On the Friday evening of April 30th 2021, I wrote about my diagnosis in a Facebook post.
This didn’t come out of nowhere, although it probably seemed like it to a lot of people at the time. I had kept what was going on largely to myself whilst I waited for a definitive diagnosis.
As you can see from my previous posts, (links at the bottom of this post), I had already been dealing with this experience for basically a month.
My Instructional Design team 💖
I told my immediate colleagues on the Friday morning. This was as previously discussed with the manager of the team.
The Instructional Design team were a very tight unit at that time and I could not have wished for a better bunch of people to practice face to face delivery with.
They also all then proofread and troubleshot my Cancer Diagnosis Statement for me.
Between my manager and my team, I had the immediate experience of phenomenal support in my work environment.
The proofreading and troubleshooting were just the icings on the cake.
This was my post – I’ll use italics to break down and explain the logic behind what I was writing. I’ll also just point out that my Facebook page is set to friends only, not public. Until I was contemplating how I would navigate my first Anniversaries, I wasn’t prepared to share my experience publically.
Cancer Diagnosis Statement for Facebook Post
⭐⭐⭐ Content warning ⭐⭐⭐
⭐ Significant (to me) life news ⭐
🚫 Please only read if you have emotional capacity.
⭐ Please read thoroughly and do not feel under any obligation to respond.
First four points in my Facebook post
These first four points were important to me.
There is a content warning because I wanted people to take a moment to ensure that they were in the right place to read a post like the one I was making.
Affirming that what I was posting was significant seemed important – to me. It also recognised that this was not necessarily important to my connections on Facebook. There are some people I never interact with, and I have periodic clean outs to address that. There are the quiet friends no problems, but then there are people that maybe you interact with once in another group and they add you.. But there’s no deeper connection.
There’s a content warning and a reminder about emotional capacity. It seemed considerate to ensure that people only kept reading if they had emotional capacity.
I also wanted to make it very clear from the very start that I expected people to take time with the information I was providing. As I have said before, being the bearer of bad tidings is exhausting, especially when the back news is about yourself.
I also wanted to make it very clear that I wasn’t expecting people to respond at all. I didn’t want to create any sense of obligation from people towards me, or in turn for me to feel obligated in return.
And then there is that fifth point…
Now… This fifth point seems designed to confront. It was meant that way. I know that the data indicates that not everyone on social media has your best interests at heart. I knew I had no capacity to deal with ambivalent friendships, competition, or people who needed to centre themselves in what is my experience.
Here are some great articles on friendship that explore the idea that not all friends are going to be inner circle, and not why you can’t necessarily rely on everyone. And that’s ok!
- Friendship by the numbers
- 9 Boundaries you should have in your friendships
- Love like a Greek: the six types of love
- The friendships that fade when you are chronically sick
- Why you need a network of low stakes, casual friendships
- On the ending of a friendship
- Friendships change, here’s how to deal
- 10 types of odd friendships you’re probably part of
- What are your friendship tiers
- The friendship challenge
- Stages of friendship
- Why fake friendships are ruining you
On Wednesday 28th April 2021, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Invasive Carcinoma: in lay terms, early breast cancer.
Whilst I want to make the news public, there are a few boundaries I am going to put in place around this life experience that I am currently living.
This is not a criticism of anyone for whom these following 5 points have been helpful, nor an invitation to explain why it worked for you or those you know, I am just requesting these boundaries be respected in my process.
5 main points (what can I say, I like the number 5?)
- I don’t want to frame this experience in any kind of warfare terminology (a battle, a fight, winning, etc), nor do I accept warrior or survivor as appropriate titles/descriptors.
- I also don’t want people trying to advise me about medical or lifestyle choices.
- Whilst I appreciate everyone wants to share a success story in encouragement, but if it isn’t your lived personal experience, I invite you to consider that this is not the space. For every success story, there is someone grieving, a number of whom I have deep, personal connection with, and those stories are not helpful to them or me. Particularly if it is my mother’s brother’s cousin’s friend type 6 degrees of separation story.
- And any of the ‘that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger‘ or ‘sit with the energies that attracted this‘, or ‘meditate upon why this has manifested’ crowd can fuck right off.
There are lots to be grateful for: the cancer has been detected early, breast cancer is one of the most well-researched cancers, so there’s a lot of data, and the prognosis at this point is that it is completely treatable.
Gratitude practice has been a strategy I have used for years to help me keep perspective and get through rough times. I wanted to ensure that I was setting it as a benchmark and strategy right from the start. I also wanted to circumvent any indulgence in toxic positivity – because that wasn’t going to help me.
I’m hoping to communicate publicly about this in a way that models good boundaries and encourages conversations and raises awareness. So apart from my own treatment goals, those are my more holistic goals for this experience.
This was important to me as a trainer and a communicator. I have a collaborative approach to life. Engaging with active and compassionate curiosity is always one of my goals. I honestly felt, in the aftermath of the diagnosis, as I walked away from the appointment, that I needed to ensure that I used my skills to create a legacy of sorts. I don’t think we have good models for how to talk to other people about being sick, chronic illness, or death. Culturally, our models in Australians of UK heritage remain aligned with the idea of stiff upper lips and not talking about unpleasant things. It’s not healthy, and I think we can do better. So I could see an opportunity and an obligation to walk my talk.
The surrealism of ‘normal’ life and other sorrows
This week, my house mate and best friend’s eldest brother also died unexpectedly in Egypt, and their elderly, infirm mother is not expected to live long; so we are dealing with all that brings as well.
Additionally, we have to move. We do have a new place but this last few weeks have rather blown us out of the water in terms of that process.
I wanted to acknowledge that life doesn’t stop because of a diagnosis. It was important to acknowledge my best friend and housemate’s grief as well. The move was becoming overwhelming, I don’t mind admitting that!
I want to be very clear that my focus, for now, needs to be inwardly focussed and self-centred for a period of time to put into place my appropriate support mechanisms.
In the future, “normal” programming will resume, but for now, the focus for me / us needs to be on these experiences.
It was important to emphasise that this was going to be the main consideration for me. By recognizing that, I was hoping that those people who were not up to dealing with my situation would simply unfollow my feed or put me on snooze. I didn’t want that obligation with later conversations around how stressed out someone was because of my situation. Support in, dump out!
No ‘fixing’ required: here is that fifth point..
This brings me to point number 5: please do not tell me where I need to focus or what I need to do. Sit with the urge to fix and advise for at least 24 hours and ask yourself if it is something that I need to hear or just something that you feel the need to say because this is uncomfortable.
Granting permission for Beloveds to be absent
If any of this is problematic for you, I invite you to consider the wisdom of stepping away from this space and tending your own garden, I do not have the emotional, spiritual, mental bandwidth to negotiate the needs or wants of others that don’t align with my current experience.
I am intent upon continuing with dignity, grace, and compassion, but with these boundaries in place.
How to tell people you have cancer in a Facebook post
So… That’s how I told about 400 people in a Facebook post that I had cancer. I used that same post to message friends via SMS, email, What’s App, Twitter messages, and LinkedIn messages.
I had decided that I felt too vulnerable to make those posts public through Facebook or other social media. I’ll be honest, it takes me some courage to revisit them all now and share them through this blog. I’m just hoping they help someone in some way.
Have you had to share big, difficult news? What are your strategies? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments – and don’t be scared of that “like” button! 🤩