I’ve learned that news about cancer (or any other life threatening illness) in one family member probably affects the rest of the family in a much more intense way than the ‘cancer owner’. (I really tried to come up with a better phrase and failed).
When you get this bad news about yourself, you’re too busy dealing with your own emotions you imagine that everybody else should deal with it in their own way. However, it’s equally hard for ones friends and family who feel helpless, who don’t know what to do, who have no control. That’s why it helps to break this bad news with a ‘spoonful of sugar’ (if you don’t understand this because you haven’t watched Mary Poppins, then I don’t know how to help you)
Having extra information after that visit with Dr. Okuku helped my sister and I to set the perfect environ for breaking the bad news to the rest of the family. Since finding out on Friday night, I’d spent the entire weekend at home pretending that nothing was amiss because Fiona and I had agreed that we’ll wait for Sunday afternoon to break the bad news to the rest of the family.
From my experience, here’s my summary of how to do this right:
- Get a neutral place: Imagine you’re breaking up with someone (ignore if you usually send a text). My sister and I waited for Sunday afternoon when she could come home before telling the family. I din’t want to do it on my own and she’s such a good ‘matter of fact’ speaker so we agreed I’d wait for her. At the time, everytime I thought about my predicament I would burst into tears so it was a good call not to give me the talking stick.
- It’s always a good idea to say “There’s bad news and good news”: (If you don’t have good news, then this is not for you). Even if my family wanted to know my bad news, they were quick to ask for the good afterwards because having hope is really nice. In my case, “…stage 1, highly treatable, highest survival rates, t’was caught early” etc were all very helpful good newses:-)
- Prepare for a doubting Thomas: I guarantee that there will be one family member who believes that the doctors are wrong. This is ok. Instead of getting frustrated, accept that it’s possible that a mistake has been made and take steps to actually have extra tests done. Personally, I was hoping it was all a big mistake and had booked for my tissue samples from the original surgery to be retested. Doubt is good, it helps you be more sure of whatever steps your’re taking.
- Have a tissue box available: I admit, I kind of dropped the ball on this one. Some of the members of my family were forced to use their skirts and ‘lesus’ to wipe their tears away.
- Communicate your plans: If you have no plan, then this is the time to get family input on what should be done. Lucky for me, big sis had taken care of this little inconvenience. I practically had a list of doctors to see the following week. Treating cancer is expensive so it was important to figure out what the normal treatment plan is and how costly the process is going to be. I may go into detail on this later.
- Plan something fun afterwards: The diagnosis found me in the middle of rehearsals for a Kampala Amateur Dramatics Society (KADS) Musical show that was being planned. I was excited about this show and I was relieved to have a rehearsal to go to later that afternoon. It was a good escape from my sombre reality and also a good opportunity for me to get some breathing space after telling my family members.
By the time the rest of my family found out about my cancer, I’d had enough time to cry it out, to adjust, to stop fretting, to get a grip. I may be speaking out of my arse but I believe that this helped them not have to worry that I was going to jump off a building. That and the fact that everyone knows I’m afraid of heights, I’d definitely have chosen a cleaner way to off myself.