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Woman holds a key in her hand, thinking about unlocking a door in her lungs. Flying keys surround her in front of a brick wall.

Do You Tell Everyone You Have Lung Cancer?

By now, all my family and friends know about my lung cancer diagnosis. Even acquaintances are aware since I frequently post on social media about my journey and advocacy work. Every now and then I am in a situation with people who have no idea about my diagnosis, however. While I don’t just start talking about lung cancer to everyone I chat within a grocery store checkout line, I do consider it part of my identity and I often wish to share my diagnosis and involvement in advocacy work.

Our recent trip to a small town B&B

Recently, my husband and I went away to a small town B&B in Wisconsin overnight. I love staying in B&Bs; although my husband doesn’t like them as much as I do, he humored me this time since it was Valentine’s Day! As anyone who has stayed in a B&B before knows, there’s often a “group” breakfast in the morning with all the overnight guests sharing the same table. I love talking to people and have always found this a fun part of the experience, but it’s one of the reasons why my husband doesn’t particularly enjoy B&B stays.

Chatting over breakfast

At this B&B, we woke up early for breakfast and there was only one other couple eating at the same time as us at the central table. After a little bit of small talk, the woman in the other couple asked what kind of work my husband and I both did. While I was gulping down my much-needed first cup of coffee of the day, my husband quickly jumped in and said he works as a statistician for a logistics company and I am a stay-at-home mom. I was kind of taken aback by the way he described me and not especially pleased. I felt that he ignored a huge part of my identity by his comment and I wasn’t sure why he felt it necessary to speak for me. I spent the rest of the breakfast stewing over this and not saying much. Those of you who know me personally understand how much I like to chat, so that really tells a lot about how I felt. To make matters worse, the other woman, who was very sweet and almost young enough to be my daughter, kept going on and on about how wonderful it was that I was a stay-at-home mom and how her mother did the same while she was growing up.

Now, of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home mom. I left the workforce when my older son was born and I was a stay-at-home mom for years while my boys were young. However, since my diagnosis and involvement in lung cancer advocacy, I usually answer any questions about what work I do by relaying that I was diagnosed with lung cancer over 5 years ago and I now advocate for lung cancer awareness and research. I feel that this is a pretty simple and straightforward answer and leaves others free to ask more questions or not, however they please.

Acknowledge my diagnosis and advocacy

As soon as breakfast was over, I confronted my husband (with somewhat of an annoyed tone) and asked him why he said what he did. He was actually surprised that I was upset and told me that he thought I wouldn’t want to get into my whole story with strangers at a B&B breakfast. I realized that he meant well and was actually trying to protect me in his role of caregiver! We had never discussed before how I would want to answer in such a situation, so he just said what he thought would be best. This incident led to an open discussion between us about how important it is for me to acknowledge my diagnosis and my advocacy work if directly asked in order to avoid feeling as if I am hiding a major portion of my identity.

An open conversation about sharing my diagnosis

For any of you who might be feeling sorry for my husband and think I am “throwing him under the bus” with this article, please know that I DID ask him if it was ok for me to write this story. He agreed with me that sharing our experience might lead to better conversations between patients and their caregivers about how much to share when meeting new people. Since my husband and I had never really talked about this in over 5 years, maybe our misunderstanding about what to say might help others discuss this issue and figure out a way to be on the same page. My husband promises that he will no longer try to protect me by answering for me in the future!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The LungCancer.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • edydede
    1 month ago

    Amen!

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    4 months ago

    Wow! I felt your annoyance and totally get it. I do find in advocacy work people tend to ask huge amount of personal questions, and sometimes without them knowing you are an advocate basic questions can go sour. Ivy, you are more than “The stay at home mom”, you are a woman fighting, mentoring, advocating, mother and wife. I’m glad you expressed that with your husband for future reference.

  • crbrister
    4 months ago

    I do not think it is necessary to reveal that you have lung cancer. For family and some friends, I feel it is okay, but to out and out state, without any discussion about this disease, I feel it is inappropriate. The need to know the physical condition of anyone should be “strictly” with the individual. Many people that I know, my husband included, do not like the pity look from some people. Further, the next question usually is “Did you smoke!”

  • Margot moderator
    4 months ago

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic @crbrister! Best, Margot, LungCancer.net Team

  • Aliceadams
    4 months ago

    I don’t feel it is necessary to tell everyone I talk to that I have lung cancer. I personally don’t like people looking at me full of pity. If something comes up where it is appropriate to mention it, I will, otherwise, I don’t. I would never meet someone and say, “Hi, I have lung cancer”, nor would I want anyone to introduce me that way.
    That is just how I feel.

  • Noel.Martin moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi Aliceadams, thank you so much for sharing your perspective on this article. We are so glad that you are a member of our community and hope you are finding information and support that is helpful. Best wishes, Noel LungCancer.net Team

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