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Talking to Family About Breast Cancer
The following article discusses strategies for gently discussing your diagnosis with family and friends. Bedford Breast Center is a Los Angeles cancer treatment center, dedicated to providing compassionate care to diverse patients throughout their diagnosis and treatment journey.
After a breast cancer diagnosis, one of the hardest tasks for many women is finding a way to tell family and friends about the results. Simply disclosing the news can be an emotional challenge not only for the person with the disease, but for the people receiving it, too.
Every cancer survivor must develop an individual plan for telling loved ones. What may be “breaking the news gently” to one family member could be a traumatic shock to another. Even though you may have developed coping strategies for your new reality, it can sometimes be harder for the people who care about you to deal with the surge of emotions the news can bring. Understand that they will likely feel helpless; they won’t know what they can or should do to help you or make your journey easier, and that realization might be frustrating.
Although it is impossible to know what will or won’t be the most effective and compassionate method for telling loved ones, here are a few things to keep in mind that could help you engage in an understanding and loving discussion.
The diagnosis isn’t just yours.
Please understand that, to the people who love you most, this isn’t only happening to you. Your family will feel a strong sense of responsibility for your health and wellbeing, and will likely want to help you on your journey in a tangible way.
However, the help that your family wants to give you might not be the help you need. Some of your family may want you to never lift a finger or spend a moment on your own, when all you want to do is have some “me” time binge-watching “The Walking Dead.”
It’s not uncommon for breast cancer survivors to feel somewhat smothered by the attention they receive post-reveal, and it’s easy to go from feeling loved and supported, to becoming overwhelmed and feeling pressured to constantly communicate your appreciation and gratitude. Your main responsibility, however, should be your own health and wellbeing, and not the composition of thank-you notes. Tell your family what kind of assistance and support you will find helpful, and what may make you feel stressed.
Expect a diverse range of reactions.
You might be surprised by the way your family responds. Some may want to smother you will love and attention; others may not want to spend time with you at all.
Understand that responses to your diagnosis may not be what you’d consider ideal, but there’s a good chance that it may not be due to any lack of concern for you. They could be struggling to manage their own worries, and not able to express themselves effectively. They also could be protecting themselves from their own feelings of sadness, and withdrawing from you. You might feel hurt, but if you recognize that everyone has their own defense mechanisms and give them a chance to come to terms with the new reality, they may come through for you in remarkable ways.
Learn how to ask for help.
If you were a fundamentally independent person before your diagnosis, you might struggle to ask for support when you’re feeling vulnerable. Tell your family and friends in advance that you deeply appreciate their concern, but there may be times when you might not be in a place where you can ask for their help easily. You may be able to develop solutions together, whether it’s them periodically checking in with you through a brief text, or scheduling time together for running errands.
A loving family and friends network can make all the difference in outcomes and quality of life. Even though it’s difficult and even stress-inducing to tell the people close to you about your diagnosis, remember that you have people who will want to know how to best help and support you.
Bedford Breast Center is one of the leading Los Angeles cancer treatment centers, helping guide patients through difficult diagnoses with kindness and understanding. To schedule a consultation, please contact the team at Bedford Breast Center today.