To Share or Not to Share? Patients Figure it Out

How much do you want to tell about your cancer, and to whom, and in which situations do you want to tell it?

The answer can range from telling nothing to sharing everything.

Not wanting to tell

On the tennis court, I like to be just a regular person. Sometimes a certain good friend blows my cover. She has been with me from the beginning. We played together when I was sick and we won. She has helped me come back, at first playing “mini-tennis” in which you stand close to the net, then progressing to rallying but not running for the ball, and finally actually playing.

She is such a big supporter that on cross overs, if we’re with people who don’t know about my medical history, she has been known to say, “Do you know what she’s been through?” It comes from being proud of me but still, the attention makes me feel awkward.

Telling a lot

On May 18, I went to New York for the American Association of Journalists and Authors conference. Members attend informal break-outs, listen to keynotes, and network with editors and writers.

I was there both to network (and schmooze) with colleagues and to promote myself as a health writer and (unwitting) expert on cancer survivorship.

In a “speed dating” event with editors, Client Connections, freelance writers have nine minutes to make their case with an editor who is sitting at a numbered table. You run in, find his or her table, and pitch a story or tell them how knowledgeable you are and why you are qualified to write for them.

The matchups are made through a lottery. You can end up with none of your choices or with five. I got five. By the fifth, I was hoarse from repeating my qualifications: Health writing background. Four bone marrow transplants. Almost died. Difficult recovery. Tried to keep moving as much as possible. Approaches cancer survivorship from personal and professional points of view.

It was important to talk about my leukemia diagnosis 15 years ago and about those multiple transplants (not yet explained in these pages.) But by the end, I felt drained…and tired of hearing myself talk. I hope the meetings will lead to some assignments on various health-related stories, not just cancer.

Sharing everything

I would never have shared personal details at a professional conference. But I did on a recent women’s self-care and yoga retreat in Costa Rica.

We were nine women getting to know each other from scratch. No preconceptions and no holds barred. We talked in places as communal as a sharing circle after yoga and as private as two women drinking coffee as the day dawned. I didn’t plan on hiding my medical history but I didn’t want to blurt it out all at once. It came out organically, and by the end of the week, they knew about my leukemia diagnosis and treatment.

And I learned about them.

I bonded with one woman who was a worry-wart like myself. I sympathized with one who wanted children while her partner didn’t. One who had had a gynecological cancer mourned the child she would never have. Another had attempted suicide after her parents died within minutes of each other.

Everybody had something. And by sharing it, each of us felt a little lighter.

At least I did.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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