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Cervical Cancer

How cervical cancer affects family and other people

Decisions about whether to discuss a serious illness with others can be difficult. The need for support has to be weighed up against the desire for privacy. Sometimes people react to the news in a way that is unhelpful to the patient. Wanting to protect certain people from distress may also be a consideration.

Although some women talked about their illness only with family members, many discussed their diagnosis with friends and work colleagues. A few felt that a gynaecological illness was a 'taboo' subject or too personal to discuss with others.

A few had found it difficult and emotionally draining telling others outside the family about their illness. Some told their work colleagues themselves. A few asked their boss or personnel manager to tell the news. One woman explains how she put off telling people at work and finally asked someone to do it for her and felt relieved when people got in contact and were very supportive. Another explains how she found it difficult knowing what to say because her friends were so upset by her news.

 

Describes how she told people in stages about her illness and how she felt relieved when everyone...

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 47
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I've not kept it a secret from anyone but I told people at different times. For instance my employers, I gave them enough information for them to know that this wasn't just some little illness. Because at first I went into hospital and they knew I'd been in about a week but after all I could have been diagnosed with something very simple and been back at work. 

So they didn't think much of it. They didn't ask any questions. I didn't really need to tell them much. Of course then when it was diagnosed I just, at that point couldn't bring myself to tell them and I couldn't bring myself to ask anyone else to tell them. So at that point I left it that yes it was serious but it was still being looked into, just to get some time really. And I suppose it was hard. 

Its one thing telling family and friends, then it starts to move into other parts of your life. Work is such a big part of your life and to suddenly have to tell them, its like right now I'm in a truly different situation and I put it off for quite a while. And then one day I just woke up and I thought I'll write to them and I'll tell them. I kept in touch by phone but it was hard to talk because I knew the truth and I couldn't tell them but they would have guessed that it was not just any old illness. 

So in the end I suppose I became more organised and I sort of had my sort of organised head on and I thought right, I'll write to personnel, I won't pull any punches, I'll tell them the exact truth, exactly what I've been diagnosed with, all the hospital dates etc. I was very practical. And I told them I now want everyone to know and could they pass the information on to my manager and that I was quite happy for them to ring me. Because that's funny, its still a little bit of a sticking point picking up the phone and ringing people because its something I haven't done for a long time. 

So if people ring me I'm fine and I'm only just in the last couple of weeks been able to actually ring people. I can't quite grasp how I got into that sort of phase but I suppose it was because I cut myself off. And then at first I didn't even want anyone ringing me. Then I was open to that. So it was like a step on and a step on from that was me being able to ring out and I've kind of now conquered that. So I'm moving along. I've since spoken to my manager and I told him I was happy for my colleagues to know. In fact I said I wanted them to know whether they wanted to know or not, because I didn't want any misunderstandings. I was gonna be off work for a long time, if everything started to go well I will go back and I didn't want any misunderstandings, so I wanted them to know no matter what.  And I knew there were certain people who were more than work colleagues but I'd cut them out as well and they were so relieved when suddenly they had permission to ring and it was so much better for me. They were the last kind of stumbling block shall I say, because the friends and the family they were all done. And I still had these few people that I had to go through the awful truth with again and its like going back to square one, and they were the last stumbling block and I've got them all out of the way now. They all know and its amazing how much better I felt once all of that had been done. 

But I could only do it in stages. I couldn't rush it but I managed to get it all done in a relatively short time I think but I had to do it when I felt able to do it. Certain people I could only cope with at certain times. So I had a kind of deadline where I wanted this all sorted before I started the next lot of treatment. And now I feel much more at peace with it all shall we say, because there's no misunderstandings, everyone knows an
 

Explains that she found it difficult telling her friends over the telephone.

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Age at interview: 28
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
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I mean telling my friends was quite difficult and when I told them as soon as I was diagnosed, I mean a couple of days later I ended up making a few phone calls. I mean sort of life stopped really. I mean I stopped work and I'd been living at home with my parents anyway so, as soon as I found out I'd got cancer I went back home. And I didn't want to come to [the city] and sort of have some great meeting and sort of meet people and I didn't feel like going out to a pub and drinking. I just wanted to sort of be quiet and just be with my family. 

