YOUR CANCER GUIDE | HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER
Sometimes, the nature of your cancer
treatment determines what you must tell. If
your treatments don’t interfere with daily
routines, it could be possible to keep the
information confidential. If you need time
away from your regular life or if treatment
affects your physical appearance, however,
it may be more difficult to be silent.
Consider how much information you
want to share in three major spheres of life:
personal, professional and on social media
channels such as Facebook, Twitter and
Instagram. In our personal lives, we may
worry that divulging the cancer news will
change relationships. For the workplace,
there are laws to protect those with health
conditions from overt discrimination, but
you and your employer will likely need to
discuss adjustments you will require as you
go through cancer treatment. Finally, social
media has changed everything about how
we share personal information. Once you
mention your cancer on social media, you
lose some control over who sees it.
Here are 10 things to consider:
1) Remember that once you’ve said it,
you can’t take it back. It is always
better to wait if you are unsure about
sharing the news.
2) Think carefully about how much you
want to say. You don’t need to divulge
all the details of your diagnosis,
prognosis and treatment unless you
want to. It is perfectly appropriate
to respond to questions with “I don’t
want to go into all of that” or “I would
rather not talk more about it.”
3) Be sure to tell those closest to you first;
you want them to hear about your diagnosis directly from you. You should
assume that even those sworn to secrecy
will tell others about what is happening.
4) If you have children, you may want to
speak with teachers or counselors at
their schools. People who interact with
your children on a daily basis can provide
extra support and watch out for any signs
of distress or behavioral changes.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BETH ISRAEL DEACONESS MEDICAL CENTER
Many people are open to sharing the details of their cancer diagnosis with just about anyone—even strangers in a grocery line. Some choose to tell only close family members and
friends about their diagnosis. Others struggle to even say the words aloud.
HOW MUCH DO YOU
Want to Share?
Determining what to tell people about your cancer requires careful thought.
5) Most people will want to help. If you
don’t tell them, they can’t support you.
6) If you have concerns about how this
will be handled at work, speak first with
someone in human resources. Then,
when you speak with your manager, you
will know the rules and can advocate for
what you need.
is a great resource.
7) When you speak with your manager,
concentrate on the impact your
treatments may have on your work.
How much time do you anticipate
missing? What accommodations do
you need? Is it possible to reduce
your hours, work from home or take
some days off?
8) Be clear with your manager about
what health information you want
shared with others.
9) Think about the ripple effects
of sharing your health updates
on social media. Remember, this
information can live in cyberspace
forever. Some websites, such as
caringbridge.org, offer a way for
patients and caregivers to share
updates with selected friends and
10) Always remember that you are in charge
of the information you share and that
your primary job is to take care of yourself as you move through cancer.
HESTER HILL SCHNIPPER, a licensed independent
clinical social worker, is a breast cancer survivor and
the manager of oncology social work at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. She also writes a
blog, Living With Cancer, for the hospital’s website.