Don't Overshare Your Cancer Journey

     When faced with cancer and all of the stress and tough decisions that come along with a diagnosis, you want to know what family and friends think, but too much input can be harmful and influence you against your own beliefs and in some situations shame you or make you feel unworthy of the decision making process.  Sharing all of the details in your medical life may feel empowering and a way of releasing stress and worry, but you might be oversharing. Sometimes it is hard to know if what you are sharing is enough or too much.         

     Take stock of the people in your life that you are the most open with about your cancer and your personal life.  Who are they?  Your siblings, parents, coworkers, friends?  When you talk to them about your choices and ask them about whether to do chemotherapy or radiation, to remove one or both breasts, to seek alternative medicines and treatments, are they really supporting you or do they have their own agenda?  If you have someone that is always argumentative, won't listen and gives you advice that doesn't align with your treatment or beliefs, you really don't have their support.  Support from your inner circle should include listening without judgement and respecting your decisions.

     As a person dealing with any stage of cancer, it is alright to choose a couple people in your life that you trust and that support you unconditionally.  Stop telling everyone your business, especially if it incites arguments or negativity.  If you constantly bump up against the same reaction from someone, you are oversharing and you need to take a different approach with them.  If someone that is not supporting you asks how you are doing, tell them you are trying to get some space from always talking about your cancer and change the subject.  You don't have to tell everyone your business.

     If you need someone outside your inner circle of friends and family to listen to your dilemmas with treatment, your fear of side effects or you just want to get it all out, find a cancer center in your area.  It is so freeing to voice your concerns with other people that know exactly what you are going through.  Sitting in a room with other people in varying stages of their cancer can be so enlightening and comforting. 

     When I was in the middle of breast cancer treatment, I realized that only a handful of people were there for me all the time and I could rely on them and share my journey without fear of criticism.  I bumped up against several other people that did not agree with my choice to do chemotherapy and actually told me that it would kill me.  They got dumped out of my inner circle and I remained polite with them, but no longer talked about my cancer in detail.  Do you have someone that is not supporting you, but you keep telling them everything?  You don't have to do that.  Stop oversharing with those that are not supportive. Choose to keep yourself in a place that is filled with positive people that reflect back love, kindness and understanding. You deserve that.  

Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's: You’ve offered your help…

If you have offered to visit, bring meals or help in any other way, please be respectful of their time, their emotional state and their needs.  Having cancer is like being on a boat and having no navigation tools and no sense of where you will be minute to minute or day to day.  One minute I was laughing and teasing about my cancer, the next sobbing about the overwhelming idea that my mortality was in imminent danger.  This is totally normal.  Emotions, fears & your cancer reality will be ever changing.  I never knew what the next day would bring on my journey. 

On several occasions while I was going through chemo, I made plans with people to come visit me.  I always told them that we would check in the morning of the visit and if I wasn’t feeling well we would have to postpone.  I was a little over ambitious with my visitors one particular day, but I was feeling so good, I wanted to squeeze in as many supportive, loving friends as I could.  It actually was a disaster, as all three small groups of people showed up at the same time and I was overwhelmed trying to talk to 6 people at one time.  From that moment on, I decided that I was not going to try and make anyone else happy on this cancer journey at my own expense.  I was very specific in communicating my needs and If I needed a nap, I was going to take one and plans with friends or family would have to change to accommodate me.

Here are some practical Do’s & Dont’s when offering to help someone with cancer...

Do: If you have made an offer to help, follow up. Make definite plans with exact times.

Don’t: Rely on them to call you to make plans. They are overwhelmed and probably not sleeping, so take the initiative.

Do: If you said you would be there at noon, be there at noon. Do not show up late!

Don’t: Arrive 2 hours late with excuses. If you can’t do it, don’t plan it.

Do: Understand that some days it is difficult to get up, get dressed and wait for visitors.

Don’t: Make someone with cancer wait for you. There is so much waiting already!

Do: Be very flexible!  You might need to change the plan if they are not feeling well or up for visitors after all. 

Don’t: Ever show up sick or fighting off a cold or flu. If you have been around someone in the last 48 hours that has been sick, let them know and cancel your visit.

Do: When you have cancer, you have good and bad days and you need to honor that.

Don’t: Bring your little kids along unless you have already gotten approval that it is ok.

Do: Ask them if they have any issues with perfume or scented items.

Don’t: Show up covered in scented items.  Many cancer patients have heightened senses when going through cancer treatment. Scented items made me extremely nauseous.

Do: Ask if they have any diet restrictions or things they cannot eat.

Don’t: Assume they will be able to eat something without asking; taste buds can be off and somethings look and smell terrible that didn’t before.

Do: Offer to pick up, drop off & pay for take-out food of their choice.  It is such a treat to have a favorite meal delivered.

Don’t: If bringing a meal, limit your visit to let them enjoy the meal & visit another day.

Stay tuned for my next segment; Practical Do’s & Dont’s: Checking in with someone that has cancer...