How Not to Tell Your Support Network You Have Cancer

by Rachel Minion
and Jon Minion

In theory, there is no right or wrong way to tell your support network you have cancer. In reality, there is a 100% wrong way.

Going back to my appointment, I was seen late, my appointment took forever and now it’s about 4:30pm.

I shoot a quick text to my parents and my husband.

Aren't group texts the best???? I hadn't heard from her in a while, which is normal because this hospital is well-known for having no cell service. Who knows when her appointment is going to end - and then she has to deal with Friday afternoon Chicago traffic. The only thoughts going through my mind are getting home, handling the monsters and cracking open a beer.

SO… I HAVE CANCER.

Then I stop at the front desk to make a future appointment.

It was at that moment when I realized I made a huge mistake.

My phone was dead and turned itself off.

I walk past the scheduler, head out of the building, run to the car and see if we have a phone charger. Nope.

I get in the car and start driving towards my house. What should take 30-45 minutes ended up taking well over TWO HOURS. My phone was dead. Traffic was not moving. I just got the news I have cancer and all I want is a hug. Somehow I manage to get home in one piece.

dead cell phone

My single text sent off a flurry of other text messages on the chain. My phone went straight to voicemail because it was dead. My husband had just gotten on his motorcycle to drive home so he hadn’t seen the message. My parents were calling and texting nonstop until he got home and could access his phone. Jon wasn’t quite sure what was going on, so he scrolled through to the beginning of the messages. I can’t speak for him as to what he was feeling, but I’m making him write his own series of blogs so you can understand from a caretaker’s perspective the thoughts and emotions.

47. 47 unread text messages. Some of them in the group text with Rachel and her parents. The majority are texts her parents sent me without her in the loop. "Where are you?" "What's going on?" "Is she ok?" "Did she make it home?" Wait...what? Scroll up... Cancer? What? Is this real? She just drops that bomb and disappears? Should I be mad? Is this some kind of joke? What do I do? I can't reach her. Her parents are freaking out. I figured out she left the hospital to come home, so all I could do is wait. That was a long two hours...

By the time I walked in the door, I knew… this was not how anyone should ever deliver the news that they have cancer.

As a spouse, how do I tell people in my network? Who do I tell? I know how NOT to tell them, so there's that.

So what do you do if you have to tell your network you have cancer? It’s not as easy as you would think.

I believe that my support network will do whatever it takes to help me thrive. However, I wasn’t ready to get on the phone with anyone to tell them I have cancer. It took me a few weeks and then I was ready to go public.

I had to wait until she was ready. We told our parents because we needed support. I told my boss pretty quick because I knew I would need some time off and some help at the office. But I had to wait until she was ready before I could tell anyone else. Of course I did. It's the right thing to do. But even when she was ready, it was tough. I'm not very good at talking about emotional things or asking for help. This was hard. Talking about the situation really was one of the most difficult parts of the whole process.

The first thing I did was to tell my closest friends and family via text. I know… If you got a text from me with this news, what would you do? It was my fastest way to communicate where I could avoid the initial crying and shock. It minimized my risk, but must have shocked any person who received my message.

Then I took to Facebook and posted my story.

The minute I shared my diagnosis and pending surgeries with my network, everyone wanted to help by sending in dinner, helping bring in cleaning services and even securing dog walkers for our three monsters. While I wanted to be able to allow everyone to help, project managing and coordinating all of the offers was too much for me. I didn't know the area, so we didn't have favorite restaurants, a cleaning service or even dog walkers. Each of my family and friends felt helpless when I turned them down. It was personally too much for me to handle on top of preparing for the upcoming surgeries.

We are so lucky. We have a great network of people willing to help, begging to help. But our network was not in Chicago. How do we let them help? What can they do? What do we need? All we can focus on is beating cancer. Nothing else matters. Besides, I got this. I can firefight my way through the situation and take care of all the stuff around the house and be there for Rachel at the same time. Right??

Technology makes life incredibly easy to share our stories, however I couldn’t find any technology to help me accept support.

This is why we founded Beyond Basic Needs. We connect you to the tools you need to thrive in this period of time with the help of your friends, family and support community. We have partnered with Give InKind, an easy-to-use online tool for organizing support during life’s important and challenging moments.

Together, we can.