The first hard decision after my diagnosis was how and when to tell people. This is something that can be, and was for me, extremely nerve-racking. How do you tell your loved ones something that like? How do you say it and when? And then all your friends, co-workers and the other rings of people in your life, how do you spread the news to all of them? And then there comes the fears about how they will take it, what they will say, how they will react, and how the way they view you might change. It’s a lot. I remember sitting with the nurse navigator right after receiving the news and asking her, how do I tell everyone? She smiled, a little sadly, and said that she couldn’t tell me that, it was up to me. This wouldn’t be the first time I heard or realized this.
There was a very strange mix of emotions. Telling Jesse was awful, but I felt like I couldn’t hold it on my own anymore (even though it had only been about and hour and a half), and it was a momentary relief to let the words flow out of me. After we got over the initial shock and fear of that moment, although I was scared to say the words again and make it even more real, I had an overwhelming need to share my diagnosis. We are lucky that his parents live across the street from us and that we have a close relationship with them. I think I said something like, “Can we go tell your parents? We can’t carry this on our own. I can’t be alone with this anymore. It’s too heavy. It’s too much”.
It helped to share it. The shock and sadness and confusion wasn’t easy to see on their faces, but I did feel more relief, if only slight. More oxymoronic feelings – you will see this pattern emerging. But the next step was one I had been unknowingly dreading: telling my own family and, most of all, my mom.
My mom and her husband live about 2 hours away from us, so I couldn’t tell her right away – again, not the type of news you drop in a text :p We arranged to go up the next day and tell them and my sister. As we got closer, I was getting more and more nervous. When we were about 5 minutes away, Jesse voiced what I was feeling, “Why am I so nervous to tell them?”. You might be feeling the same or have felt it in the past with any huge news you have to drop. When the news is in no way your fault, it’s sometimes hard to rationalize those feelings. You are totally normal 🙂
For me, the answer was two-fold. I told Jesse, we’ve had 24 hours to sit with this news and get over the initial shock and fear and sadness, to start thinking about what comes next and to start nurturing a little bit of hope. Whenever we tell someone new, we have to go through that shock and sadness again, to go through the why’s and the how’s, to see their fear, which of course reignites the same in us. It’s like getting the news ourselves all over again. The second part of the answer I didn’t share with him right away, and I’m not sure when exactly I did. It’s patient guilt, and it’s not something that gets talked about out in the open very much.
I was sad. I was sad for me but also for everyone who loved and cared about me, and I felt guilty that I was putting them through this, through these difficult emotions and the events that I knew were coming.
You need to know one thing: my mom is without a doubt the best mom on this planet. I know everyone says that, but it’s so, so true. And man has she gone through some shit in her lifetime. She has experienced a lot of loss and she has taken care of absolutely everyone who means the most to her; and not just in the way that people care for the emotions and wellbeing of those they care about, but in the “I’m setting aside my life as I know it so that I can look after you” type of way. I was devastated and guilty that I was going to be one more person she was going to have to take care of in this way.
I’m sure she’s reading this with a hint of incredulity (“I’m your mother! Of course I was going to take care of you!”); I didn’t say guilt was a logical response to have, but it’s one that happens often. If you are feeling this way now for any reason, cancer or not, you are not alone and it’s a completely natural response. But yes, it’s not one you have to have. Work a little at getting to the root of why you feel guilty. You might be surprised at what comes up, and it will help you resolve and move past it. Also, talking to the people you feel guilty about can do wonders. Deep down, we know it’s not a founded emotion, that our loved ones would never want us to feel guilty (hopefully that is the case for you as well), but it helps so much to hear it from them.
If they do want you to feel guilty, which I have unfortunately heard from others who have gone through this, then remind yourself that it has nothing to do with you. It isn’t anything that you should feel guilty about in any way, and if they are making you feel as though it is, it indicates that there is some deeper issue within themselves. Easier said than done to move past that kind of treatment, but focus on surrounding yourself with the people who DO love and support you and don’t make you feel crappy. This is a good practice for everyone to commit to; you will be healthier and happier, I promise 🙂 People who care shouldn’t make you feel bad. Period.
I am reminded of a beautiful, beautiful woman I got to know a little from afar on Facebook who lost her battle last year. Before she passed, she shared with us that her husband, the person who was supposed to give her the most love and support in the world, told her to basically hurry up and die so that he would have the chance to move on and be with someone else while he was still young enough to do so. Fear and anger and sadness get redirected all the time and in the cruelest, most unfair ways; please, never let anyone else make you feel guilty for your hardships and, most importantly, stop when you catch yourself doing it to yourself too. There will be much more on self love to come, but start there.
Happy Healing <3