To share or not to share: a lesson on consideration during cancer (and other tough life seasons)

This is a topic I prayed I would not experience and therefore would not have a need to capture and/or share thoughts on with others; however, the last few days I’ve had a run-in with this topic on multiple occasions. So allow me to share some thoughts (knowing I hope you’ll keep these in the back of your mind for future reference)…

When someone is diagnosed with cancer I can guarantee you one of the things they stress over most is how/when/if to tell others. Conversations about the diagnosis will be emotionally draining for the person who has been diagnosed. She/he will quite literally lose sleep over how to have the conversations. She/he will also likely stress over what order to tell people…and how on Earth it’s going to be possible to personally share the news with every single person she/he would like (spoiler alert: it’s not possible). Said cancer warrior will also likely struggle with whether or not to keep the journey private or cast a large net and share it with others. The amount of mental and emotional capacity given to all of this would blow your mind if you were in her/his shoes. It’s hard.

…and I’d go out on a limb and say this applies to other situations as well — a woman who is grieving a miscarriage, a couple who is struggling with infertility, a person going through a divorce, someone who just lost a job…almost any tough situation. There’s going to be weight they feel on who to tell, if to tell them and if so how to go about it.

Friends, allow me to put this simply and bluntly.

A cancer story. A miscarriage story. An infertility story. A divorce story. A job loss story. An <insert other hard life moment> story. It is NOT YOUR STORY TO TELL. Period.

I don’t care if someone asks you if so and so is going through cancer or infertility or a divorce. It is still 100% absolutely not your story to tell.

Unless said person authoring the story gives you permission to share OR you know said person has shared publicly, not.your.story.

I’ve spent more time than you can possibly imagine stressing over how to connect with every person I wanted to hear it from me. One of the first things I did after diagnosis was make a list of people in my phone who I felt needed to hear it from me directly. It was overwhelming. I asked my family to not share it with others (even people we were closest with) initially. Friends I did tell were kindly asked not to share with others as well.

…and yet here I am having lost control of the narrative.

The good news is I realized within the last couple of weeks that I do not think I was intended to quietly journey through cancer. I’ve been nudged to share widely what is going on. I’ve known for a bit that telling people in a larger scope was what I needed to do, and I planned to do it.

But now I feel the pressure to do it quickly because others are starting to find out, and they’re not finding out from me.

Why am I sharing this? Because I hope if you have someone who has confided in you about a hard, unwanted, challenging season of her/his life that you will hold your lips tightly. You have been trusted with the story. You have been trusted with the details.

…and they are not yours to share.

Just think, if tomorrow you were to step into the hardest pair of shoes you’ve ever been forced to walk in, would you want someone else telling everyone? I’m guessing probably not.

I promised myself I would be honest when writing these blog posts, because I do not want to forget any detail of this experience when I look back on it. Right now I’m deeply feeling what it’s like to lose authorship of your own chapter, and it sucks. I’ve told myself to let it go (which I will), but I do think this is a good reminder/thoughts to share with others.

Allow me to give you a tangible takeaway. Should you know someone navigating a hard season and someone asks you about said person’s season, kindly reply with, “I do not think it is my place to talk about it, so perhaps you should reach out to <insert person’s name here>.” I promise you the person in the tough season will appreciate that way more than you choosing to share on her/his behalf. You sharing will absolutely cause frustration, stress and anxiety on the person’s behalf on top of what they are already trying to push through. Respect them enough to let it be her/his story, not yours.

The detour chapter. One I – not anyone else – was tasked with authoring, despite not wanting to do so. Let people write their chapters…without unrequested co-authors.

Ps. Yes, I have shared my story publicly at this point. It’s probably what led you here 🙂

*Note: I knew this time would come. I’m not mad at anyone, nor is this directed at anyone (because it’s happened on multiple occasions at this point). I’m simply sharing out of hopes that – should you find yourself in a position of being asked to share a story that’s not yours – you’ll pause and consider what it might mean for the person going through <insert tough season here.>

Published July 17, 2021

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