You learn a lot about someone based on their reaction to bad news; little did I know, before May 1, 2019, telling others you have cancer is actually quite easy.
My family was well aware I was having a colonoscopy, so the process of telling them was drawn out over several weeks. First, I called everyone to let them know discovered an ass mass during the procedure, and they collected samples that were sent to the lab. Then it was “hurry up and wait” time until the samples were processed. Once I got confirmation that my ass mass was promoted to ass cancer, I made another round of phone calls to break round two of bad news. But wait, there’s more… I still didn’t know staging information, so I had to wait to have an MRI and CT scan done to get this info. So it was back to “hurry up and wait” land for an excruciating week. During this period, I decided it was best to tell my friends and coworkers.
Unlike my family, most of my friends and coworkers didn’t know I was having a colonoscopy, so this news came as a complete shock.
The hardest part for me about telling others I have cancer was trying not to be awkward. I didn’t want to jump into the news head first when we sat down for breakfast, or they answered the phone, but I didn’t want to wait too long either. It didn’t help that most of my friends and coworkers are highly analytical, boarding on the Sherlock Holmes end of the spectrum, so they were immediately curious as to why this asshole wanted to talk to them so urgently.
“Did you get a new job?
Did you get cut in a layoff?
Did you get arrested!?”
I expected my friends and coworkers to be shocked, but I wasn’t prepared for was the full range of reactions I got. I saw all seven stages of grief manifest before my very ears/eyes. I wasn’t ready for the anger response, and the few folks (whom I hardly know) burst into tears. No matter how people reacted, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, finding out that someone you know has cancer always generates a visceral response.
Usually, I wouldn’t make light of how people react to bad news, but I’m analytical by nature, and it’s my ass cancer they were responding to, so let’s look at the numbers.
The first word said after I broke the news:
- Shit (or some conjugation): 95%
- A solid response to any bad news, but definitely the most appropriate reaction to ass cancer.
- Holy shit (this is how I’d react no doubt)
- Fucking shit
- Shit-sticks (my favorite)
- Are you shitting me!?
- That’s shitty
- Well shit…
- And so on
- Spiritual – 1%
- Jesus Christ
- Oh my fucking God
- Oh God
- Guttural / Random noises – 1%
- Pfffffft, No you don’t; stop joking around!
- Other – 3%
- On no
- You poor thing
- That sucks
- Then there was my kids’ response, which was too good not to share in greater detail
Telling adults you have cancer is awkward and anxiety-inducing, but I was dreading telling my kids the most. In the Back(side) Story post, I mentioned that my grandma had colon cancer, well it came back when she was in her early 80s and ended up taking her from us. Both of our kids knew this, and now I had to tell them that I had cancer. I anticipated them freaking out that I was going to die like great-grandma, but boy was I wrong.
I told both of our kids that I was going to have a colonoscopy, so they had a general idea of what was going on. It was hilarious watching their faces when I told them that a doctor was going to put a camera up my butt to look around. Anyway, I digress… After the colonoscopy, my oldest daughter asked if they found anything wrong and I told her that they found a bump that they needed look at under a microscope. And just like that, she was off to play again. We needed someone to pick up our kids after school so that we could get the results of the biopsies. When they got home, the moment I was dreading had arrived. Both of our kids walked up to me, and my oldest daughter asked me straight up, “did they find any cancer?” <Gulp> Oh shit, she went straight for the kill, no small talk, no recap about how her day at school was, straight to the cancer talk.
Caught off guard by her sudden maturity, I answered her with a simple, “Yes.” Before I could open my mouth again, our 8-year-old, who was handling this better than some of the adults, said: “They can treat it with medicine like my Asthma so you will be ok.” Queue my standard internal shock response… holy shit… Once I wiped the proud daddy smile off my face, I told her, “that’s right, and I’m way younger than great grandma so the medicine will work way better.” At this moment, my mind was racing trying to anticipate the next question that my now suddenly mature children would throw my way. Both of my kids looked at each other and said: “Ok daddy, that’s good, we love you.” Then as suddenly as the unexpected maturity arrived, it flew right out the window with a hard-hitting follow-up question from my youngest daughter: “Dad, I’m hungry, what’s for supper!?” Kids are amazing!
I’ll end this post with the thought I presented earlier, telling others you have cancer is actually quite easy. Let me explain… you know that feeling in your stomach when you think you see someone get hurt? That’s what it’s like to hear that someone else has cancer. You’re so worried about all the things that could happen to that person that it makes you sick. I know I’d react the same if someone broke the same news to me. Now let’s look at the other side of the equation… have you ever done something in front others that should have hurt, but you walked away unharmed? You know that sense of relief you feel when you didn’t actually get hurt? That’s kind of what it felt like to find out I had treatable cancer. Sure, finding out sucked, and I’d prefer that my ass wasn’t trying to kill me, but I know it could be much worse. Knowing this gives me a sense of control, something that those just finding out do not have.