Tag Archive | diagnosis

Who do you tell?

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, it was completely overwhelming. After I told my immediate family, the question becomes, who else do you tell and how do you tell them? I want my good friends to know because I and my family need their support while I’m going through diagnosis and treatment, but how do you tell them? I would get asked the casual, “Hi, how are you doing?” and I’d have to immediately decide between answering truthfully, “Fine, except for the breast cancer,” or just stick with the “Fine.”

The fact that I have cancer just doesn’t come up in casual conversation. I made an effort to tell my close local friends in person. It wasn’t too hard since I was looking for childcare for all the doctor’s appointments and I needed to explain why. Widening the circle was harder. My mother and mother-in-law took care of much of the family. It’s the casual friends and the Facebook friends who don’t live in town that becomes hard. I did find the easiest way to slip it into a conversation came with “How’s your summer going?” at which point, I could answer, “Not as well as expected.”

I’m at the point now where I only tell acquaintances if the chemo somehow affects plans that are being made. I was a little afraid that once I cut my hair, it would come up in casual conversation more easily and I’d end up telling more people. It’s not that I don’t want people to know, but it’s such a shock when telling anyone that I feel bad for them that I have cancer. Needless to say, it’s not a conversation I seek out. So far, no one has asked why I cut my hair, and my new hats cover up the fact that there’s nothing much left on my scalp, but I’m sure the question’s coming.

It’s also not something I’m sharing publicly on Facebook, either. I am a fairly private person. I’ve told a few good friends that have moved out-of-town, but it’s too personal to share with all my random old high school friends or friends of friends. So, there have been many days where I’ve been silent on Facebook because the only things I could say had to do with doctor’s appointments or chemotherapy. It’s a hard decision whether or not to tell someone, and I have to remind myself not to feel guilty for not wanting to have to share my cancer diagnosis. It’s my information that I get to decide who to tell.



So my biopsy was around lunch time on Tuesday, and I got a call early Thursday morning from the pathologist. That didn’t take long, which is usually the case when someone has a serious problem. Turns out the biopsy, both the breast and lymph node, were positive for invasive mammary carcinoma with lobular features. Great – now I have a name and I can start Googling some specific facts, instead of just the generic breast cancer information.

I was scheduled to meet Dr. Engel, the breast surgeon, the next day so we could start talking about treatment. Turns out the tumor was estrogen and progesterone negative, but HER2 positive. Not a great thing, since now I can’t use hormone therapy and HER2 positive cancer tend to be more aggressive. But, there is a drug (Herceptin) that treats HER2 positive breast cancer (improving five-year survival rates from 20% to 67%), and at least it isn’t triple negative.

Dr. Engel was very reassuring and willing to answer all our questions. I appreciate the fact that Erie, PA is a small enough city that I will have specific doctors on my cancer treatment team, as opposed to whoever available within the practice. At the same time, Erie’s big enough that we have some options for surgeons and specialists. Dr. Chan and his nurses recommended Dr. Engel. I had no prior information about the two breast surgeons in town, but I figured if I appreciated working with one team, I’d probably appreciate any doctor they could recommend.

After meeting with Dr. Engel, I had a bunch of tests and meetings scheduled. I will have surgery to put in a port so they can start chemotherapy ASAP. I also will get a breast MRI to look for any abnormalities in the left breast and a PET scan to see if there’s any spread throughout the body. I’ll meet with the nurse navigator and then the oncologists. Busy couple of weeks ahead.