Cancer Education Center

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Mon, Dec 18, 2017 1:22pm

I Don't Want to Talk About my Cancer During the Holidays

By Megan Roessler M. Ed., @meganroessler

shutterstock_499593346The holidays are pressing upon us.  Many of us will see family members that we don't see very often.  And of course, they are going to want an update on your illness, treatments, prognosis.  They may start telling you of every person or even dog they know that has or had cancer.  Even if they are asking (perhaps awkwardly!) about how you are doing, it is likely because they care.  However, it is perfectly fine to put your needs first.  You want to enjoy the day with your family.  You may not want to talk about cancer. For a day.  Just one day.

This is a natural and understandable desire to anyone who has experienced cancer.  It may not be so understandable to someone who has not.  I have heard many cancer patients say, "I was enjoying myself and had forgotten for a moment about my cancer...until someone else brought it up!"  If you would like to have a day free from the topic, you will need to communicate this to people.  You decide what your boundary is.  Maybe cancer is off limits for the entire day.  Maybe you don't want to talk about it during meal time.  Maybe you will give a 5 minute update and then you are done.  Onto another topic!  Think about sending out an email or a text to the people you will see and inform them of your wishes.  If that is too hard, perhaps you can enlist another family member to do it on your behalf.

If someone in your family doesn't get the memo, or chooses to completely ignore it, add some humor.  Tell them they have to tell you a joke first if they want any information!  Hopefully that tactic will relax the situation, especially for other family members who did read the memo and are wondering "Why is he asking??"

What ways have you changed the topic of conversation, when you are not feeling like talking about cancer?

This is totally understandable. I handle this problem by revealing such things to very few people. People mean well, but probably don’t understand that you don’t want to discuss bad stuff endlessly.

Thanks jshdma. I’m new to the cancer diagnosis and am going to follow how you handle this – by being very select in who I reveal things to. Thank you! Guess it didn’t dawn on me that I had an option, I merely briefly answered people’s questions but am sure tired of it … those who are cancer survivors seem to have a different approach in what they ask me and how they ask it. Guess it’s the old adage about ‘been there’.

Actually I have been fortunate– not had cancer. But I don’t reveal most medical info. I just don’t want to do it and the only way to keep any secret is not to tell it.

@jshdma

Actually I have been fortunate– not had cancer. But I don’t reveal most medical info. I just don’t want to do it and the only way to keep any secret is not to tell it.

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jshdma, with cancer it’s a different situation and difficult to avoid people’s questions since one’s life is totally disrupted — especially if chemo is involved. Obviously friends and family may ask about severe weight loss and what’s happened to your hair, etc.

Holidays are times to put aside the problems of the year and focus on others (and of course food!). I understand @jshdma when she says that she doesn’t reveal a lot of medical information to people. While some people are concerned and will offer support, others will be uncomfortable with the topic and will “shy-away” from you because they are uncomfortable with health-related conversations.

Teresa

Don’t forget that professionally, revealing medical info can come back to bite you. Rightly or wrongly, it could affect your standing in a job, possibly financially or otherwise. It’s a tough world out there and one must protect himself.

@jshdma

Actually I have been fortunate– not had cancer. But I don’t reveal most medical info. I just don’t want to do it and the only way to keep any secret is not to tell it.

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Yes, I should be more understanding. Some things are easier to keep secret, no matter how awful they are, they may not be visible.

@jshdma

Actually I have been fortunate– not had cancer. But I don’t reveal most medical info. I just don’t want to do it and the only way to keep any secret is not to tell it.

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jshdma and others –

I’ve learned that with a cancer diagnosis, a positive support system is crucial! I have a circle of friends and didn’t want them to learn from someone other than me about what happened to me. I am rather private about things like this and while I don’t need to expound on my situation to most people, I have learned a ton about limitations, human frailties, and reaching out to others who offer support and help. For several weeks after surgery, I was unable to drive or do much of anything – an anathema for me who was high energy and independent. And I cannot drive each week that I have chemo. Friends have reached out and offered to take the load off my dear husband when he is unavailable.

But as for others who ask about my health, I have the usual answer that I am “OK”. Before a cancer diagnosis, I was ‘Great’ or ‘Just Fine’ …. but obviously looking at me I am somewhat a shell of what I was. I don’t feel the need to say anything more than that, especially to people whom I feel don’t have my interest at heart. Although by opening myself up to some others I know a little bit, I have met a handful of other cancer survivors – very special people – who have commiserated, offered constructive advice, and truly enriched this awful experience. It’s those other people that I can do without! But now I feel I can be all right with just saying I’m “OK” and let it go at that, even with relatives over the holidays, if I don’t feel like discussing things. Nice to be able to do that.

@jshdma

Actually I have been fortunate– not had cancer. But I don’t reveal most medical info. I just don’t want to do it and the only way to keep any secret is not to tell it.

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I can see the wisdom in your thoughts here. So I wouldn’t question your attitude. Maybe one only knows what he would do when he is in the specific condition or circumstances.

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