Explaining your illness to your Family

There are so many different emotions that can surface in your family and friends. Fear, anger, denial but also strength. When you receive the news at first you cannot handle other people’s emotions, you are trying to deal with your own mixed emotions but as you begin to accept the facts you step back and look at those around you and know whatever happens the support system surrounding you will see you through the dark days.

That Friday afternoon I left the interview room feeling numb after receiving the news. My mum was waiting for me and she was probably the best person to be with at that moment. You see my mum had her own battle with cancer 21 years ago so she knew exactly how I was feeling when I gave her the news. I could tell she was naturally upset but she did not get emotional, she wanted to be strong for me. I now know where I get my strength from; thanks Mum.

I decided to wait until I was home to talk to my family but my husband Andy rang my mobile before I got there and I gave him the news. His reaction was emotional as I expected and he kept saying “we will get through this”
And even thought I understand now that this illness involves all of your family and friends at the time I didn’t think that way. I was thinking I had a fight on my hands and I was the only one who could win this battle. But this stand alone attitude is the wrong path, yes be strong but also let your family do what they can for you as this can help them feel involved and useful.

When I arrived home it was pretty evident that my eldest daughter Robyn had spoken to her Dad, her eyes were red and she was in a very emotional state so we sat down and had a talk. Firstly she asked me if I was going to be alright, the word cancer terrified her and I could see the unspoken question going through her head; was she going to lose her mum? I explained as best I could to an emotional 18 year old. I explained to her what treatment I was to have, how it would affect me and about the surgery and then added that because the tumors were detected early I would be fine. I explained how successful the treatment is and kept adding how I was lucky in regard to early detection. I said “ok so I am not looking forward to having the chemo or losing my hair but lets take this one day at a time and before you know it I will be back to myself shouting at you to clean your room” and finally she believed what I was telling her and relaxed. Now I had to explain to my 12 year old daughter Cassie.

Cassie is a different ball game as she does not show her emotions as much as her sister; I guess she gets that from me.

I sat down on the bed in Cassie’s room and to the best of my memory this is how the conversation went, “Cassie I want to tell you what happened at the hospital today. The doctor told me I have a tumor in my left boob and I am going to have to take very strong medicine to get rid of it, and do you know what the funny thing is about this medicine? Well it makes your hair fall out isn’t that terrible? Poor mum is going to look like a baldy old man". At this stage she laughed and I knew I was taking the right approach. We joked about what I would look like for a few minutes and then she asked me “are you going to be alright after you finish the medicine? And of course I said yes. She accepted this as truth and I then said “ok I am going to make a cup of tea now so think about it and if you want to ask me anything else ask me and if I know the answer I will tell you”. She didn’t ask anything else that day but watched me closely for any emotional reaction. I think this is the main reason I didn’t get major emotional, I didn’t want to upset people any more then necessary. It also accrued to me later on that Cassie had judged my recovery by how much my hair had grown back and that was all due to our first conversation.

Later that night when we were on our own I spoke to Andy more in-depth as to what was ahead, he kept saying how it was not fair and I didn’t deserve this, but being realistic who does deserve it and of course the answer is nobody. Cancer is a fact of life and affects families every day of the week; it is an illness that has to be dealt with the same as any other illness. You can lose your life to any number of illnesses, you could fall under a bus on your way to work, and that would pretty much do it too. I guess what I am trying to say is acceptance is the first step to winning the fight. Involve others as much as possible, this will provide you with support when you need it and can bring families closer together.

There was a mixed bag of reactions from my friends, most asked straight away if there was anything they could do to help, some backed away unable to deal with the news which surprised me and to be honest at the time I felt hurt, but I guess everyone deals with situations in their own way so there are no hard feelings. For those of you who never treated me any different but supported me when I needed it; thank you.

I would like to add a note pointed out to me by a friend. She received news much the same as mine from someone she is close to and her first reaction was to back away, simply because she didnt know what to say or do for this person, so I now realise this is a natural reaction and not a personal blow. Those friends will come back when the time is right and stand with you on those darkest days. 

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