Last week I went into the doctor’s to get a chest x-ray. I was having trouble breathing and they thought it might be a clot. No clot, but they found a mass on my left lobe. They did a biopsy and a week later and discovered I have lung cancer. I’m terrified, of course, but the doctors are all very reassuring that they got it early enough. I’m scheduled to go into surgery next week to have it removed and then I’ll probably need some chemo for added measure. Thankfully, I avoided needing radiation to shrink it.
My question is: would it be wrong if I didn’t tell my family? The past two years have not been kind to us, starting with my mother dying unexpectedly. My niece spent a week in a coma after her “father” shook her, and my sister is dealing with her permanent disabilities, as well as a new baby. My older brother is finally sober after falling into a drug addiction that almost killed him. My uncle died unexpectedly three months ago, and my cousin died last month. My aunt has always been a second parent but she’s barely holding it together and her only other child is in Afghanistan. I’ve never smoked but everyone else in my family does. I’m afraid they’re going to try to blame themselves. My family has already been through so much pain and I don’t want to cause them anymore. It’s feasible to keep it a secret, I just don’t know if it’s right. I want to protect them, but I’m also scared for myself. — Scary Diagnosis
Well, first of all, I’m very sorry to hear about your diagnosis and I’ll keep you in my prayers that the surgery and chemo are successful in treating the cancer.
As for your question, I can’t say it would be “wrong” of you not to tell your family. I can understand your hesitancy to share the information, but I do think you need a strong support system to help you through what will surely be a grueling ordeal. Maybe that isn’t your family right now. Maybe, after everything they’ve been through recently, they simply don’t have the emotional reserve to provide the support you really need. If that’s the case, who can you tell? I would make a short list of people you know you can depend on and then immediately tell them what you’re going through and ask if you can count on them to be your “surrogate family” during this time. Tell them what that means — as much as you can anticipate at this point what it will mean. Late night phone calls? Probably. Drives to the hospital for your surgery and chemo? Definitely. Distractions when you need it and shoulders to cry on when you need those? Yes. So, make a list of people you’re close with who are most likely to have the emotional reserve to provide those things and tell them.
As for your real family, there’s no rule that says you have to keep them informed on everything that happens to you — even something as major as a cancer diagnosis. If you feel in your heart that telling them would hurt you more than help you, then you need to really consider that. But if you’re simply avoiding telling them because you don’t want to add to their hurt, that’s really something else altogether. Yes, this news, without a doubt, is going to hurt them, but in the event your health, God forbid, declined rather than improved, imagine how devastated they’d be learning the truth then? Sometimes protecting the people we love from pain means softening the blow with a smaller punch now than a bigger hit later. But let’s hope your surgery and the chemo prove successful and you never have less that a very good prognosis.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at email@example.com.