Telling my family that I had breast cancer is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was diagnosed over the phone, on a Friday afternoon. It was almost as much of a surprise to my doctor as it was to me. The call was quick, and I didn’t get much info. I had to wait until Monday morning’s appt to discuss a treatment plan. This left me with the weekend to sit on my news.
Since I wasn’t even remotely expecting a cancer diagnosis as a woman in my 20s (I had already been told it was very likely a benign fibroadenoma) I had very little info on breast cancer. It didn’t seem fair to tell my siblings and nana about my diagnosis until I had more information. I had called my mom immediately upon receiving the news and she, of course, told my dad (thanks goodness for that). Telling my mom in the panic of the moment was easier than telling the rest of my family, when I had more time to really think about it.
After my appt with my doctor where I learned for the first time terms like pathology, radiation, clean margins, etc. I felt I had a basic understanding of what was ahead of me. At the time I had a very limited understanding of cancer and its treatment, as I didn’t know many people with cancer. Both my brother and sister are younger than I am and I knew that their understanding was likely just as basic.
It felt cruel to tell them about my diagnosis. I knew it would upset them so much, as it had my parents. I didn’t want to tell my nana either – she is very close to my family and had lost several friends in recent years to cancer as well. I felt like I was burdening my family. The guilt was enormous. I knew they would be shocked, as I was, and that they would feel completely helpless, as I had.
My family is small, but loud and chatty, at our usual gatherings. My mom invited everyone over for pizza. I remember feeling like it was mean to lure them over for such terrible news, but I wanted to tell everyone face to face and did not want to have to tell each of them separately. The living room in my parents’ house where we had been having Christmas, birthdays, and every other family occasion for over 25 years became the place where I had to tell my family that I had cancer.
My sister cried, but tried so hard not to. My brother was confused. It’s the only time I ever remember seeing my nana shed a tear in my entire life. My dad was in charge of handing out tissues. My mom and I tried to explain the tests and treatment as best as we could and answer everyone’s questions. It was so difficult for me to hold it together. It felt so real to tell them the news.
I could not get over the guilt that I was doing this to my family. I felt like I was ruining everything – adding sadness and turmoil where there was no need for it. I felt angry too – why was I the one who was sick when everyone else got to be healthy and go on living their normal lives? And of course I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect from treatment, but knew I had a long road ahead of me.