Sharing bad news is hard. VERY HARD!
I have had several people ask me and sometimes criticize me for the way I shared the bad news about our new adventure. But for anyone with bad news – it is an incredibly difficult and personal decision about whom, how and when you are going to share what is going on in your world.
Initially I wasn’t going to tell anyone! Not a single person. See I have been known as Jane Wayne for most of my adult life. If you aren’t familiar with a Jane Wayne – and there are a lot of us out there – picture a female version of John Wayne. We are going to circle the wagons, herd the cattle, chase off the Indians, save the settlers and still toss together a pretty damn good rabbit stew to finish the day. She is someone who does everything on her own. She feels like she doesn’t need anyone and it is almost PAINFUL to ask for any kind of help…because it shows some kind of weakness. Well that is me!!
So with my simple diagnosis I thought I would be able to tell no one. Heck it was a small calcification with 5 days of radiation so it was going to be no big deal. Then things got a bit more complicated…FIRST: my father in law was in the car with me when my gynecologist called me with the news. So he knew, however I threatened this 90 year old amazing man with bodily harm if he said anything to anyone besides his wife. So now I had to tell my husband. Damn this was complicating Jane Wayne’s plan. I had also made the mistake of telling my mom I was having a mammogram and she asked about the results, so I felt I had to tell her. But I had also threatened her with bodily harm and even death if she told anyone. I hadn’t planned to tell my children but after talking it over with my husband we agreed that they should know and I VERY reluctantly agreed. Very reluctantly. So not too bad – I’ve kept the collateral damage to my 2 in-laws, my mom, my husband and our children. 6 people. Not bad. Controllable.
But then things started getting out of my control. First was the recommendation of the BRCA testing. While I was reviewing my family history with the geneticist, she told me that I needed to tell my brother because if the results came back positive he and all of his children needed to be tested. She literally told me I had an obligation to tell my brother, which really required telling his adult children as well. Shit!
My gym; I go religiously every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Besides the fact I have become such good friends with everyone there – we are like a family – and they call me if I miss even one day, missing several weeks – which I’ve had already been told I would need to do – would be really hard to explain. So I kinda needed to tell them. Shit!
I thought about the fact that I volunteer on the board of a couple organizations so there would possibly be chances that I might be missing a couple of those meetings which I would need to explain. Shit!
SHIT SHIT SHIT! This was exponentially getting out of my control!
And then I thought about my close friends and how incredibly pissed off I would be if they were going through something bad and they didn’t tell me. I would be REALLY PISSED!!
So I came to the painful realization I was going to have to tell far more people than I had initially planned. It nauseated me to even think about it because I’m a pretty private person. But I could see that this was probably going to be one of my first lessons I would get from Cancer…I was going to learn how to authentically open up to people I care about in my life.
Deciding how to tell people bad news is a very personal decision. How? When? Who? How much? The reality is that I am blessed with people that I am friends with from all over the world; people that would want to know what is going on with me. And since more of my friends are using email less and facebook more – I chose to let people know in a group message on Facebook. With the out of body fog I was residing in I TRULY could not face regurgitating this information over and over and over and over to several people. I was still struggling with it myself and still holding out for the call telling me this was all a huge fucking mistake. But I knew I wanted everyone to hear the news directly from me and in my own words.
So this is what I shared:
I’ll start with an apology. First for the length of this message and second, I know this is not the best way to share important news. But you all know me pretty well and know I despise talking on the telephone and this is really the most efficient way to share my new adventure – which has me a little busy. So if you are getting this message you are important to me AND I thought you might want to know what’s the haps. This way the next time we see each other I don’t have to vomit this minutia all over you should you ask what I’ve been up to and I can just brag about my kids and complain about gas prices instead.
For sake of efficiency I will get right to the point…I have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Don’t even go to OMG that’s awful, horrible, tragic news or any of those thoughts. It’s not. First, because I say so. Second because it has been found very early so that gives us lots of options. It was discovered early enough that the site is about the size of the head of a big nail. Which given the size of my breasticles makes it almost microscopic.
