To Tell or Not to Tell?

Gisa Ellis-Mawer
Gisa Ellis-Mawer
The Founder of Gisa Ellis Consulting

When diagnosed with cancer, you are also faced with the question of how and when to spread the news to other people.

Initially, and most importantly, there are your nearest and dearest, your partner, family, children and closest friends. There are also your business colleagues, employers, acquaintances and the rest of the world you are in contact with.

One would imagine, that most people would share the situation with their closest circle first and find it easy to do so. That, however, is not necessarily so; to the contrary, it can be most difficult to share with the ones you love. Probably because you are aware, that the news will throw out the equilibrium of the family, have a major impact on their lives, and will cause some pain, fear and anxiety.

The best-case scenario is that you have a strong relationship and a strong partner who has your back no matter what and is prepared to travel this journey with you. Even then, it will ask a lot of the other person and can cause them a great deal of stress. Honest communication and understanding is the key on both sides, even if it means being vulnerable.

Your children are a different matter altogether, especially when they are still young. You are their rock; they depend on you and they do not understand the circumstances or possible outcomes. Kids do, however, instinctively know when something is wrong and if you are not telling them the truth. You are walking a fine line between telling them not all is well and not wanting to throw their little world upside down.

Hopefully, your other family members, especially parents and siblings, are mature, understanding and strong people who can support you but can also mind their own business. Sometimes family members feel entitled to steer the journey for you, tell you what you should do and get involved in the decision making. If that is likely, you might want to consider holding back a bit. The main thing is that you cope with your situation, have as little other stress as possible, and then make the decisions that are best for you.

Real friends can make the difference in life, especially when the chips are down! They provide a place where you can truly be yourself, feel supported and understood. You can tell them how you feel, what you think, fear, hope and wish for. There is no better place to share your wins and your woes.

Depending on where the journey is taking you, at some point your employer or business partners will need to know what is going on. Especially as your potential absence over a period or periods of time may affect the business. You might want to plan early on so that there is as little disruption for the business and as much support for you as possible. That does not mean you should stop working. On the contrary, if you can work it will provide you with a sense of normality and distraction. In case you are working with a lot of people in an office for example, and you don’t want to end up being the centre piece of office gossip, you can always ask your direct boss for confidentiality and discretion. Then you can share with the people you can trust to keep your situation private.

In general, if you want to keep your diagnosis a secret, it is best to limit who you share with to the very closest inner circle. Most people find it very difficult to keep a secret, especially when it is juicy news. If you happen to tell the wrong person you can forget about keeping things a secret, and you will probably be faced with chit chat, questions and suggestions you might neither need nor want.

Sometimes, independent support by a professional, who has no previous insight into your history, family and friend dynamics, marriages and relationships amongst other things, can be very refreshing and powerful too. It can help you to make authentic decisions based on what is best for you.

At the end of the day, you decide what is right for you taking your circumstances into consideration. And if you feel the best way is to post it all over social media, that is OK too as long as you understand the consequences.

Love to hear your comments!

Gisa x

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