we had been mired.

I started with Big Sister. She has worked in cancer care for a Very Long Time. She is trained as a dietitian and started her work in cancer care helping patients figure out what to eat to maintain their strength during treatment. Then, at the same hospital, she transitioned into community work building and delivering cancer prevention education programs, especially in immigrant and poor communities. She also built programs to help people in those same communities navigate the health care system for cancer detection (i.e. mammography) and then treatment if diagnosed. She's been in the cancer treatment business for 20 years and is very wise.

Big Sister is also a doer. Very much a doer. When I told her on the phone (my family is all 3000 miles away), she was surprised and saddened for about 2 minutes and then she kicked into gear. She opened the firehose of advice on how to find a treatment team, how to make sure Wonderful Wife and I are supported through treatment and a thousand other pieces of advice gleaned from her long experience in the field.

Having someone as knowledgeable as Big Sister on my team is a huge advantage. I can't imagine how bewildered I would be as a newly diagnosed cancer patient if I didn't have a pretty decent understanding of the disease and an expert advocate like Big Sister to guide me through the labyrinth.

Later in the day I forwarded copies of all my records to her: the radiologist's CT scan report, the biopsy pathology and the notes from Doctor B to Doctor W describing his exam and biopsy. Big Sister forwarded them to a care team she works with, including a medical oncologist, an ENT/head and neck surgeon and a oncology dietitian. They were each generous enough to respond with specific advice they would give me if I was their patient. That was very helpful to me. I'll put that information in my next post.

The next task was to tell Los Parentes.

I dreaded telling them, probably for several reasons. Mom is a two-time cancer survivor and I didn't want to tell her that one of her children now has it. They are quite spry for their age but they don't need bad news and stress.

But I made the call. Of course I started crying when starting to tell Dad. But it's only the initial telling that is the hard part. I was fine soon after and of course their immediate response was positive: "What are the facts? How can we help? We're here for whatever you need."

I learned that I underestimate peoples' ability to handle bad news.

But I didn't learn it immediately: still had Little Sister to tell, and I decided to tell her the next evening but Los Parentes (who see Little Sister often) said they would tell her if an opportune time presented itself. They told her the next day and of course her reaction was the same - I underestimated her, too!


Wonderful wife had been watching me go through these emotional cycles of telling people. She was reassuring.

"You're expanding the circle," she said. "And that circle is going to fill up with love."

Wise Wife, too.

It did feel like quite a relief to expand the circle. Sharing helps diffuse the fear a little.

I also told the colleagues I work most closely with, via email. I knew they must be wondering why I was missing so much work. And I also told a few more friends and neighbors. I started getting better at it.


  1. Your observations around telling others really struck home for me...many times I have felt that sharing our family's own version of bad news was 1) a burden to the other person and 2) "that telling someone else means acknowledging reality a bit more myself each time". This is a current family situation that we haven't quite figured out how to share. Thanks for sharing your story - I am very encouraged by your posts!

  2. Hi again, I agree With the previous comment, thank you for sharing - it can actually be useful for other people in a similar situation, and I imagine it takes away a bit of the pressure of having to keep everyone around you up to speed- just hand them the blog URL, as I do. Writing about it means you have to perform a reality check and work through what it all means. That's helpful to the blogger as well as the Readers. Personally I find that blogging about the situation also helps near relationship communication as well. Wifey will often discussed with me issues I have raised in the blog.