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Colorectal Cancer: Newly Diagnosed: Day to Day Living (Stages 2, 3, 4)

Decide Who To Tell About Your Condition, When, And How Much To Share

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he decision whether to tell people about your colorectal cancer, and if so, what to tell them, is purely a personal one. There is no right and wrong.

Think about what you want to do before moving forward. Once you tell someone, you can't take it back. As they say: "The cat's out of the bag."

As a general matter, whether to tell people, when to tell them, and what to tell, depends on the situation and why you are thinking of disclosing the information.

The following situations give rise to this question. What you decide to do may vary in each situation. The situations to consider are:

  • Family, friends and acquaintances
  • Children
  • The professionals in your life
  • Work
  • Dating

In each situation, consider:

  • The pros and cons of telling.
  • Decide what to tell.
  • Prepare for unexpected reactions.

The articles in "To Learn More" provide information and tips about each of the above situations.

Before telling the first loved one, it may be useful to call a hotline such as the Colon Cancer Alliance helpline at 877.422.2030. Rehearse by saying the words "I have colon/rectal cancer." Your response to saying the words for the first time may surprise you.

Perhaps the first person to tell is the person close to you who you most expect to respond in a helpful way. Keep in mind that you can always tell other people as the situation clarifies and you learn more about your condition and make a treatment decision.

If you have children:

  • All the literature suggests telling children who live with you. They'll know something is wrong. If you don't tell them what is happening, they will assume that it is their fault.
  • Having a first degree relative with colorectal cancer puts children in a higher risk category for this disease. If they have knowledge of family history with respect to this disease, they are more likely to help prevent it by eating well and exercising, and getting colonscopies starting at an early age.

Tell your insurance broker, lawyer, accountant and other non-medical professionals in your life about your diagnosis. They may have suggestions about how it affects specific situations you face and how to best deal with them. (For information about finances, including techniques for dealing with a financial crunch, click here).

Information about telling at work is included in our document about work.

We strongly encourage telling unless there is an overriding reason not to.

  • Keeping a secret is stressful. The greater the secret, the greater the stress.
  • Stress hurts the immune system.
  • The immune system is needed to help your body function at its best disease fighting capacity.
  • Telling people gives meaning to your diagnosis. You can’t change a diagnosis, but you can help other people by encouraging them to get screened. Early screening helps prevent colorectal disease.

NOTE: An easy way to keep family and friends up-to-date about what you learn about your colorectal cancer and how you are doing is via the internet. For instance, American Cancer Society has a free "Circle of Sharing offsite link" as does CaringBridge offsite link. For additional sources for keeping people to date, click here.

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