Sharing Your Cancer Diagnosis – guest post

For a lot of us this problem presents itself right at a time when you really have too many other things to worry about:  you are newly diagnosed with cancer.  Who to tell?  When to tell them?  For Dee, today’s guest blogger, the problem was magnified by the extra sensitivity surrounding her diagnosis of vaginal cancer.  Dee just started her blog in January at WHAT kind of cancer?
Please give her a visit.

Sharing your diagnosis….to tell, or not to tell

Having a cancer diagnosis, particularly a vaginal cancer diagnosis, brings with it the awkward position of either having to tell people what’s going on or trying to keep it to yourself.  In my case, I wasn’t inclined to broadcast to friends and family that I had cancer of the vag….so I told only those I had to.  Like my bosses, and my direct reports–both of whom would obviously notice the sudden departures from work for treatments.  The curse of being a workaholic is that everyone comes to expect that you’re always at work, so when you’re not, it’s somewhat conspicuous.  So in total, probably about 5 or 6 people at work knew I had cancer.  I gotta say I think it would have been easier if it had been breast cancer, or lymphoma, even bladder or colon cancer.  Anything but telling your co-workers (all men) that you have vaginal cancer.  Sharing that information was to me a curse worse than death.  So I snuck out when I could, never called in sick, and in general felt like crap and looked like shit for about 8 weeks. Some people asked what was going on; I dodged the questions and said something vague.
I should clarify–even those at work I had to tell–I never specified WHAT kind of cancer it was.  Just that it was a tumor that they could not operate on due to the proximity to the bladder. Which was true actually.  The V word would have made for a much more uncomfortable conversation — for them and me.
Of course my husband and daughter knew…they live here.  That said, we didn’t really talk about it much.  My teenager went from certainty that I was going to die to barely remembering when my chemo days were.

I told my sister, because she’s had close and personal experience dealing with cancer and cancer treatments before.  And because I trusted her and valued her opinion.  She in turn told my other siblings, nieces and nephews.
I was kind of pissed at first (and still am occasionally) but I realize that life is too short to worry about any self-imposed embarassment sharing this information brought with it.

My sister-in-law knew because she was here when my OB-GYN first called with the news about 9:30 one night…instant clue that something’s up. She ended up telling my step daughter many months later, who was hurt and offended that neither me or her dad had told her while I was going through it.

I never did tell my parents, even though others thought that not telling them was horrible of me. I just said…you don’t know my mother.

I’ve always been a pretty private person (insert some psycho babble about a dysfunctional upbringing here) not one of those ‘let’s get everything out in the open and talk about it to everyone who strolls by’ types.

I’m only sharing these examples and covering this topic in a post because I’m all about trying to help someone else who may be trying to figure out how to maneuver through this.  So my sagely advice on this topic:  tell everyone that means something to you.  Even if it’s embarassing, and even if you’re fairly confident that you’ll be fine in the end. If you don’t, you’ll wish you had, and at some point it becomes just too late to share because then they’ll be hurt that you didn’t tell them earlier.

I think perhaps the best approach would have been to just put it out there, ask for no pity, and move on.

– from

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About Dennis Pyritz

Dennis W. Pyritz, RN, BA, BSN, has been a cancer nurse since 1987 and a cancer and bone marrow transplant survivor since 2004. In December 2001 he was diagnosed with t-cell prolymphocytic leukemia (T-PLL), a rare aggressive form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Dennis was treated with the then new monoclonal antibody, alemtuzumab (Campath) as this disease has a median survival of 7.5 months. He achieved a 26 month remission but relapsed in February 2004. He was retreated with Campath and went into a second remission. In August 2004 he underwent an allogeneic peripheral blood stem cell transplant with his brother, Mark, as donor. Dennis has remained in remission since - a near miracle. Throughout his career as cancer nurse and patient, Dennis has had the opportunity to speal to both lay and professional groups. Dennis has spoken on cancer topics and survival issues across the country as well as in the United Kingdom, Norway, Austria, Portugal, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, Trinidad, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Cyrpus, Israel, and India.

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