So here’s the scoop: the next few weeks are going to be a whirlwind of activity. I’ve already met my new best friend (Dr. Breast Surgeon) and we have discussed the options. First I will have additional testing (Dr. MRI) to make sure the girls aren’t hiding anything we haven’t already seen. Not likely, but what the heck – might as well make sure. Then I am going to have a BRCA test (Dr. Geneticist) to make sure that I don’t have some mutated gene that would have additional breast cancer or ovarian cancer show up later. There is no reason to think it will come back positive but if it does it changes our course of treatment; since I’m determined to do this only once, it’s important information to have. If all those things are fine, in about 3 to 4 weeks I will have a lumpectomy, have my lymph nodes poked, prodded and maybe removed and have 5 days of twice a day radiation (Dr. Radiation Oncologist). If the lymph nodes are clean (again no reason to think they aren’t) then all is well and I meet another new friend (Dr. Cancer Oncologist) who will prescribe the medication I will take for the rest of my life to ward off a recurrence (see above reference to only doing this once!). I will see my new best friend (Dr. Breast Surgeon) very frequently – probably more often than I see any of you – for the next year and celebrate each passing year by getting to see him less frequently.
If the BRCA comes back positive I will have the breasticles lopped off and my ovaries removed which is a completely different ball game and a longer recovery, but again there is no reason to think that is the case – but always nice to know you have options.
So if your reaction is “Holy Crap, Karma finally caught up with her!” you may be right. If your reaction is “Damn, is there anything I can do?” Nope – not right now – the Lows are all great…yup, even me. Just know that what’s so is I have breast cancer, but it’s early enough and we are going to be aggressive enough that I’m more likely to drop dead from old age than this.
If you want to connect with me – things haven’t changed – text me. If you aren’t Dr. Breast Surgeon, Dr. MRI, Dr. Geneticist, Dr. Radiation Oncologist or Dr. Cancer Oncologist I still more than likely won’tanswer. If you want to respond to this, please do so separately so everyone else isn’t bothered with the blah, blah, blah. And be certain of this – if you got this message – I pretty much love you!
(SIDEBAR: Of course this is all old news and things changed dramatically. I have multiple tumors and it had indeed spread to my lymph nodes. But what dramatically changed the course was that one of the things grown from the original biopsy which you would want to come back as negative came back as positive which in layman terms really just means that the cancer has genetically mutated so is a much more aggressive type of cancer which actually required me to have chemo first. I have elected to have double mastectomies in January, then I will have 6 weeks of daily radiation and a year of a medication infused on a weekly basis. Another lesson I have learned – cancer is often a moving target!)
But back to the original subject of this post: As Jane Wayne – that message I sent to my friends was one of the most difficult ones to press send that I have ever typed.
And I wasn’t prepared for the responses.
The outflow of love and support.
Even the criticism. (I actually had a friend tell me they were offended to be included in a mass message and that they felt they were a close enough friend to have been informed personally. This from someone I hadn’t seen or heard from for months.)
And even more surprising was the lack of response from people that I thought would respond immediately.
(Certainly another of the cancer lessons.)
And that is where the evolution of this blog came from. Very s-l-o-w-l-y. I thought letting people in the way I did was sufficient. I didn’t want to live my cancer publically on Facebook, but then my oncologist told me that not only would I need chemotherapy but the type of chemo I was going to have would render me bald. Bald as a baby!! Hmmm – it’s pretty hard to keep bald a secret when you are out in the community. So I decided FUCK IT. I was going to live it loudly and proudly and start a blog that might even touch people outside of my immediate community.
So remember that when you have bad news to share – and we often have those things – changes in jobs, loss of a child, disintegration of a relationship and even health issues – pick the way that works for you. Not everyone else. YOU! And you will know, after giving it some thought, what works best for you and it might look quite differently than the way I did it. But think about it, meditate on it, pray on it if that is your thing or ask the universe for guidance and inform your community the way that works for you! Because sharing bad news is never an easy process. But it can lead to connections and it’s those connections that gives our lives meaning.
Stay strong; be badass!