There are few things in life as distressing as receiving a cancer diagnosis — and sharing the news with loved ones and work colleagues can be daunting.

There is no right or wrong way to deal with disclosing a cancer diagnosis, according to Melbourne/Naarm-based director of the Australian Association of Psychologists Carly Dober.

“You have full agency and control over who you share with, and how much you share, and how you share it.”

Kate White from the University of Sydney’s Cancer Nursing Research Unit says a person who is diagnosed may feel a sense of responsibility to communicate news of their diagnosis in a way that is positive in an effort to minimise distress for others, adding to an already heavy mental load. 

Our recent feature about how to share news of cancer diagnoses prompted readers to contact us with their own experiences of sharing their diagnoses with others. These are some of them. 

Bridie Murphy, 65, Surf Coast, Victoria

My first child (who is a psychologist) will never get over the fact that I told her in the Costco car park!

Telling her siblings was so much harder, as suddenly I had to do It “the right way”. By the time I got to child number three, I was in tears and couldn’t get the words out.

It didn’t even occur to me that there was a “right and wrong” way.

“A problem shared is a problem halved” was what my mum had taught me … I guess not, sometimes.

Marilyn Cummings, 73, regional Victoria

In 2008, I was diagnosed with stage 3C aggressive breast cancer.

At the time, my son David was studying for his PhD entrance exams in Seattle and I did not want to upset his studies, so I did not tell him of the surgeries and chemotherapy that I was going through.

He went on to complete his doctorate and take up teaching at different universities.

My husband lost his work position in the 2008 economic downturn and we were faced with losing health insurance.

My son gave up his student grants and slept on couches to help pay for government assistance so that I could continue treatment.

Thankfully, I am in remission and eternally grateful for his personal sacrifices.

My son became a hero: in the face of overwhelming odds, he made the difference between treatment and devastation.

I thank the dedication of my treating medicos and my son for my wellbeing. They changed my whole life.

Tina, 64, Gingin, Western Australia

My diagnosis came as a complete shock. I had only my brother left for support, who himself has a disability: I am his carer. Mum has dementia and had just gone into a care home.

Our only support was the carer from [a home healthcare provider], who was there when we needed her. She was an angel.

Having a large family and friends, she was able to understand the diagnosis and support me in a way that really helped.

As we live in a regional area, our little town of volunteers helped in many ways.

I haven’t told anyone in our extended family.

The help that comes from the hospital breast care nurses is outstanding.

That’s as far as my divulging goes.

Max Lindegger, 76, Sunshine Coast, Queensland

I was diagnosed with cancer about 22 years ago (yes, I’m a survivor). At the time, I told my close family first. I was 54 years old at the time.

While radiotherapy and chemotherapy were suggested after a 90-gram tumour was removed, running a business, I simply could not afford the time it would have taken to get this treatment in Brisbane over six weeks as we lived on the Sunshine Coast.

What I found “interesting” was how people would prefer to cross the road rather than talk to me.

I assume we simply don’t know what to say?

I was given an abundance of advice by friends and neighbours on what I should do and did not find this at all helpful, as it made me question the decision I made.

I have learnt from this that it is probably best to simply support the decision a friend makes.

I appreciated people offering help — one friend told me that I need not worry about the cattle, he would look after them. Others offered to mow the grass, chop wood.

While cancer is serious, often the outcome can be very positive.

I have learnt not to take BS anymore!

Alice*, South Australia

I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago after a routine screening mammogram.

It was school holidays, my husband was in hospital for a procedure, so my primary-school-aged son was with me, on his laptop in the waiting room. I told him what I knew when we got to the car and he took it well. We went and told my husband.

When Alice (not shown) was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram, she immediately told her son and husband what she knew.(Reuters: Njeri Mwangi, File)

The cancer was small, found early but fast-growing. I knew I would have minor surgery, radiation and hormone therapy.

[But an MRI also] found the cancer had grown.

Surgery was a week later.

I managed to work remotely at my new job from my laptop during days when I had three hours of chemo.

My symptoms were well-managed and I didn’t need any leave. I worked remotely through a couple of stays overnight in hospital due to low immunity. I felt well.

I never told my work colleagues, but I was wearing a neat colour-matched turban for a few months, so I wonder what they thought!

I was afraid of being seen as weak due to my age in my new job.

I told my siblings, so they knew of related medical history. I also told a few close friends. Since it’s all been over, I’ve told a few people when related subjects come up.

I want people to know cancer is not a death sentence, you can be treated, live a normal life through treatment and have a good chance of long-term survival.

Some comments have been edited for clarity and brevity. Thanks to everyone who shared with us.

*Alice’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

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