Living

How to tell a loved one you have cancer

How, exactly, do you tell a loved one you have cancer? Here's hoping you never find out because it isn't easy.

When I got a call Oct. 30 from a Kennewick clinic that a growth in my lymph nodes might well be cancer, my first call was to my wife. She talked me down off the branches of despair, assuring me that we would deal with whatever came next.

My second call was to my brother, who lives in the upper Midwest. He wasn't sure what to think because he hadn't heard my voice quite so solemn before. At first, he thought something had happened to our mom, my wife or my daughter. When I told him what I knew (which wasn't a whole lot), he was stunned into a moment of silence before going into full big-brother mode, assuring me we would deal with whatever came next.

We also made a difficult decision: not to call our mother. This is where everything got a little complicated. We knew absolutely nothing about my medical condition. No biopsy had been performed. No experts had looked at my CT scan. It could be cancer. It could be nothing. And my mother was leaving in a few days for a month-long trip to India. If I told her, in all likelihood she would cancel that trip.

In my mind, there was no reason to ruin that trip when we knew nothing. I still do not regret that decision, as we didn't really find out what I was dealing with until Nov. 12 and didn't have a plan of action until Dec. 5.

When she arrived home in early December, all of us - my wife, daughter, brother and I - went to visit my mother. It was the same day I met with my oncologist at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center. That meeting lasted until well after 5 p.m., so we didn't arrive on the Kitsap Peninsula until after 10 p.m. Our 4-year-old daughter slept most of the way over, so she was awake and wired upon arrival.

A question that weighed on my mind for two weeks was this: How do you tell someone her baby boy (even a 44-year-old, 6-foot-4 baby boy) has cancer? My mom has dealt with a fair bit of heartbreak in the past 18 months, with my father passing away in July 2007. This would not be easy, especially since she still was a bit jet-lagged by her return from India.

She handled the news as well as anyone could have hoped. She was stunned that this was happening to our family, but she gave me a long hug and said we would deal with it together. No tears, at least not in front of me. Just like me, she has tackled this head on. I have no doubt there have been moments of despair, but she knows that we all need to keep looking forward as we beat this thing.

Cancer is a really lousy disease, but it also teaches lessons. It can bring families together. In my case, it can make a close family even tighter.

  Comments