Each person living with cancer has a story to share…your story, individual in its twists and turns and ups and downs. Because your story is personal, it makes sense that sharing this story—how, when, if, and with whom—can be a big decision. Your comfort level with various aspects of your story, as well as how much to share, can vary from person to person.
If you’re in the process of deciding whether or not to share your story, or maybe you’ve already decided that the time is right, here are a few things to think about to help you through the process.
Who to tell
The important thing to remember is that you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to deciding with whom you share your story and how much information to provide. The nature of your relationships with those you decide to tell will provide good guidance on when and how much to share.
Family and trusted friends will likely be among the list. These are the people who you can trust with the intimate details of your diagnosis. If children are among those you’re sharing your story with, your conversations may need extra preparation because of the sensitive nature of talking to children about cancer. You can help ease their concerns by talking with them about your diagnosis in simple and concrete terms, using words they understand. Learn more about how to talk with children and how children understand cancer at various ages.
You may also consider sharing your story on a larger scale to support others living with cancer, raise public awareness, advance cancer research, improve the quality of cancer care, and address legislative and regulatory issues that affect cancer care and research. This is called advocacy.
Where to Start
You may find it helpful to write down the details you want to share with specific people before talking with them. As you consider what to write, think about questions or reactions that you may receive and prepare a response. Try practicing the story out loud alone or with a friend or family member. Or, you may feel more comfortable if the conversation is less rehearsed.
While preparation is helpful, don’t tie yourself to a script. Say what feels right in the moment. And sometimes that may be saying nothing at all. Remember that this is your story to share. You may feel comfortable with your story one day and then decide not to share it the next. That’s okay.
Responding to Others’ Reactions
Once you decide to share your story with someone, choose a stress-free time and environment to talk. Begin by telling the person that you have something important to share.
There are lots of ways people will react to this kind of news. A person may react negatively, and you shouldn’t take this personally. The reaction is likely the result of a person’s past experiences and related feelings. It is also a coping mechanism. Others might not say anything or know how to react. Or, your story may remind them of their own fears about cancer or trigger memories of a previous difficult experience or loss.
Sometimes, people will ask questions that feel intrusive or may take the conversation in a direction that makes you feel uncomfortable. This is the time to remember that you’re in the driver’s seat. You can refuse to share certain information, change the topic, or end the conversation.
But remember, for every negative reaction you receive, you’ll receive many more positive, compassionate responses from people in your life. These people will encourage you to share your story and will be supportive throughout your journey. Surround yourself with these people. Develop and nurture those relationships as they continue to share in your experience.