Blindsided: The suddenness of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis 49



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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.

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?

Guest Contributor

  1. My husband &I I were told in the Drs rooms. There is no easy way to tell family friends.Make most of the time people have left.Laugh cry with them.My husband never said once way me.He passed away a day after our 2nd youngest Grandaughter s 2nd birthday.

  2. When my father was diagnosed with bowel cancer the doctor told my Mum and I and said that he felt it would be better if we told my father. I was the one that broke the news to my father. I have never forgiven that doctor. Dad had a lot of questions that I could not answer. In my opinion the doctor wimped out.

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  3. I was 14 yrs old, sitting on the lounge watching telly with my Mum one day when she told me we were going to lose my beautiful, loving, caring Dad, he was only 34, two months later he was gone and life has never been the same for me. I hate Cancer with a passion and in 51 yrs I have waited and watched for a cure, it seems a long time coming but its out there s’where, in Nature I believe, someone please find it? 🙁

  4. There is no easy way I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1989, and found that being very open and upfront was the easiest and best way to let people know, you certainly know who your friends are. I am extremely grateful to the wonderful doctors I had, I will never never forget how lucky I have been

  5. My Husband passed away within a fortnight after being told he had cancer in the spinal fluid and was going to his Brain and was non operative it certainly knocked the wind out of my sails plus my two boys a month before we were in Europe.

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  6. Indeed, how fortunate this writer has been to not have been ‘touched’ by cancer. As Brian, said – there is no easy way to share such ‘bad news’. The first time I was diagnosed was some 15 years ago – a lump in my upper leg was a ‘low grade, B Cell follicular lymphoma’ – it was removed, treated with radiotherapy, and other than my work place, I pretty much kept it to myself. The second time was almost 12 months ago. I had breast cancer. This diagnosis was a bit harder to swallow. My family needed to know. I kept it ‘light’ and focused on the positives. Early detection, small lump…………the prognosis was good. And still is – no cells detected in surrounding tissue, no cells in the lymph node; a lumpectomy, radiation – the treatment. As we age, our ‘mortality’ stares us in the face much more frequently so our family and friends have no choice but to get used to it.

  7. When I tolded my family 28 years ago. Had ovarian cancer. My mum cried and nurse me on her lap like a baby. Family cried. I thought had me dead and buried instantly.

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  8. My sister after having a hysterectomy was told that everything was fine before she left hospital,some 10 days later she recieved a phone call from the doctor telling her that she had ovarian cancer,what a disgraceful way to tell someone this,she had a complete nervous breakdown,surely this should have been handled so much more compassionately not over the phone

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  9. No easy way to share such news. Quite often the person hasn’t absorbed the news properly themselves at that stage and the re telling brings the shock back

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