I was watching a TV commercial the other day (there are always too many commercials, but that’s a different missive). The commercial was about a gentleman, just diagnosed with cancer, deciding how he’d tell his family, IF he’d tell his family about his cancer.

Should one diagnosed with cancer not tell one’s family? How could one not tell one’s loved ones? Personal feeling. It would be cheating one’s loved ones to withhold such information. Our families and friends are our support group and our caregivers. How could one possibly go through treatment not sharing the information? Who needs to know about one’s condition besides one’s family? That is strictly a personal choice.

Once you’ve decided that you are going to tell your family about your diagnosis, how do you tell your family of a cancer diagnosis? I’m not one for small talk. I tend to get right to the point: “I have been diagnosed with cancer and I would appreciate your love and support but no sympathy.” This might not be the approach for everyone, but I subscribe to it.

Why this approach? There’s no ambiguity. No misunderstanding. Direct and to the point.

All this is personal, therefore, the approach one chooses is the correct response for that person.

When all is said and done, I didn’t need to tell my family (immediate family) that I brought extra ears with me to hear my results directly. I am suggesting that the ‘extra ears’ are immediate family not all the aunts, uncles and cousins!

I am not sure why some individuals are secretive of the ailment/diagnosis. There is no shame. We have done nothing wrong. It just happened to us.

When one goes through chemo, and loses one’s hair – that’s an obvious sign. One looks a bit peaked - obvious sign. One loses weight - obvious sign. Noticing these signs, a friend asks and is told you have cancer. The response is usually, “Oh, sorry.” They’re usually caught off guard.

So, what am I suggesting? Upon your diagnosis, inform your friends and extended family with a SIMPLE email announcement. Welcome them into your circle of support. You might even suggest how to offer that support: prayer, visits, food, rides to treatments, phone calls, emails, cards, letters, etc.

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About the Author

Joe Vitale was born on a mini-farm in Waukesha County to Italian immigrant parents in 1938, and spent most of his life in and around Waukesha. He attended Catholic schools in the city, graduating from Catholic Memorial High School, and went to Carroll College in his undergraduate years. He had a career in education that spanned nearly four decades, starting out as a teacher and, after postgraduate work, becoming an administrator in the School District of Waukesha. He was a curriculum director in environmental education and later a principal. He was diagnosed in 2007 with myxofibrosarcoma. "My good fortune of being cancer free has helped me realize how fragile we are," Joe says. "The past five years I have been actively involved with the Sarcoma Support group, now the Cancer Support Group and the Sarcoma Event Day ... I have been extremely fortunate with my outcome and hence the time to pay back."

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