Blindsided: The suddenness of a loved one's cancer diagnosis

I was lucky enough to go most of my life without hearing a lot of terrible news about the ones I loved. I had heard of cancer scares here and there, and yes, deaths, but no one in my immediate family had been unlucky enough to have a life-threatening illness. And I thanked my lucky stars for that. But last week, my world was turned upside down and I became like so many others – I had been touched by the cold hand of cancer. And not myself, but my father-in-law.

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It all happened like a dream and it felt like everything was in slow motion. We’d just finished dinner and my father-in-law turned to my partner and said, “I have something to tell you…”. His wife tried to calm him down and my partner and I wracked our brains about what he wanted to tell us. Was his much younger wife pregnant? No, that couldn’t be it! He couldn’t be a father again at his age. Was he wanting to borrow some money? Then he came out with the bombshell that may as well have been one. “I have cancer”. Now, I don’t mean to be critical but I think someone has watched too many movies – just the delivery was done in such a definite way I wondered later if it could have been more tactful. Nevertheless, I was devastated. He then got up and asked if we wanted dessert, which left us at the table, reeling.

“What type of cancer?” we cried. “Bowel cancer”. I breathed a small sigh of relief. As he explained, he had gone straight to the doctor at the first sign of an issue and the doctors felt confident he would be on the mend soon. I told my mother later on and she said that her own brother and my grandfather had bowel cancer, which was news to me. Of course in those days there weren’t the tests we have now, and the same prognosis.

It made me wonder how others had been told about their loved ones’ cancer diagnosis. Were you in the room with the doctor? Were you told at the dining table? What do you think is the best way to break the news?