To talk or not to talk. That is a C question.

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Most cancer patients face the question about when, to whom and what to say regarding their condition. This happens from the very beginning… even before diagnosis has been confirmed. Just receiving the news about the need to have further tests to discard the illness is worrying enough for the affected person to wonder whether she or he should tell their partner, the family, their friends or their boss.
The reasons for this questioning have mainly to do with two fundamental areas of concern. The person does not want to worry others unjustifiably. The initial thought could be on the lines of “I must be sure first, and then I will tell.” The second common motivation is “Who and what should they know?”.
Every person is different. We get different types of cancer, in different stages of evolution, and with different prognosis. Treatments are different, and each person reacts to them in very specific and distinctive ways. Progress is achieved sometimes in unexpected areas and periods of time. All that is well known, even if we keep permanently comparing ourselves to others throughout the process.
One area in which we are particularly susceptible is how do we think, feel and react to cancer. A person with cancer may face changes of mood and levels of energy from one hour to the next, from one day to another. The worry about cancer and it’s treatment affect not only the physical condition of the patient but also greatly affect the way of thinking and the emotions of the individual. Confusion, anxiety, anger, fear, hopelessness, guiltiness, dismay, irritability, lack of confidence, depression… and many other emotions, these all alter the person’s behaviour and manner they interpret their own circumstances and the way others respond or may respond to them.
Consequently, the issue of “to whom to say what”, comes up again and again. Many patients talk a lot and to everyone about their illness. Some patients research every available source for details and information about their type of cancer, treatments, diets and wellbeing strategies. On the other extreme of the spectrum, some patients rather minimize any reference to the topic, they might limit their own sources of information to the brief supplied by their medical team, and may prefer that others, including close family and colleagues, know very little or nothing about their condition. In the middle of these reactions, there are many other copying strategies with varying degrees of reserve and disclosure.
What is important here is to remember that since each person is unique, their illness and circumstances are also unique. Their way of dealing with their emotions, thinking and behaviour has also to be considered in a very personal manner.
There is not a single approach that will be “good” or “bad”. The patient’s physical, emotional and cognitive needs are specific and special to that person. Therefore, the patient should pace her or himself to consider the pros and cons of their way of reacting, consider their particular environment (e.g, relationships with family, friends, work, etc.), and ponder what could be the best way of talking, or not talking, about their cancer. Relationships can be strengthened or weakened as a result of our choices.
Many times we under or overestimate the impact we have on others, either when we talk or when we do not. It is a challenging process to go through for any patient, but it is a worthwhile one.

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