"I Have Mesothelioma"-How to Share Your Diagnosis with Others

I have mesothelioma”—these are easily three of the most frightening and devastating words any individual will ever have to utter. If you have found yourself in this difficult and life-changing position and are struggling with how to tell family, friends, and employers about your devastating cancer diagnosis, then this article is for you.

Close family and friends will generally be the first people you will want to share the news with. It’s important to let the people close to you know what you are going through so that they may offer help and support in whatever ways possible. You may feel afraid or guilty about giving the devastating news that was just delivered to you over to those that you love. You may want to protect your loved ones—especially your children—from suffering the painful blow that you just have. But it’s important to know that the people closest to you want and need to know what you are going through—so that they can help.

Sometimes being direct—simply stating, “I have mesothelioma”—is the easiest and most practical way to deliver that initial shock, which takes care of the ‘how.’ More important is often the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of giving the news—preferably in a quiet and private setting (such as at home) and during a set time, rather than in the middle of a family gathering or romantic dinner.

While this may seem obvious, people sometimes have a tendency to simply “blurt out” bad news—as a way of alleviating mounting anxiety about approaching the subject. (Think of them as a pot of boiling water with the lid on—sometimes it just blows.) But before coming right out with a statement like “I have mesothelioma,” it can be helpful to set aside a time to talk to the individuals with whom you wish to share your mesothelioma diagnosis. In fact, the mere act of scheduling this set time “to talk” will often tip off loved ones, perhaps producing some anxiety but also allowing them to mentally prepare or “brace” themselves for what is to come. For most people, the words “we need to talk” hold a sort of cautionary weight that serves to warn as well as prepare.

If you are working at the time of diagnosis, you should similarly set aside time with your boss, and possibly a few key co-workers with whom you are close, to deliver the news. Be prepared to address questions about your plans regarding work (will you retire? when will your leave begin?), and you may also wish to include an HR rep (if applicable) in this conversation, so that you may also ask any questions that you may have about FMLA, severance pay, continuation of benefits, etc.

When telling those around you “I have mesothelioma,” expect emotional reactions, as well as lots of questions—including some difficulty questions about things like mesothelioma life expectancy and prognosis. You will have to gently let them know that mesothelioma is a terminal illness. Be prepared to handle such inquiries. Allow yourself to be emotional if you are so inclined, and never be afraid to ask for support.


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