So I ended up phoning them and it was very difficult. I didn't phone everybody. I phoned a few sort of key people, my best friends and just said look you know. I mean most of it was "Hi how are you?" you didn't want to sort of get into too much of things because you didn't want it to be too jolly before you actually had to sort of drop this massive great thing. And to most of them I said "Look I really don't know how to say this to you but I've been diagnosed with cancer." And I suppose most people sort of just either burst into tears on the phone or were just sort of completely sharp intake of breath and then you end up apologising and you say "God I'm really sorry." And so I think with a lot of it it's always having to think about how somebody is going to be affected by your news. I don't suppose you really feel apologetic because actually it's not your fault but it still makes it a very difficult thing to break to somebody.

Some had found it very difficult telling their parents, particularly their elderly mothers, and had tried to minimise the shock and worry by being positive and 'jolly'. A few did not tell their elderly parents until later, or not at all, because they were worried about the effect it would have on them. One woman explains how her father never used the word 'cancer' and because she wanted to protect her parents she didn't talk about her illness in detail with them.

 
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Explains that her father never used the word 'cancer' and because she wanted to protect her...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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I still don't quite understand my parents reactions. I think part of it was probably their fear. We have a long line of people dying of cancer in the family, all on my father's side. All the females from his side have had cancer and have died quite early from it and his mother did too. So I don't know whether that had more of an impact on him. 

But he didn't ever use the word cancer and in fact he even told another relation that I didn't have cancer, I had pre-cancer. So I think they found it hard. But part of it was also it came from me because I was quite putting on a very brave face and giving them as little information as possible. I think that probably dictated that they did the same back again. And I don't think we've really sort of crossed that. I think I always feel that they're not quite sure what went on really. And I think because I didn't have chemotherapy and radiotherapy and my hair was still intact, I think they found it hard to understand that I did still have cancer. It's not the sort of stereotypical picture and stereotypical treatment.

Many had found that when they did tell others they received considerable support and acts of kindness. Some said being ill had brought out the good in people.

Several described the support they had received from their husbands or partners. Some said their partners had kept their feelings to themselves and while they very good at giving practical support they had found it difficult to be emotionally supportive. Some women had found that their mothers were particularly supportive and had been very protective towards them. A few talked about the strength and support they had received from their siblings.

Many described receiving considerable support from their friends and said their friendships had become stronger because of their illness. One woman recalled how some friends found the news difficult to cope with while others were unexpectedly supportive. Another, who had regular cervical screening tests, explained how her friends had become more aware of the need to go for regular cervical screening tests.

 

Describes her friends different reactions to her illness.

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Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
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Everyone was shocked. Some people didn't know how to react. Some people who were my really good friends I didn't hear from. And there's one particular friend who I haven't really heard from since. She just didn't know how to cope with the illness or how to talk to me. Other people that weren't such good friends became really good friends because they wanted to help. And some people just wanted to jump on the bandwagon of the attention. So you had to differentiate between different people and friends. But everyone generally was fantastic.

Sometimes people seemed not to know how to react when their relative, friend or work colleague told them they have cancer. One woman found it very upsetting when she learnt she had cancer while on holiday with her extended family, who went back to their hotel rooms shortly after she told them the news.

Another found it difficult when her family didn't want to discuss the implications of her illness. A third who had just started a new job when she was diagnosed said that some of her colleagues didn't know what to say to her, after her boss, who she had spoken to confidentially, had told them without her permission.

 

Explains that she found her family's reactions to her illness difficult to deal with.

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Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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My family aren't very good at dealing with disease or ill health. Even though my sister's a doctor, when its personal its very, very different. And so I learned not to talk to them about it. But the only thing that they ever said was 'You're going to be fine, I'm telling you, you're going to be all right.' No one would discuss the options. I mean I was frightened what was gonna happen to my son. If I died he needed looking after. He doesn't see his father and what was gonna happen to the house and everything. What would happen if I needed six weeks radiotherapy, who was gonna help me, no one would go there, it was all 'We'll cross that bridge when we come to it,' and it was kind of shutters down on the subject.

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Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated July 2017.

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