Four long months before I received the diagnosis of cancer, we said goodbye to our first-born, Debbie, our son-in-law, Craig, and our two beloved grand-children, Sacha (4) and Llewellyn (2).
They flew from Cape Town, South Africa, to America, en route for Venezuela. They now lived thousands of kilometres away from us, far from normal civilisation, with only a poor internet connection for communication.
On one side of the Pacific Ocean we tried to adapt to the trauma of losing our loved ones. Across the ocean, in the jungle of Venezuela, they battled to settle into a very different culture in a foreign, Spanish speaking, country. How could I now write to them and say, “I have cancer”?
It wasn't fair to them. It wasn't fair to us. In fact, it just wasn't fair. There is no easy way to tell this news.
That night I sat at the computer and typed the most difficult letter of my life. I reluctantly sensed that Stephen was right; Debbie needed to know. I also needed to know that they were praying for me and loving me, all those kilometres away. Yet, I was afraid.
Afraid that they'd be cross with me for further complicating their already complicated life.
Afraid that they'd resent me for telling them news that would add to their existing emotional turmoil.
Afraid that I would write the wrong words or put them the wrong way, and make my situation look worse than it really was.
I also battled with feelings of guilt for my lousy timing. How could I get cancer when they had only left home four months ago?
Even though I knew, deep down, my thoughts didn't make sense, I couldn't seem to put them out of my mind. I wrote the letter with difficulty, and edited it a dozen times before reading it to Rob and David for their approval. I then waited for Stephen to read it the next day.
The e-mail had to be as perfect as it could be. It had to cause as little stress as possible. It had to not give the wrong picture. And yet . . . I had cancer. And there was no easy way to tell the news.
My feelings of guilt and fear were irrational, but they weren't abnormal.
Cancer plays tricks with your mind, causing your emotions to swing, often to a ridiculous degree. Rather than fight these swings, try to find ways to bring them under control. Ask those closest to you for their opinions and support.
Do you have loved ones whom you haven't told about your cancer diagnosis? Pray around the issue, but find a way to tell them. There is no easy way. But your family and close friends need to know. If you don't tell them outright, they'll suspect it—if not now, certainly when treatment starts.
Don't put them through the turmoil of the guessing game. Rather tell them, or get someone to tell them, in a clear way, what the problem is, and how you're going to deal with it.
- Reassure them of your confidence in your medical team.
- Point out how medical science has advanced over the years and how your prognosis is better than it would have been a generation ago.
- Promise to keep them up to date on your progress.