When You Call Instead of Text: Telling your friends that you have cancer

I can count on one hand the number of friends I actually talk to on the phone. Usually, this is a scheduled call or facetime- a ‘catch up’ to fill in the blanks of what we may miss in our day to day texts. So, in 2014 when I was 26 years old, I wasn’t quite sure how to break the news to my long distance friends that I had breast cancer. Telling family had been one thing. They knew about my ultrasounds, mammograms, and biopsies. Friends were a totally different ball game.

A text was not appropriate, and a random call felt really ominous. A text saying “Hey do you have a few minutes today? It’s really important.” felt even worse. But then again, this was really important. It was a cancer diagnosis.

I opted for a combination of the random call and the pre-scheduled, awkward text option. Sometimes I had to leave a voicemail (something I never do). It was awkward and there was no way to be truly prepared. Here’s an outline of how these conversations went:

  • Awkward Greeting – There were a lot of confused hellos. Lots of question marks. Usually, the person on the other end of the phone knew that something bad was coming but had no idea what. Another thought I called to tell her I was engaged. What came next could not be further from an engagement.
  • Rip off the band-aid I decided to go the route of “Ok, I’m going to tell you something, and then I can tell you the details after.” No small talk, no back story of how I found out until after I told them the news.
  • Remind them you will be okThis may sound weird, but I felt responsible for my friends’ well-being. I reminded them that I would be ok, that I had a long process ahead of me and that I’d be fine.
  • Explain what’s happening Cancer was a disease that grandparents or maybe even a parent got. Not one of us. I made sure to explain what I knew at the time and what I was waiting to find out.
  • Tell them how you’ll keep them in the loopI let them know that I would keep up communications. At that point in time, I hadn’t made my diagnosis public on social media, so I let everyone know my ground rules. While it was not a secret; I just wasn’t ready to let the whole world know.
  • Ask for the favorTelling friends was emotionally draining. For some, I asked them to pass the news along to others. It was one less awkward phone call to make. This route isn’t for everyone, but it worked for me. I wanted to keep things personal but also needed to take care of my own mental well-being in the process.
  • Crack a jokeI didn’t want everything to be all doom and gloom! So, true to character, I probably cracked a mildly inappropriate joke here. Plus that first laugh after crying always feels pretty great.

I wasn’t necessarily afraid of telling my friends I had cancer but was afraid that they would ask the same questions I had. The questions I was too scared to say out loud. These questions put me in a vulnerable place that I didn’t want to go to. Ultimately, telling my friends was challenging, but the fear of telling them was far worse. It was worth it to let my friends in so that they could provide support, comfort, and laughter when I needed it.

 

The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults

AYA Patient Navigator, MedStar Health Cancer Network